Join Date: Jul 2008
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Steering Failure after Sailing
I had an interesting event occur last Sunday while out sailing my Pacific Seacraft Orion 27 in San Diego harbor. We had very good wind, and were able to get up to 5.5 knots sustained speed most of the day. There were a lot of boats out, so we did get tossed around some by wakes, etc. but nothing I would consider abnormal, or unexpected of being out on the water. While motoring back into the marina, my hydraulic steering system failed, and for a few brief minutes was left drifting into the marina until I was able to rig the emergency tiller and regain control. Very scary at first, since we were about 4 boat lengths away from either running into other tied up boats, or hitting the waste pump out dock, depending on the direction of the rudder when the steering failed. I used the motor and a combination of forward and reverse to avoid hitting anything while my wife dug out the emergency tiller and then I got it installed on the rudder post. Luckily disaster was averted, but now I need to figure out why the steering failed and what to do about it.
Last year about May, I had a local Marine Service company replace my worn out 27 year old rack and cable steering system with a new semi custom hydraulic system. Since my steering pedistal is mounted on my hinged engine access cover, a normal wire cable system can't be fitted, since when opening up the engine cover, the entire pedistal rotates with the hinged cover, and the hydraulic system looked like the way to go. I also couldn't find a replacement rack and cable system on the market heavy duty enough for my boat.
I had heavy duty Marine grade parts, pumps, hoses, etc. sized for the boat, and some custom mounting hardware made up, and powder coated to resist corrosion. All worked well for a little over a year. After getting back to the slip safely, I opened up the engine cover and saw that the connection from the hydraulic ram to the swivel fitting on the tiller arm were separated. This is a threaded connection. Not sure yet if they became unscrewed, stripped out, or if the swivel fitting simply broke / sheered.
The guy who designed the system is a 20+ year experienced Mechanical Engineer who has been doing Marine work for a very long time. He came highly recommended, and did a awesome design job. What I need to figure out is if this is just a random component failure (infant mortality) or a bad design or part selection issue. Not sure how to determine if the forces on the rudder during normal sailing were more than the fitting could handle, or if alignment might be to blame, etc.
Any thoughts on where to start the investigation, or what questions to ask the Engineer after he comes and takes a look at the problem? I am a Electrical Engineer by trade, but this mechanical linkage / force, strain stuff is a little out of my area of expertise, but I understand how to troubleshoot when I have a little background information. I would appreciate any feedback or suggestions on how to make sure this doesn't happen again, especially when offshore, and how I can guarantee a sturdy steering system.
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1980 Pacific Seacraft Orion 27
Sailing Grounds: Southern California