Pontoon Boat Won't Steer

A failed steering system can be a nightmare for pontoon boat owners, especially if the problem occurs while in the water on an area of the high seas that is less frequented. It is important to familiarize yourself with the common problems that would lead to a pontoon boat, not steering and their quick fixes to salvage the situation.

Pontoon Boat Mechanical Boat Steering System Problems

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The mechanical boat steering system includes the rack and rotary steering systems that are founding smaller boats, more so the outboard-powered water vessels. Usually, mechanical systems are long-lasting, easy to install as a do it yourself project and affordable. They are also simple to use and give maneuverability of a high level. However, pontoon boats’ mechanical steering system can sometimes become unresponsive, stiff, and may fail without advance warning. Here are the problems associated with the mechanical steering system.

Engine Problem

The reason your pontoon boat won’t steer could be because of engine-related problems. The best way to inspect this problem is by removing the steering cable from the pontoon boat’s tilt tube. If you notice that the helm is moving flexibly, then the problem may be originating from the engine’s pivot points that have stiffened as a result of lack of lubrication.

A quick fix for this problem is to lubricate the pivot points regularly. A common mistake that most pontoon owners make when faced with steering problems is forcing the steering back and forth to make it move freely. Unfortunately, this can cause severe damage to the helm unit, which will cost you quite a lot to repair. To prevent this problem from cropping up, regularly maintain your mechanical steering system to keep it in top-notch condition. It is also crucial to do preventive maintenance prior to storing your pontoon boat away for winter.

Because the steering cable is pre-lubricated from the manufacturer to last its entire lifespan, if it stops performing effectively after its time is finished, it will be inefficient even with the best maintenance practices. The best alternative would be to purchase upgraded parts for a replacement that is efficient for hitch-free steering while you are out on the water.

Limited Range of Motion

When a pontoon boat mechanical steering system experiences a range of limited motion, like the inability to steer in any direction that is an indication of cable seizure or damage. Generally, cable steering systems barely have difficulties in operation, but if they stay for too long without care or maintenance, then problems start to arise. Here are the reasons why your pontoon boat steering won’t steer on the other direction:

The cable is Seized in the Tilt Tube

The stainless-steel steering cable runs through the tilt tube, which is a component of your pontoon boat. If the steering cable is seized in the tilt tube, your boat won’t steer easily.

Although your steering cable’s point of entry and the tilt tube’s end is sealed with valves, the tilt tube receives plenty of saltwater. With time, the saltwater will ultimately cause a buildup of salt, which will rapidly corrode the tilt tube since it is produced from steel.

The steel cable corrosion can be prevented by the application of marine grease on the tilt tube, more so during the winter season when the boat is in storage. Dismantle the tilt tube and ensure all the parts are greased well. This will prevent the salt from coming into direct contact with the stainless-steel steering cable. Lengthy periods of sitting without usage can accelerate corrosion. This will consequently result in the steering cable seizing up, thus minimizing the range of motion.

However, if the tilt tube is severely corroded, removing the cable without further damages may be impossible. Gently remove the steering cable, clean the tilt tube internal parts using a wire brush. If the steel cable is not destroyed, clean the cable’s end and apply it to marine grease, then put bark the compartment. If the stainless-steel steering cable is destroyed, broken, or hung in several places, you will need to replace it.

Worn, Corroded or Poorly Routed Strands of the Stainless-Steel Cable

A seized helm may not always be in the tilt tube or cable assembly. A seized helm may be a result of poor installation. When installing a pontoon boat steering cable, you must minimize the cable’s bends to reduce backlash and inefficiency when steering. If steering cables are forced around excessively tight corners, the inner core and the outer lining may bind. This will consequently result in rapid wear caused by increased friction, and thus steering will be made difficult.

The valves that protect the salt seawater’s cables by sealing off their end sometimes get worn and damaged over time. Saltwater is extremely harmful as it corrodes and stiffens the stainless-steel steering cables causing limitation in the range of motion.

To avoid this problem, strictly follow the guideline for installation all through the beginning to the end. Mechanical steering systems are mostly easy to install. It is important to get professional help if you lack the technical know-how necessary to install a pontoon boat mechanical steering system as a DIY project.

Remember to regularly maintain your steering system as it is crucial for your pontoon boat’s smooth operation. Check the valves sealing off both the cables and tilt tubes to ascertain that they are not faulty to let in saltwater. Steering cables are, however, not made to be repaired. If it is worn, corroded, or damaged, you will need to get a replacement. Lubricating a pontoon boat steering cable is not necessary as they come pre-lubricated from the manufacturer enough to last their entire lifetime. If the cable is not severely damaged, you can keep it for backup.

