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Old 12-02-2020, 08:40 AM   #1
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Hydraulic Steering Install

Hello all, just beginning this project. Replacing the original Big-T Teleflex cable steering with hydraulic steering. This will be something Iíll be installing and Iím interested in understanding other ownerís experiences with these installations. Boat is a Willard Vega Searcher, 30í. I am planning on installing a seastar solutions system. If anyone has any information on the following questions Iíd very much appreciate your input:

1 - The current steering system is 3 turns L-L, and is generally light. Has increased turns or steering effort been a problem for others that have made this conversion? Any recommendations on how best to handle these potential impacts?

2 - Placement of the hydraulic ram. The tiller arm is not flat, it is curved upwards moving aft. How have others mounted the ram to best operate in the same plane as the rudder arm?

3 - Critical lessons learned from otherís experiences?

I am working with Seastar tech support for system component recommendations. Provided them with a detailed worksheet and dimensioned sketch so they could calculate rudder torque.

Thanks as always for any input...

Jim
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Old 12-02-2020, 10:00 AM   #2
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I ran the hydraulic lines from the slave cylinder at the rudder fwd just a bit and then down low in the hull.

Then I ran the lines fwd all the way to the wheel/pump w/o going horizontal or down. This way I can pump air bubbles out of the slave cylinder by lock to lock helm action. All the way one way, wait (overnight typically) them turn the helm the other way. Then the lines go down to and slightly past the lowest point so gravity will move them all the way fwd and into the helm pump where the bubbles are expelled out the vent. The entire run is uphill all the way to the helm. You may need to cut through bulkheads ect to achieve this constant uphill run.

So I’ve always been able to dispatch air bubbles quickly and even more importantly completely out of the system. My helm has never had a soft spongy feel. Always hard and responsive. No air.
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Old 12-02-2020, 09:27 PM   #3
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Thanks Eric, appreciate the info. That gives me some ideas for installation. How many turns lock to lock is your setup and how would you characterize the effort to steer?

Jim
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Old 12-02-2020, 10:37 PM   #4
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The effort to steer is medium.
Three turns L-L.

Look on your rudder horn and tell me how many attach points (holes) there is to attach the slave cylinder articulation rod. If your boat has two it’s like mine. The quick steering may come at the cost of one finger ease of steering. I can go L to L with my index finger only but it’s hard enough that you wouldn’t want do a lot of it. In following seas I use two hands and that is easier than it would be at 6-1 L to L.

My steering is OK with the extra forces of the fast steering achieved by using the mounting hole nearest the rudder but every boat is different. You need to consider every element of your steering system for strength. My boat has about 800hrs with the faster steering and have experienced no problems.

But if you’re not experienced w the Willard you may want to start w the 6 turns L-L. But before you commit to that consider that you may need to mount the slave cylinder in a slightly different place/position for correct geometry.

Something else to consider is that I think the higher steering effort required is due to rubber seals at the ends of the slave cylinder being much larger than what they would be if I hadn’t choose such a large helm pump and slave cylinder. Many 40’ to most 40’ boats have the same sized hydraulic components as my little Willard. We were moving to Alaska and expected to confront big seas for many hours and was looking for dependability. Loosing steering in many of Alaska’s straits in a 30 knot wind would be ... not good.

What help do you have for advice in this installation? You can choose the components for your system reading installation instructions. Or call the equipment suppliers or manufacturers. Perhaps a marina has very experienced people to guide you. That was the case w me.
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Old 12-03-2020, 05:48 AM   #5
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Hello Jim,

These are excellent systems, very reliable and simple, on my olde Mainship MKI the system was 20 years old when I bought her and was still going strong 11 years later.

Sea Star inboard options offer systems with from 4 to 6 turns lock to lock depending on helm selection and cylinder size. Light steering with a Big T system, and given the size and speed of your boat, unless you have a real barn door for a rudder, the 1-1/4" cylinder with a standard helm for 4 turns should be sufficient.

These are hand operated vented hydraulic systems. For turns vs effort at helm there is no free lunch. More turns = less effort. If you want fewer turns, there will be more effort, but given that with Big T the steering was light, and with your boat, the 4 turn system should be right.

The Sea Star chart shows for a 32 ft single engine displacement boat a recommendation of system 3 for 6 turns and a 1-1/2" cylinder. They use 18 knots as the definition of plane/displacement. For your boat this just sounds excessive, especially if you are used to fewer turns.

A larger steering wheel will provide easier steering as well, and if you have the room and want lighter steering and fewer turns this is another way to achieve less effort at the helm.

All these systems are also used on outboards and I/O's, which include prop torque and vectored thrust, much higher loads. For a rudder on a displacement boat the loads are very light in relation.

