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Enclosed Cable Steering Systems and Maintenance Issues

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 19, 2008 5:19 pm    Post subject: Enclosed Cable Steering Systems and Maintenance Issues Reply with quote

A snapped steering cable can initiate a chain of events that can be harrowing, life-threatening and expensive.

In the 60's, a friend of mine and his buddies were out in the Gulf Islands water skiing. The BC ferries went to Vancouver through Active Pass which is very narrow. I'm not sure what regulations were in place back then for smaller vessels keeping distance, but I know from personal experience sharing a narrow waterway with a ferry is very intimidating.

The driver of the ski boat pulled out in front of the ferry and then straightened out, with the ferry honking it’s horn and following at the same speed. You can imagine the skier was frightened out of his wits until they managed to pull away.

Later in the day they headed towards Roche Harbor to refuel. When entering Roche Harbor you have to slow down considerably, so the skier was brought onboard and they headed towards the fuel dock. As they were pulling up to the dock at about 3 knots, the cable broke and the boat slammed into the dock as it lost steering. The cable had broken with no torque what so ever. If this had happened while they were in front of the ferry, it would have killed them all.

A steering cable that is worn out, frayed or corroded can be dangerous. Collisions with bridges, breakwaters, dead-heads, pilings and other boats, among other things are a result of broken steering cables.

The standard steering arrangement on outboards and inboard motor setups is a steering rod and tilt-tube, this is where maintenance issues usually start. Every time the motor is turned, the steering rod is exposed to contaminants. These impurities can enter the steering tilt-tube and work their way into the cable. This corrosive mixture then attacks the tilt-tube area and cable, eventually causing a “locked” steering system.

Unseen corrosion can weaken the cable internally despite visual inspections. If you are an active boater, regular inspection of the steering system can assist you in making sure your voyage is accident and trouble free. Basic preventive maintenance and upkeep will avert these types of failures from occurring.

Do you have any experiences you can share that highlight the importance of proper steering maintenance or solutions that have proven helpful?

Last edited by BoatWoman on Mon Aug 25, 2008 8:13 am; edited 1 time in total
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Joined: 26 Sep 2007
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PostPosted: Sun Aug 24, 2008 7:50 am    Post subject: Enclosed Cable Steering Systems and Maintenance Issues Reply with quote

Yikes, I do know what it is like sharing a narrow passage with a ferry. However somehow it seems that "showboating" around these vessels can be hard to resist for many. Can't tell you how many times I have seen this from both the perspective of a small boat as well as from the ferry!!
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 25, 2008 8:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

When we first moved to the PNW from California in the mid-90's, we took our 7.3m Tanzer sailboat from Seattle to the San Juan’s for a month long cruise. After years of a choice between Catalina and Ensenada as "destinations", it was fun to go from one new harbor to another for weeks.

One morning during our adventure, the fog was very heavy in one of the passes between Shaw and Orcas Islands, Thatcher Pass. We could hear the ferry fog horn and the turn of the props, but couldn't see it. Inching as close to the side of the pass as possible without grounding was the only solution. We did not have radar installed at the time and fitting a radar reflector became the very next addition to our rigging at the next moorage. Our meager 6.5hp outboard engine wasn't going to keep us ahead of the water borne "freight train" coming our way.

After that experience, we timed our trips to coincide with the movement of the various ferries that service the islands and we now carry a map of the ferry routes for reference onboard.
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