Question: I’ve noticed that it’s getting harder and harder to turn the steering wheel on my two-year-old outboard-powered boat. The boat has hydraulic assist. I’ve checked the fluid and it’s topped right up to the correct level. Everything looks clean and corrosion-free. Any clues on what may be causing this?
Answer: You don’t tell us much about you boat or the motor, but I can share a similar experience and what I found relative to this problem. In the photo above the red arrow is pointing to a large hex nut on the outboard engine support bracket. This arrangement is pretty common to all outboard engines in this size range. This nut caps one end of what is called the “steering tube” on the engine. These tubes are not actually sealed very well and water does manage to migrate into the tube during normal use. There are grease fittings located at either end of the tube and these need to be greased annually at the very least. Doing this will help to keep water from migrating into the tube and help to lubricate the link arm shown in the photo. This arm is connected to the hydraulic steering assist hydraulic ram.
What I have experienced on my own boat is that even though I had greased the fittings each season, I really had not greased them adequately and the link arm reached a point where it did not rotate as the motor was trimmed up all the way and then trimmed back down for normal use. This caused the steering link to seize in the “engine up” position and not drop down when the engine was lowered into the water. The result of this was a binding in the steering linkage and the hard-to-turn steering wheel you describe.
The fix for this is to remove the smaller hex nuts holding the steering links at either end of the hydraulic ram and pull them out of the steering tube. Next, thoroughly clean the links and the inside of the steering tube with a wooden dowel with a solvent soaked rag wrapped around it. Work the solvent-soaked rag in and out of the tube until the old grease residue is removed. Pack some fresh grease into the tube and coat the links with fresh grease. Reinstall the links, making sure to use new nylock nuts to hold the links to the ends of the hydraulic ram arms. Then, finish things off by pumping as much grease as you can into the steering tube via the grease fittings on the outboard engine steering tube and bracket. This should now allow the partially seized link arm to articulate freely as you engine is raised and lowered and keep all the steering linkage components properly aligned so that your steering wheel will be free to move.
For an expanded article on this topic, read Tips on Hydraulic Steering for Outboards.