Question- The photo below is a part of the steering system on my boat. I’ve noticed some fraying of the wire rope in the system and have decided I’m going to try and replace the cable over the winter while the boat is in storage. Any tricks or special safety tips I need to be aware of?

marine cable steering

Figure 1: A cable steering system should be evenly adjusted -- not too slack and not too tight.

Answer-  Excellent question. Most boaters wait until the steering system fails completely before attempting any maintenance. At that point it’s a real problem, typically because they're far from home port when the failure occurs.

Aside from matching the diameter of the wire rope, and clamping the end pieces properly, getting everything nice and snug (not too much cable slack) and a bit of lubrication, there’s not too much to worry about. The trick with the clamps is simple; an old phrase sums it up: “Never saddle a dead horse." The question becomes which part of the clamp is the saddle. The diagram below  [Fig. 2] illustrates the right way to orient the clamps: The dead part of the cable is considered to be the loose end, or tail as I refer to it.

Wire Rope Clamped

Figure 2: The 'dead horse' is the tail of the cable; the 'saddle' of the clamp goes over the standing part before the thimble.

A good online resource can be found at Edson in New Bedford, MA.  Edson provides all sorts of great system diagrams, maintenance manuals, and the like to help in working through steering systems.  They are always my go-to source for cable steering system information.

As for the number of clamps to use, I always refer to the guidelines that OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) puts out for construction applications. If it works for a crane-lifting heavy objects in crowded metro areas, it works on a small boat in my view.  As an example, all wire rope sizes up to and including 7/16” diameter require a minimum of a 7” tail and two properly sized clamps. This requirement more than covers small boat cable steering systems.