For installation, being a vented system any bubbles will work out eventually. Follow the directions and you'll have no problems, it's a very simple and straightforward install



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Old 12-03-2020, 06:46 AM   #6
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I just wonder why you would chose to replace a mechanical steering with a hyd unit?

The big advantage of the mechanical steering is its lack of problems , and the very low cost of adding an auto pilot to the wheel steering.

If you wish to add a helm on a fly bridge the simplest is to use the autopilot remote..
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Old 12-03-2020, 07:15 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FF View Post
I just wonder why you would chose to replace a mechanical steering with a hyd unit?

The big advantage of the mechanical steering is its lack of problems , and the very low cost of adding an auto pilot to the wheel steering.

If you wish to add a helm on a fly bridge the simplest is to use the autopilot remote..
FF - I owned a Willard 30 prior to my Willard 36. I converted it to hydraulic for two related reasons. First was there was some slop/play in the cable steering. Second was it was difficult to mount an autopilot. I installed a wheel-pilot similar to what sailboats use (at least at the time), but it wasn't great. The slop in the cable steering didn't help. It was just a clunky system - this was 25-yearsw ago.

I found all the parts I needed at a West Marine Bargain Store in Oakland CA, so it was pretty affordable to do. I was able to install a hydraulic A/P that worked well.

Peter
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Old 12-03-2020, 10:24 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FF View Post
I just wonder why you would chose to replace a mechanical steering with a hyd unit?

The big advantage of the mechanical steering is its lack of problems , and the very low cost of adding an auto pilot to the wheel steering.

If you wish to add a helm on a fly bridge the simplest is to use the autopilot remote..
FF,
I think the best feature of hydraulic is that one can set a course and take take your hands off the wheel and the rudder position will stayfixed until the helmsman moves it. One dosn’t need to constantly hold onto the helm.

Installation is far simpler.

But re cost I looked into it and the cost of all those sheaves ect ect was far more expensive than my heavy duty hydraulic. Not cheap. But all traditional bronze marine stuff. I used clothes line sheaves on an OB boat once and that indeed was cheap.
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Old 12-03-2020, 10:37 AM   #9
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keys,
Thanks for your excellent post. Reminds me of how much I’ve forgotten.

My pump is a SeaStar and has the variable speed adjustment. If a light helm was important enough I could adjust to 4 or more turns L-L but I don’t like the slow steering. IMO the little Willard can turn fast and needs a quicker steering.

Another thing I did that was different was to use hose similar to what you find on a frontend loader. Large dia. And orange in color. I don’t think the larger dia. hose affects the steering speed. The hose just has more fluid in it. I think I was put off by the small size and wimpy look of the typical shiny black plastic looking hose typically used.
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Old 12-03-2020, 08:30 PM   #10
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The large hose likely reduced the frictional losses from fluid movement that would occur through smaller hoses. That friction loss can sometime cause more stiffness than one would believe.
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Old 12-03-2020, 09:31 PM   #11
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C lectric,

That was my reasoning when I bought the orange industrial hose. I was hoping for a power steering-like experience at the helm.

Sometimes doing out of the box things turns out well and other times .. not so much.

When I removed the slave cylinder to replace the seals I (of course) induced air in the lines. But the “up all the way” hose placement worked great. L to L a few times and smooth positive steering w/o needing any added more fluid to the top of the helm pump.

The extra effort at the helm is definitely not significant. No need to experiment to improve. And the most likely road to improvement (light steering) would probably be to downsize everything, helm pump, hose and slave cylinder. A lot of cost and labor. Nope. I’m not changing anything. And I like the fast steering. Mostly in following seas.
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Old 12-06-2020, 08:17 AM   #12
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Thanks all for the great information and response. I did get some info back from Seastar engineering - theyíre recommending a system that should put me at 4.8 turns L-L. I was thinking of using their hynautic hose, comes cut to size with pre-swaged fittings but Eric, youíve got me thinking about other options considering your installation. I did check my rudder arm, only one connection point - not two like yours. Iíve attached some pics.

Eric, how did you spec and source the larger dia. hose?

Thanks again,

Jim
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Old 12-09-2020, 02:08 AM   #13
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Quote:
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keys,
Another thing I did that was different was to use hose similar to what you find on a frontend loader. Large dia. And orange in color. I don’t think the larger dia. hose affects the steering speed. The hose just has more fluid in it. I think I was put off by the small size and wimpy look of the typical shiny black plastic looking hose typically used.
Bigger is better!
This is one of the most overlooked aspects of installing hydraulic steering.
Many systems come with 1/4” fittings at the ports, so too many installers assume that that should set the precedent for the tubing, or just upsize to 3/8”. I prefer to use 1/2” or 5/8” tubing for the long runs.
This completely removes the “notchy” feel of the helm pump, and decreases the effort needed to turn the wheel.

JN711, you can always drill a new hole in the tiller arm if you need to, bronze is not difficult to cut and thread.
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