The steering system may well be the most overlooked and neglected system on your boat. That’s because it tends to work. That is, until it doesn’t, which is usually in a narrow shipping channel or at two in the morning offshore. When steering fails, the voyage ends. So, it makes real sense to regularly inspect, maintain and upgrade your steering systems.
For most of us, the system will involve one or two wheels on pedestals, and a chain inside the pedestal that runs over a chain gear with both ends attached to wire cables. You may have a pull-pull system that is a little different; or, you may have rod system that runs through universal joints to the quadrant. Each will have a quadrant of some type on the rudder post that is kept in place by a metal key and bolts. You may also have a small tiller on the rudder shaft that is attached to the autopilot.
When you inspect the steering, check all of the cable attachments and the sheaves where a cable turns on its route to the quadrant. Keep all moving parts well greased and free from chafe or obstruction. The cables of a wire system should be tight so there is no play as you turn the wheel, but not so tight that the sheaves are under load. On rod systems, make sure the universal joints and mounting brackets are clean, greased and secure.
On the quadrant, make sure that the cables or rods are well secured, that the bronze casting has no cracks, that the key is secure and not corroded, and that the bolts are tight. Use Loctite on these bolts to keep them in place and corrosion free. Check your rudder bearings whenever you haul the boat for bottom paint and replace them if they are worn and loose around the rudder post. Carry spare cables or rod sections and look after the quadrant and bearings and the steering system will look after you for years.
Also, if you don’t already have one, think about investing in wind vane steering that will take over if something were to happen to your main steering system while at sea.