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tiller extensions

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Evinrude Service Bulletin

Obsolete Outboards
by Max Wawrzyniak

Column #5
Rigging Old OMC Outboards for Remote control
(Part 2 - remote steering)

It does one little good to control shift, throttle, and shut-down from a remote location unless one can also control steering.

Before we delve into remote steering, we should consider an alternative; The tiller extension. For the smaller boat that can be controlled from the general vicinity of the outboard motor, a tiller extension makes a lot of sense. There were factory-made tiller extensions for these old OMC engines, but one can be easily made from PVC pipe from the local hardware store. Jim Michalak has instructions on how to build your own tiller extension posted in the back issues of his website.

But if you just HAVE to have a steering wheel…

Back in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, the most common outboard remote steering system, by far, was the cable-over-sheave (pulley) system. The components for these systems were readily available and cheap, and despite what boat dealers say about them, these systems were safe and reliable and very “fixable” by your average Joe. The reason that they fell out of favor was because they can be time-consuming to install, compared to push-pull cable and hydraulic systems.

Don’t you believe it when a boat dealer or mechanic tells you that such systems are suitable only for low-horsepower engines. I have personally piloted commercial vessels 100 feet in length equipped with cable-over –sheave steering systems. As long as the system is laid out correctly and the hardware properly sized to the job, these systems can be reliable and relatively friction free. And anyway, we are talking about low-horsepower engines here.

The components needed to install such as system are cable and sheaves, both Of which are still available new, and I would suggest that you buy them new, with safety in mind. You also need a helm unit, or steerer, consisting of a cable drum, steering wheel, and the stuff that holds them together and mounts them. Other than for racing use, these cable-drum helm units are not longer manufactured, but are often seen at swap meets and on the auction sites. There are several different variations; some have the drum mounted on the exterior of the dashboard; some have the drum mounted on the interior of the dashboard, and the shaft to the steering wheel either runs through the dash , or under the dash. The cheapest units you find will have an automotive-style steering wheel and have the drum on the inside of the dash.

The outboard racers tend to drive up the prices of “external” drum steerers with automotive wheels, and the nautical collectors drive up the prices of anything with a ship’s wheel.

Also, note that the steering shaft may mount perpendicular to the dash panel or at an angle to the dash panel. Being flexible should get you a reasonably priced helm unit. Although newer units have a shaft with a standard taper that will accept most modern steering wheels, be advised that some really old steerers from the ‘50s and maybe early ‘60s may have an odd shaft arrangement and you had better get a wheel with the drum unit.

The only other parts needed are maybe fair leads where the steering cable needs to make a slight bend, and some way to attach the cable to the outboard.

Nearly all (but not all) of the OMC outboards that we are talking about feature a steering-attachment mounting hole in the “carry handle” on the front of the engine. With a genuine OMC steering attachment, hooking the steering up to an engine is a one minute job (after you have rigged all of the cables and sheaves. Of course). If one lacks the proper attachment, it is possible to ‘engineer” something that will work.

Which brings us to safety. If your steering system fails, someone could get hurt or killed. Which means that you should use lock-nuts or lock-tite on bolted connections, and which means it is always preferable to bolt sheaves rather than fasten them with screws. It also means that you thoroughly test your steering system before putting it into service, and that you inspect it regularly.

Laying out the cable runs is the hard part. It will take a little time. And you will run into problems, but they can be solved. For instance, if you are running your steering  Cables along the insides of the hull, but the hull sides curve fore and aft, the cable, which is under tension and straight, is 6 inches away from the curving side of the boat amidships. No problem. Just install a few fairleads to hold the cable in close to the hull sides. The slight amount of drag that the fairleads will induce will not be a problem. If, however, you need to make a corner or 45 degrees or more, you had better use a sheave.

When I installed cable-over-sheave steering in my AF4, I mounted the wheel to starboard on the aft bulkhead of the cabin, and ran both cables down the starboard side of the boat, with a couple of fairleads to hold them close to the side of the hull. After both cables pass through holes in the forward motor well bulkhead, one cable goes over a sheave and makes a 90-degree turn and leads over to the port-side of the boat. Two more sheaves lead it to the port side of the motor. The remaining cable stays to starboard and turns to meet the outboard with one sheave mounted in the starboard stern corner of the motor well.

It is common practice to lead the cables to a sheave on the motor connector and have the cables return to the corners of the boat, where they are secured to compression springs to allow for changing cable length when the motor is tilted up. These gives a 2 to 1 mechanical advantage to the steering system and is all the “power steering’ that you get or need.

It is important to try to have the anchor points for the final sheave at the transom, and the end of the cable, as closely aligned with the axis of the outboard motor tilt “hinge pin” or tilt tube, as is possible. This will minimize the tendency of the cables to go slack or tighten up as the motor is tilted up.

Once you hassle with laying-out these cables, sheaves, and fairleads, you will see why boat builders and dealers prefer to install push-pull cables, but if you lay it out right, and don’t have the cable dragging on anything, you will have a very friction-free steering system.

Or you can buy a brand-new push-pull system and figure out how to adapt it to your old engine. I have adapted these new systems to old outboards, but one has to engineer one’s own connector kits. Plus, the cable and sheave system can be cheap if one runs into a deal, such as someone removing a whole system to replace it with something more “modern” often the old system will be offered “for sale,” complete and cheap.

With nearly all old OMC outboards from the mid’50s until the early ‘70s, there is no reason that you cannot have remote control of shift, throttle, steering, and engine shut-down. Which can make operating your Bolger Sneakeasy or
Michalak Dorado that much more fun, and at not much cost.

Later, dudes