Shopping for Hydraulic Helm Pumps
Tiller, push/pull cable, and rotary cable steering has become a rarity even on smaller boats due to the reliability and cost effectiveness of hydraulic steering. One of the main contributing factors is the helm pump. This ingenious little piece of engineering converts human input and converts it into hydraulic power seamlessly. A correctly installed hydraulic steering will provide smooth left and right movement without any lag and little to no feedback from the interference of the engines or rudder. Helm pump steering is not a new concept with boat helm pump hydraulic steering dating back to the 1970’s. As time progressed and larger outboard engines gained popularity the helm pumps for the hydraulic steering had to change to keep pace.
There are several factors that determine the size of the helm pump making it suitable for a particular vessel such as the size of the vessel, the displacement, the horsepower, and the operating speed. This might sound straight forward but a helm pump for a sterndrive vs an outboard, given the same horsepower and similar boat, might not be the same. Although it is advisable to contact the steering manufacturer for technical assistance prior to purchasing a unit it is not uncommon to find out later that it underperforms.
Seastar Solutions®, Vetus® and Uflexx® are some of the leading brands for helm pumps and boat steering components. The Seastar® brand offers helm pumps for a much wider range of vessels than that of Uflex® such as for run-abouts to yachts as well as work boats. The Dometic® group provides numerous boat steering options under the Seastar Solutions® brand. Some of the legacy hydraulic systems such as the Hynautic helm pump can be found on many older vessels that are still in operation today and thankfully parts for this brand of hydraulic steering are still available from the Dometic® company.
Although the helm pump is an important component in the hydraulic steering system it is one of the components that provides hours of reliable service requiring very little maintenance. If a helm pump should require a service helm pump seal, kits are readily available. Another component of the hydraulic steering system is the hydraulic cylinders and linkages. These components work continuously when underway and require frequent inspection and occasional maintenance. An additional factor contributing to the maintenance requirements of the hydraulic cylinders and linkages is that they are often located in a damp area with limited access, or they are out in the open in harsh marine environments. The hydraulic lines and fittings should provide years of trouble-free service provided they are protected from chafing and UV exposure. Replacement hydraulic lines are not complicated to replace with replacements available from most manufacturers. The important function when done replacing the helm pumps seals, overhauling the hydraulic cylinders or replacing a hydraulic hose is to fill and bleed the system. Filling the system with the correct type of oil as recommended by the manufacturer and removing any entrapped air is an undebatable requirement in any hydraulic steering system. Following the manufactures repair and maintenance requirements will always ensure a reliable and safe hydraulic steering system.