How to Replace Outboard Steering Cables

by Will Charpentier
No matter how beautiful the boat, cable replacement may become a nightmare.

No matter how beautiful the boat, cable replacement may become a nightmare.

Changing a boat's steering cable can be aggravating, because the cable passes through the motor's tilt tube on the final leg of its journey to your outboard motor. The tilt tube is hollow, with two open ends. This means that things like salt residue, if you boat in salt water, and hardened grease will do everything they can to keep you from removing the cable from the tube. Once you surmount that obstacle, the cable replacement should move apace.

Inspect the system for broken or damaged pulleys before you replace the cable. If replacing a pulley, or just remounting a pulley that's pulled away from its correct position, fixes the problem, you can save the cost of a new cable.

Use an adjustable wrench to remove the 9/16-inch nut that connects the steering cable to the steering rod link---the drag link---on the starboard,the right side, as you face forward in the boat, of the tilt tube or steering tube, the hollow tube that acts as a hinge for the motor to tilt up and down. Spray the inside of the tube, and the steering cable that passes through the tube, with carburetor cleaner to break down the grease and particulates that may hinder your removal of the steering cable.

Knock the cable out of the steering tube with a punch and a hammer. Pull the cable free of the motor and forward until you reach the "helm," or the steering gear box. Use common pliers to straighten and remove the cotter pin that connects the old cable to the helm.

Spray carburetor cleaner into the now-empty tilt tube and clean the interior with a twisted wire brush that looks similar to a bottle brush.

Attach the new cable to the helm and insert the cotter pin to secure the connection. Run the new steering cable along the same path that the old cable followed to the tilt tube. liberally apply marine grease to the end of the new cable and push it through the tilt tube. Thread the 9/16-inch nut back into place and tighten with an adjustable wrench.

Items you will need

  • Adjustable wrench
  • Spray carburetor cleaner
  • Punch
  • Hammer
  • Pliers'
  • Marine grease
  • Safety glasses

Tip

  • If you turn the steering wheel as you pull the cable free, the wheel will act like a winch, taking up the slack in the cable and making the job of keeping the cable sorted out a bit less stressful.

Warning

  • Wear safety glasses while working with cable aboard your boat.

About the Author

Will Charpentier is a writer who specializes in boating and maritime subjects. A retired ship captain, Charpentier holds a doctorate in applied ocean science and engineering. He is also a certified marine technician and the author of a popular text on writing local history.

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