Pontoon Basics: Introduction to steering systems for pontoons, including hydraulic and power assist

goldnrod24

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I'm gonna do this like a wiki. If you have a contribution to this topic that contributes to the knowledge base, please add it. If you have questions about steering (like what is right for your application), go elsewhere in the club forum. I will monitor and delete all posts that do not add to the knowledge base, including opinions. You can express them elsewhere in the forums, too.

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Cable and pulley steering - the original outboard motor steering solution. A combination of thin cables and small pulleys that somewhat reduced steering effort (due to the pulley effect). It probably hasn't been installed as OEM for 40 (or more) years.

Cable steering - a single cable housed in a sheath. No reduction in steering effort required, just a better arrangement than cable and pulley. Still installed today in low horsepower applications (below 90 horse or so).

Hydraulic steering - Presently installed in many pontoons above 90 horsepower as OEM. DOES NOT reduce steering effort; mostly helps the motor stay on center and reduce wandering. The presence of a hydraulic cylinder on the motor mount is evidence of this kind of system. I'd wager a guess that 90% of present day pontoon boats are so equipped with hydraulic steering and the most common product names are Baystar or Seastar. Only the Seastar system can be electrically assisted.

Electric power assist - Available as an option and piggybacked with the Seastar hydraulic system. This is the only system so far on this list that actually reduces the input necessary to turn the boat. Hydraulic alone? Nope. Electric over hydraulic? Yes. Do not ASSume that your boat has power steering if it is equipped with hydraulic steering.

Internal power steering - This system is factory installed on high horsepower outboards and most I/O installations. On outboards, the system in completely self-contained and uses no external electric motor. On an I/O installation, the pump is attached to the engine block and turned by a pulley, just like the power steering pump on an automobile (which makes sense because most I/O motors are automobile engine-based).

BayStar installation manual: http://www.seastarsolutions.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/964610C.pdf

SeaStar installation manuals: http://www.seastarsolutions.com/support-2/installation-manuals-controls-cables/installation-manuals/seastar-installation-manuals/

Power assist manual: http://www.seastarsolutions.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/298403H.pdf
 

John Eddlemon

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Looks like the pump install is not that bad. I need to look around my boat and see where the hydraulic lines are run from the cylinder to the helm. Did you mount your pump in the compartment underneath the helm?
 

cwag911

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This upgrade is on my list for next year.... seems like easy DIY.
The tough part is bleeding the system. I had the dealer do it with a power bleeder.
 

jhill

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Uflex Hytech hydraulic steering complete system with hoses available for $518 and free shipping through July 2019 from Overtons. Rave reviews for Uflex with less seal leak issues. Most applications up to 150 hp outboard. I've watched almost every youtube video about hydraulic steering and was surprised how Uflex is taking over as quality and price can't be beat. I just ordered it for my 2013 22SLX with Yamaha 115 FLA that is getting play in steering and squeaking helm when turning. Boat has 320 hours.
 

jhill

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Keep us all posted on how the system works out for you long term. Like many others, I have the SeaStar because that’s what’s offered when you order. It’s worked great on our boat with no issues yet. Hoping it remains that way. Our boat is only a 2017, so the overall system is still new, and with Michigan seasonal boating, only gets about 3 months of use anyway.
I will!....I was blown away when I researched hydraulic steering systems and Uflex (who I never heard of, USA made) was getting such great reviews. Apparently, they build their cylinders with metal pistons instead of plastic (as some other entry models have) use multiple seals to avoid leaking, and can even work with hoses,etc from Seastar. They use fittings that swivel so you can aim them without over or under tightening them like some competitors. If you are buying top of model line, less difference. But the lower models appear to be more bang for buck. Also I learned to wipe the shiny cylinder rods to keep them clean and avoid hard water crust from building up on underside as that can damage any brands seals. Apparently, some boat manufacturers are now using them as OEM steering. Also just noticed that the price of premium Seastar Kevlar 1500 psi hoses change in price dramatically by length. (They will fit on most Uflex systems) You can buy 20 ft hoses for $97 but 2 foot shorter are more money, another 2 ft shorter even more money. They charge more for the higher demand lengths!!! With hydraulic hoses, some extra length could just be coiled and secured under helm I would assume. Under Amazon for Seastar Pro Kevlar premium 1500 psi hose....
10'=$190 16'=$160 18'=$109 20'=$97 22'=$251 and free shipping!..lol
 
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jhill

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Update....I am lazy and never got it installed. Started watching Portland Craigslist for Benningtons for sale and stumbled onto a 2017 22SSRCXP that our Benny dealer has as a used boat. It is sunset red with black accent and is loaded. Only 29.7 hours!!!! It has Yamaha 150 with SPS center toon sports package and hull rated at 200 hp! It comes with actual electric power assist hrdraulic steering and upgraded interior and extended decks front and rear and fish finder. Wrap around rear lounge with optional seat for use at any of door areas.... only drove it for 10 minutes and I was sold! Dealer wanted $45988 and we worked out a sweet trade in deal on my 2013 22SLX express tube with Yamaha F115LA outboard. This thing would cost $70k if ordered as a 2020. I had a battle pushing wife into considering upgrading but I finally won when River City Boats worked a great deal. I am so impressed with power steering in aggressive turns as boat banks in and raises outside toon up out of water! How cool!!! Yes it has a couple dings in pontoon and a small scratch here and there but looks perfect from 10-20 feet away and has another 7 years on factory warranty that covers most anything that could go wrong. I wont get it for a couple weeks as the dealer preps and services it. Can't wait! Here in Portland we have Willamette River that flows S to N thru center of city with many bridges then joins Columbia that runs E to W to ocean dividing Oregon and Washington State. 34 or so MPG is just fine for us!!! It will seat 13 on a 22' boat.
 

SEMPERFI8387

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Nice!! Remember, pics or it ain’t true ... ;):D
 

lakeliving

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Congrats on the new boat!
 

Michiman

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Sometimes lazy pays off! Congratulations and enjoy...
 

kaydano

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Just a comment on the wiki...

My cable steering helm has a full left to full right steering wheel turn count that was LESS than the total turns end to end on a hydraulic helm pump. More turns would mean more leverage, and may make the hydraulic seem easier than the cable steering system. Some have said the "hydraulic only" is easier than cable. That may be why.
 

jhill

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I think the big draw to hydraulic steering is the elimination of torque steer that you get with cable. If you let go of wheel under speed the cable system will begin to turn on its own if you don't intervene. I've only driven my (almost) new 2017 22 SSRCXP with power assist hydraulic steering for 10 minutes last week as dealer needs to routine service engine before I get it in another week. The steering is silky smooth and feels like my new 2019 Ram Rebel's electric steering. Even at high speed towing toys it should have consistent easy effort level I assume. I took a few 360 degree turns at speed and it was very satisfying steering feel.
 

kaydano

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Agreed. Circle of death. Fall out of a boat with cable steering and it will go hard over, turn in a circle, and run you over. Hydraulic will go straight until the boat hits the shore.
 
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