Hydraulic systems use liquid to apply and transmit “force” or “energy.” A modern yacht uses hydraulics for many of its operational systems, one of the most critical of these is hydraulic steering. And yet, despite its importance, your yacht’s hydraulic steering system is often overlooked when it comes to upkeep and routine maintenance.
Like many systems on your yacht, you probably will not even notice your steering system, until it has a problem! In fact, hydraulic steering tends to be very reliable, and worry free. That is why it is found on most modern yachts and power boats. However, that does not mean you shouldn’t know a little bit about how it works, what could go wrong, and how to keep your steering system trouble free.
Getting to Know Marine Hydraulic Steering
As stated above, hydraulic steering is pretty universal on yachts these days, and is so reliable, that many yacht owners, and their engineers or managers, do not even consider the steering as part of their routine maintenance plans, until it has shown signs of a problem.
But, that is not really the best of ideas. Like any hydraulic system on your yacht, your steering system is made up of pumps, seals, fittings and other parts that can wear out over time. You never want to risk any kind of failure that could occur on a yacht while it is underway, if it could be avoided!
Like most hydraulic systems, hydraulic steering is made up of three basic components. A pump, a ram that connects to a rudder or outboard engine, and connecting lines that transmit the actions you take with the steering wheel to the steering pump, and to the steering ram. It’s a simple system. Turning the steering wheel in either direction pumps hydraulic fluid through the hydraulic lines to the ram, which in turn moves the rudder, or sterndrive, in the appropriate direction. When all is working, your yacht responds, turns in the direction you want to go, and all is well.
While the basics remain the same, of course the larger the boat the more complex the system. On luxury motor yachts you could have multiple helms, autopilots, and power steering. Which is all the more reason why your hydraulic steering should be on your engineer’s, or yacht manager’s radar when it comes to preventive maintenance.
Your maintenance team should inspect your steering system at least once a year.
They need to look at the seals on the ram by checking for any fluid on the shaft. The shaft should never be wet. A wet shaft indicates leaking seals. The shaft also needs to be inspected for any signs of pitting or corrosion. Your maintenance technicians will also check the condition of the hydraulic fluid by pulling a sample of it. If the fluid is fouled, then the entire steering system will need to be flushed and the hydraulic oil replaced. The techs will also spend some time looking around the helm for any physical signs of leaking, and of course, also take the boat out for a spin during the inspection process, and feel for any signs of “spongy” steering, or other responses that could indicate a problem. All the hoses and lines will also be checked for any signs of wear.
Your Yacht’s Other Hydraulic Systems
In many ways, it is hydraulics that have made modern motor yachts safer and easier to operate. However they must be well-maintained in order to keep your yacht it tip-top shape!
Operating a motor yacht can be costly. You can reduce your expenses, and avoid costly repairs by keeping her well maintained. On Demand yachting from FYM can help. If you would like to learn more, or if you have any questions or comments about this blog post, do not hesitate to contact our Yacht Management specialists, or call us at (954) 900-9968.