Why is Boat Hydraulic Steering Hard To Turn? Solution Guide

You were fishing or enjoying a day at the lake and you noticed your Boat Hydraulic Steering is stiff To Turn. What do you do? Most importantly, why is the boat’s hydraulic steering hard to turn? 

A boat’s hydraulic steering can be hard to turn when there isn’t enough grease or power steering fluid. More so, fluid leakage and a bad steering rack can also cause the boat steering to be stiff. 

Before you go to a repair shop, start by troubleshooting and try fixing the problem yourself. Let’s get started. 

5 common reasons of Hydraulic Steering Hard To Turn:

1. Not Enough Grease

If your boat’s hydraulic steering is hard to turn, investigate whether the motor has enough grease. Any moving system that is not lubricated regularly fails to work as intended. 

Check under the powerhead of your boat’s motor to ensure that the nipples are well-greased. The movement should always be strict and unrestricted, and to achieve this, the purpose is to grease your steering at least once after 12 months. 

2. Steering Cable Corrosion

Cable corrosion is another possible cause of hard-to-turn steering systems. Rust and corrosion are significant restrictions on movement. 

Places with salty water bodies are likely to experience this problem often since salts act as a catalyst during the corrosion process. 

Scrubbing can be the only solution depending on how severe the corrosion effect is. High-quality motor cleaning products are the best for cleaning rusty surfaces on components of moving parts. However, if the corrosion is too much, it is advisable to replace the whole cable.

3. Grease Entering the Support Tubes

Boat systems have support tubes on their engines with grease fittings. On most occasions, some grease from these fittings can enter the support tubes, making it hard for the entire steering system to move. 

The lubricant is pumped to the cable jacket from the support tubes, and in turn, a hydraulic lock occurs. Unfortunately, hydraulic locks can’t be fixed; you will have to replace the whole cable. 

4. Bad Steering Rack

The steering rack entails a series of shafts and u-joints that connect to the central steering wheel. In some cases, the shafts can become worn out and damaged because of regular use. 

You will notice a problem with the steering rack after starting your boat. At first, it may be problematic, but the steering becomes free with time. 

You can keep riding your boat in this condition; however, it further deteriorates the steering rack. 

5. Fluid Leakage

Fluid leakage is another major problem of rigid hydraulic steering systems. The fluid will always leak anytime the engine develops a leakage, maybe after a crack. 

Leakages reduce the pressure produced a great deal hence drying out the system. As a result, the wheel will not have enough fluid to move freely. 

How to Troubleshoot a Boat’s Hard Hydraulic Steering?

Even though easy to deal with, hydraulic steering problems can be inconvenient sometimes. A rigid boat steering ruins the pleasure of having a good time on the water. 

If you bought a secondhand system, confirm if the problem has happened before from the previous owner. However, if you are the first owner, troubleshoot the system by following these steps:

Steps to Troubleshoot a Hard Hydraulic Steering:

  • Ensure there are no kinks in your boat’s steering system
  • Have a full reservoir of fluid
  • Remove the bolts that connect the steering system and the engine, and turn your engine. Try to see if the steering turns freely after disconnecting the steering cylinder.
  • If it turns freely, fix the engine’s fittings and re-attach the steering cylinder.
  • However, if the wheel is still hard after disconnecting the cylinder, turn the rudder using your hand or lube the outboard motor couplings not to be too tight. Often, the steering can be stiff when the stuffing box nut is too close to allow the rudder to turn quickly. 

Other Solutions for a Hard-To-Turn Boat Hydraulic Wheel:

Unfortunately, a stiff steering wheel has never shown any early signs. Usually, the problem is always impromptu and can happen when you are in the middle of the sea. If you happen to have done the steps mentioned above with no success, you can try doing the following: 

1. Check Power Steering Condition and Fluid Level

The problem could be related to the power steering condition and fluid levels. To diagnose this problem:

  • Check the fluid in the cylindrical reservoir next to the power steering belt.
  • If the liquid seems inadequate, buy from any local store and refill the pump up to the recommended whole level.
  • Note that the fluid color should always be dark-red; any other color means that the fluid should be changed.

2. Check the Pulley Belt on the Power Steering Unit

Typically, pulleys are investigated when the boat’s engine is off for safety. Stiff steering could result from a belt pulley that is probably not running as required. Inspect the pulley’s belt for tension and smooth running when you notice the problem.

Put your thumb on the pulley’s belt and check for tension properties. The pulley should be in good condition and without any cracks or edges. Take a visual check to ensure everything is okay and confirm if the steering wheel is no longer stiff. 

3. Check the Front End Parts

Front-end parts like tie rod end and ball joints can significantly cause stiff boat hydraulic steering systems. 

These parts should be checked regularly if they have any wear and tear. Too much wear is usually a result of irregular lubrications. 

One rule of the thumb is to investigate your boat’s system at regular intervals and lubricate all the joints for proper alignment. Failure to do so is dangerous; it can cause confusion that may result in water accidents. 

If none of these pinpoints a problem, visit a repair shop for further servicing. Sometimes the problem could be caused by other hydraulic steering issues like:

  • Hydraulic fluid leak at the cylinder
  • Hydraulic fluid leak from the helm fill cap
  • Steering wheel size
  • Restrictions in the hydraulic hoses

End Note

The steering is a significant part of a boat system; therefore, any problem to do with it should be handled with immediate effect. 

Luckily, steering problems are the easiest to solve if you follow the correct troubleshooting procedure. 

Your best bet should be to check the system’s lubrication periodically. Don’t wait for the problem to worsen! Moreover, regular maintenance and scheduled servicing are the most important remedies for hard-to-turn steering.

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