Owning a boat is much like having a pet; you need to take care of it, feed it the right fuel, buy it the best toys and check in on it from time to time. Yes, it needs your tender loving care.
Your boat steering system is one of the most important areas of upkeep on the entire vessel. A quality steering system could mean the difference between a successful outing or being left stranded somewhere in the bay.
Knowing exactly what to look for in a boat steering system can be tricky, as much of the work happens on the inside of the steering compartment that you don’t get to see often.
We’ve put together a round up of four competitive boat steering systems available today to narrow down your search. Make use of the pros and cons to get an overall understanding of each.
Boat Steering System General Info:
First things first, what exactly is a boat steering system?
Boat steering systems are the series of necessary parts and cables that connect the steering wheel to the helm of the boat.
They systems function in a push-pull method to drive the boat in a specific direction. It’s able to do this as the helm of the boat is connected to the motor.
These steering systems are exceptionally prone to wear and tear, as most cable based systems are. It’s therefore very important to provide regular maintenance to ensure your vessel is always safe.
How often you should seek said maintenances will be directly proportionate to how often you take your boat out on the water. If you make regular use of your water vehicle then you’ll need to tend to the quality of your steering system quite frequently.
Types of boat steering systems:
There are three main types of boat steering systems:
1. Hydraulic steering system
The first would be the hydraulic steering system that’s typically recommended for larger, faster boats; unsurprisingly this is also the most expensive type of steering.
2. Rotary steering system
Rotary steering systems make use of wheels or gear pieces around which the steering cables feed through to the helms. This makes for a more resistant steering experience which allows the driver more control of the vessel at all times.
3. Rack steering system
Rack steering systems are the easiest systems to install into boats. It’s also the cheapest steering system of the lot. A rack steering system converts the rotational motion of the steering wheel into a linear motion instead. This results in the steering wheel being much easier to turn. It’s essentially the power steering of the boating world.
You can see that each boating scenario may dictate which you’ll pick in the end.
Most boating helms make use of gears to turn the rudder. They do so in two main types:
- Reduction Gear: A single or double gear that joins with the steering drum to move the cables. These helms take up a lot of space and will usually not fit into smaller, more cluttered boats.
- Planetary Gear: Three of more gears that join with the drum in order to move the cables. These helms take up far less space than the reduction gears and are most suitable for smaller boats.
Rack and pinion helms are an alternative type & make use of a gear being fitted directly to the steering shaft. This gear will engage a rack gear located in a tube, which makes the helm far more efficient.
Things to Look for:
Before we get into our comprehensive reviews of our four best products, let’s take a look at some of the specifications to keep in mind when looking to purchase a boat steering system so you get the most value for money.
Before purchasing, it’s imperative that you’re aware of exactly how many feet of cable you’ll need to successfully wire your boat steering. This will also affect the overall price.
It’s always recommended to replace the steering system in your boat with the same type of system that it had before. For example, if your boat previously made use of a rotary system then you’ll want to invest in a new rotary type steering system when the time comes.
The only time when it becomes acceptable to change types would be when you switch from a mechanical system to a hydraulic system. This occurs amongst boat owners quite often as hydraulic systems are better performing over all.
Before making this kind of switch be sure to consider the costs involved. Hydraulic systems are far more expensive and may require additional changes to take place within your boat.
The area that will require the most maintenance within your steering system will always be the cables. When installing your steering cables, you want to use the most direct route possible. There should be as few obstructions as possible between the wheel, cable and helm. Also try to keep the number of bends in the cable to a minimum. A radius of 8” or more is always preferable.
Steering cables are designed to keep wear and tear to a minimum & most will not require maintenance until they’ve been well used.
There is some misconception around whether or not it matters how many turns it takes for a boat steering wheel to go from lock to lock.
The truth is, it doesn’t really matter at all. More turns simply mean there will be slightly less helm pressure when turning against the prop torque. Fewer turns mean the exact opposite; more pressure.
Decide what your preference is in this department and purchase your steering system accordingly. Let’s list our favorites for you.
The Best Boat Steering Systems You Can Buy in 2020
1. SeaStar Solutions Back Mount Rack Steering System
BEST RACK MOUNT STEERING SYSTEM
SeaStar is one of the most trusted names in the boat steering industry. The brand has delivered quality and high performing products for as long as we can remember.
This rack steering system kit includes the cable, helm, 90° bezel and hardware. The steering shaft comes in at just ¾” and is round tapered.
Once installed, the system features a four turn lock-to-lock which is impressive for such a reasonably priced steering system. If you’re in need of a quality product but don’t have a lot to splurge, then this rack mount is a wise investment.
2. SeaStar Safe-T Quick Connect
BEST ROTARY STEERING SYSTEM
Another competitive yet affordable system by SeaStar. This rotary system brings the lock-to-lock turn ratio down to just three making it one of quick response.
The steering kit includes the cable, helm, 90° bezel and hardware for fast & simple self-installation.
Both the cable and output ends are stainless steel. The ends work in a “snap in” fashion making installation even easier.
3. SeaStar Hydraulic Kit Kevlar Reinforced
BEST HIGH PERFORMANCE HYDRAULIC STEERING SYSTEM
As mentioned, hydraulic steering systems are the most preferable in the industry. They do, however, come with price tags that aren’t always as preferable.
This kit from SeaStar is exceptionally high performing and of impressive quality. The pack comes with:
- Bleeder kit
- Detailed instructions on how to go about installing by yourself
The hoses on this system are entirely kink and abrasion resistant which is impressive!
This is the ideal boat steering system for high speed vessels that require a bit of extra propulsion. The system also comes with a two year warranty so you know you’re buying quality.
4. Baystar Kit Hydraulic Steering Kit
BEST HYDRAULIC STEERING SYSTEM
Baystar is another competitive name in the boat steering industry. This hydraulic kit by this brand is a reasonably priced, mid range system that delivers quality performance.
The wheel will turn lock-to-lock in five rounds and comes with a horse power of 150.
We love that this kit also includes the pump, cylinder and steering fluid required to deliver longevity in performance. The Baystar helms are known for being consistently high performing and durable.
If it’s time for your boat steering to undergo some maintenance then look no further than this round up of the four best systems on the market. We’ve done all the work for you, all that’s left to do is pick your favorite.
Your boat is your baby. Investing in a quality boat steering system is an investment in every boating excursion you take from now on so make sure it’s of sound make and quality.
See you on the water!