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Why won’t my boat go in a straight line?

2009 September 1
Dear Boat Doctor,
I just bought a 1995 Catalina 36 and I am having problems with the steering. At first I thought the steering cables were loose, but after investigating, I see that the large pulley on the rudder shaft is loose. It appears to be held on with a small bolt and that bolt has worn an oval hole in the rudder shaft. When I turn the wheel, the pulley turns a lot before the shaft starts to move.

I really need to fix this problem, the boat is hard to steer in a straight line and my wheel pilot does not work at all. Do you have any advice for me?

Tim Shaw
Detroit, Michigan

Dear Tim,
You have a serious steering problem, and it is critical that you fix this. I consulted with Edson International (www.edsonintl.com, 508-995-9711), the manufacturer of your steering gear, for the best advice.

The radial wheel (the large pulley that the cables attach to) is connected to the rudder post by a clamping action-the hole in the radial wheel is designed to be .003 to .005 inches smaller than the rudder post so that the two halves of the wheel clamp over the shaft when tightened together. The through-bolt is just there as last resort in the case of an impact or grounding, it is not designed as the sole load-bearing component.

It is possible that the two halves of the wheel are loose, but more likely the shaft or wheel have worn out of tolerance with each other.

I would recommend that you remove the quadrant and carefully measure each component with a precise caliper. You'll want to make sure that the rudder post has not worn in the area where the wheel attaches. Assuming the post is OK, and the wheel is worn, you can order a replacement from Edson International.