Pontoon Boat Hydraulic Steering Problems

Hydraulic steering systems on pontoon boats are a lot easier to steer than mechanical steering. They are, however, more costly and require technical knowledge to repair and install it. Larger pontoon boats have hydraulic steering to minimize the stress of manually piloting them. Here are some of the problems experienced by hydraulic steering systems of pontoon boats;

Visible Fluid Leaks

If you happen to notice any visible leaks of fluid in your hydraulic system that is an indication that air is present in the steering system. Inspect the ram shaft to confirm if it is wet. Wipe it dry and inspect it for dampness again. If the ram of the shaft is still damp, then you probably have hydraulic steering fluid leaks. This may imply that your seals are leaking and thus need replacement. Sometimes leaks that can be seen are resulting from corrosive parts in the hydraulic system.

Replace seals that are corroded and bleed out the air present inside the hydraulic system. All the hydraulic system components, including the fluids, steering cylinder, helm (fluid reservoir and pump), and hoses (view on Amazon), can sometimes develop leaks. This issue often develops when air is present inside the hydraulic system. Bleeding out the air from your pontoon boat’s hydraulic system can be done as a DIY project, but it will need lots of patience and time to complete the project successfully. Purchase kits that are ideal for your brand of a pontoon boat help you ease and speed up bleeding out the air. For less severe leaks, top off the oil as a short-term solution, but for the severe leaks, you will need to bleed out the air from the hydraulic system and replace broken seals, if any, for a lasting solution.

When you have fluid leaks, it probably means the components of your pontoon boat’s hydraulic system are not adequately lubricated as a result of insufficient fluid for lubrication due to leaking. When this happens, it may not be easy to steer your pontoon boats as the operation won’t be smooth. The fluid is necessary for lubrication in order for the hydraulic system of your pontoon boat to perform smoothly.

Contaminated Oil

The hydraulic system of your pontoon boat works efficiently when the oil is not contaminated. Abrasive dirt present in the oil can degrade the oil and consequently compromise the entire operation. During installation, pay attention to detail to prevent debris, dust, or dirt from entering the hose and, thus, the oil.

If the oil is contaminated, it will not be as effective as it should be in lubricated the hydraulic system components. Without lubrication, the components will be stuck, making it difficult to steer your pontoon boat.

Check if your hydraulic oil is smelly, milky, decolorized, or dirty. If it is, flush the hydraulic system and replace the hydraulic oil in order for the steering system to function optimally. Even without oil contamination, it is imperative that your change the oil every five years as per the manufacturer’s recommendation.

Spongy Steering

If air is present in the hydraulic system, the steering will feel spongy. If the steering turns hardback after turning in either direction, it’s an implication that air is trapped inside the hydraulic system. Air trapped in the hydraulic not only makes steering unpredictable but may also inhibit steering completely.

To avoid spongy steering, follow your pontoon boat’s manufacturer’s guideline on how to bleed out air from the hydraulic system effectively. Instead of oil, the hydraulic system collects gas as it is compressible, and this results in inconsistent performance.

Spongy steering may also be a sign of internal leaking inside the cylinder or steering pump even though accessing these components is difficult. If the air system is purged and no signs of leaks are visible in the hoses, then the cylinder’s shaft is most likely leaking or corroded. Consider placing corroded or leaking cylinder shafts for the hydraulic system’s smooth operation and, consequently, the steering.

Play in the Steering

Leaks often cause play in the steering. Check the cylinder and helm for leaks to ensure that the ram or hose is not wet. A leak may be an indication that air is present in your pontoon boat’s hydraulic system. Figure out where the leak is originating from and repair or replace the faulty part.

Bleeding out the air may be a necessary solution to this problem in order for your steering system to be in good working condition. Regularly bleeding out air from your cylinder is an effective way of preventing hydraulic system play. If you experience excessive play, you must figure out the culprit and fix it.

Pontoon boat steering systems rarely have issues when in good working conditions but if they do, detecting steering problems is quite simple. Do not ignore your steering whenever something feels strange or wrong. Regular maintenance can significantly reduce steering problems and boost your pontoon boat’s steering experience with minimal effort. If your pontoon boat’s steering system is outdated, consider upgrading to the more advanced steering solutions for your boat’s seamless operation.