How to Service a Boat Steering Cable

Boat Steering CableWhether it's a part of the process of laying up your boat for the winter, or part of fitting it out for the boating season, servicing your steering cable should be an integral step in your annual maintenance ritual. Failing to keep your steering in good condition can mean "difficult" steering and handling at best. At worst, it can mean a fatality. While steering cable service requirements vary from boat to boat because of different operating conditions, the means of servicing the cables is similar. (Pictured: The steering cables are coming out of the side of the outboard motor)


Difficulty: Moderate

How to:

Things You’ll Need:
  • Grease gun
  • Heavy marine grease
  • Gun oil or lightweight machine oil
Step 1
Turn the steering wheel all the way to one side to retract the cable into the tilt tube. Press the injector fitting of a grease gun over the steering cable grease fitting (the nipple) and pump the gun's handle to lubricate the cable. Continue pumping until grease oozes out of the nipple, around the injector fitting of the grease gun.
Step 2
Use an open end wrench to check the steering link rod fasteners to ensure they're tight by shaking them. Ensure that the nylon insert lock nut sits on top of the steering link rod. The washer should be underneath the nylon insert lock nut. The steering cable is attached to the steering link rod.
Step 3
Lubricate the steering link rod pivot points with machine oil, gun oil or any lightweight oil by dispensing a small quantity of this oil from the squeeze bottle of oil--a few drops--onto the joints (easily recognized by the fact that they join a U-shaped flange to the steering cable or to the steering link rod).

Tips & Warnings

The end of the steering cable must be fully retracted into the outboard tilt tube before adding lubricant. Adding lubricant to steering cable when fully extended (not retracted into the tilt tube) could cause steering cable to become hydraulically locked.
Lubricate the steering link rod pivot points during your spring fitting out, half-way through the season and at the end of the season as part of your winter lay up.
Steering cable problems can cause a sudden steering failure. Sudden steering failures mean that you're either a "vessel not under command" or a vessel in serious trouble. If you experience a steering failure, take all way off of your vessel: shift your engine into neutral or, if you're approaching a ticklish situation, shift to reverse to stop more quickly: from 10 knots, a small boat will stop in twice its own length if full reverse is applied. Don't forget to shift back to neutral once forward motion is checked.

Article Written By Will Charpentier

Will Charpentier is a writer who specializes in boating and maritime subjects. A retired ship captain, Charpentier holds a doctorate in applied ocean science and engineering. He is also a certified marine technician and the author of a popular text on writing local history.

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