How to Add Power Steering to a Boat

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When people talk about adding "power steering" to a boat, they may not realize that what they will end up doing is taking out their cable steering and installing hydraulic steering. Even so, it's not as complicated as it sounds, as long as your boat is up to the conversion. Hydraulic steering kits for small boats start at about $600. The whole conversion can be completed in a single afternoon, if you have the kit and the "extra" parts and tools you need.

Things You'll Need

  • Hole saw
  • Drill
  • Open end or combination wrenches
  • Socket wrenches
  • Torque wrench
  • PVC conduit
  • Purchase the correct steering kit. Tell the dealer whether your steering wheel is a standard mount (perpendicular to the deck) or a tilt helm (the steering wheel is at an angle, like a car's) and the type of motor you use -- some small outboards can't be adapted to hydraulic steering. If your boat has a splash well, the dealer will also need to know its dimensions through the full tilt and trim range of the engine. Ask the dealer if the kit is all-inclusive and if not, ask what other parts (usually hoses and fluid) are needed.

  • Prepare the helm unit. Ensure that sufficient room exists in the steering console to install the pump. Screw the elbow fittings into the back of the helm unit in the ports marked "P" and "S" (port and starboard) until finger tight. Use a pipe sealant, not pipe tape, on all threads. Pipe tape can "get loose" in a hydraulic system and clog or damage the pump. Then, use a wrench to tighten one to two turns, so that the end of the fitting points outboard from the side of the helm unit.

  • Install the helm unit in the dash. Grease the tapered steering wheel shaft with a light coating of shaft grease, then install the wheel on the shaft. Tighten the steering wheel shaft nut. Thread the hose fittings onto the elbow fittings on the rear of the helm unit and tighten to 15 ft-lbs. with the torque wrench. Do not remove the protective caps from the unthreaded end of of the hoses. Route the hoses through the PVC conduit to the stern of the vessel along the port or starboard gunwale, rising gradually to the height of the motor.

  • Clean and remove all rust from the tilt arm bolt hole and tilt tube of your engine. If any parts require lubrication, apply marine grease before assembly continues. Attach and connect the support brackets on the steering ram assembly to the support rod and cylinder rod with the fasteners provided. Free play in the support rod can be eliminated with the adjusting ring nut. Once free play has been eliminated, use the set screw to tighten the adjusting ring nut.

  • Turn the steering wheel lock to lock to ensure the system doesn't bind and that no part of the cylinder assembly makes contact with the transom or splash well wall when the engine is tilted.

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