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How can I tighten up my steering?

2009 April 1
Dear Boat Doctor,

The steering on my Catalina 36 seems a little loose and a friend of mine suggested that I check the steering cables. The cables seem OK but I don't know how tight they should be. I saw little eyebolt adjusters on the top of the rudder post, and there is adjustment room left. Can you offer me some guidance here?

Mark Collins
Marina del Rey, California

Dear Mark,

You want a deflection of about one inch for every three feet of unsupported length of cable. However, I'd inspect your entire steering system to find the source of your sloppy steering.

Start with the boat on the hard to assess the state of the rudder post bearing. Check the deflection of the rudder side to side and fore and aft. If you have more than a half inch in any direction you'll want to inspect and potentially replace your rudder bearings.

Next, check those cables thoroughly. You want to inspect for any damage and lube the system while you are there. Wipe down the cables and pulleys with 30-weight oil. Finally, check out the steering pedestal itself and the connection of the steering wheel to it. If you have any play in it, Edson Marine (www.edsonmarine.com, 508-995-9711) sells complete rebuild kits for its pedestals.