28 October 2006 | The Helm
When we bought this boat the hydraulic steering system was one of the things in the negative column for me. Hydraulic auto pilots fail at the same time that you lose the helm if there's a hydraulic system failure. If your hydraulic system blows a hose off of a fitting you are not going to fix it anytime soon. Once the fluid is in the bilge, you are on the emergency tiller. Finding hoses, the right hydraulic oil, pumps, etceteras is going to be a bit more difficult than locating cable in remote places in my estimation. My favorite mechanisms are direct with no fluids or cables. You don't have the same feel at the helm with indirect systems that you get with a direct system but then again cats don't have that much helm feel anyway.
I have had a change of heart (if you can't change something about your boat you become a convert, right?). Seriously though, on a boat this big a hydraulic system has some substantial advantages and may be a necessity. First, and perhaps most important, a hydraulic system provides a physical advantage necessary when steering a 50' brute. The hydraulic system allows for a simple hydraulic auto pilot configuration as well. Auto pilots do a lot of work on a passage making boat and losing your AP means a very unpleasant passage. Direct drive auto pilots draw serious current and undergo substantial strains. Hydraulic auto pilots have a material advantage here, and tend to draw less current due to the advantages imparted by a hydraulic system. This not only benefits the battery conscious skipper but also increases the longevity of the unit. Hydraulic AP steering is more powerful and immediate as well.
It's kind of weird having the boat steer itself while the wheel just sits there but you get used to that. It's also nice to be able to point the boat somewhere and let go of the wheel without all hell breaking loose. The hydraulic system makes it possible for the builder to route the cables in a reasonable fashion, not so with a direct or cable system, things pretty much need to go in a straight line there. Perhaps the best of both worlds would be a hydraulic primary auto pilot and a backup direct drive. Maybe next refitů
I had to change out the hydraulic fluid on our boat today, did I say I liked hydraulic steering?