Gilbert Park shows how he replaced his boat’s hydraulic hoses following a steering failure, plus a quick guide on How to Inspect a Hydraulic System
I bought my three-year old Jeanneau Merry Fisher 855 in November. After a full survey I sailed her back to Emsworth a few days later, with no problems. She sat in her mud berth over the winter without being used, apart from some maintenance.
In April I decided it was time to get the outboard engines serviced and a stopcock changed, on the advice of the surveyor, for which she’d need to come out of the water. I arranged to take her 500m to Emsworth Yacht Harbour, on a Friday evening. As the boat floated off the mud I started the various checks and noticed that the steering was very light.
Further examination revealed no movement of the engines when the wheel was turned.
Looking at the hoses it became apparent that there was a hole in one where someone had put a right angle bend and a cable tie. There was a further cable tie holding the hose in position. This resulted in excessive flexing of the hoses with cracking of the outer core exposing the wire reinforcement that rusted away. The loss of strength once this had occurred meant rupture of the hose was inevitable. Fortunately I was able to get a tow to the waiting berth.
I asked several boatyards about replacing the hoses, but nobody was available at the time so it was down to me. With patience and lots of viewing of ‘how to’ videos it turned out to be fairly straightforward.
The first thing to do was to find someone who could make replacement hoses once I removed the old ones: Pirtek in Portsmouth were happy to oblige.
Replacement oil was also needed. Jeanneau are very specific about the oil (ISO 22) you should use. Pirtek could supply this, but only in five gallon drums – far too much for my needs. I tried all the nearby chandlers but, although they had oil for a steering system, it was the wrong specification. So it was online to a well known auction site where I found exactly the right oil in a 5lt container – still too much but some spare wouldn’t go amiss.
I carefully marked the connections and once I’d removed the hoses I took them to Pirtek. They suggested that instead of fabric covered, wire reinforced tubing I instead use nylon hoses that wouldn’t suffer the same problem. Stainless steel connectors were not in stock, but were ordered for the next day. In addition, I bought a screw-in spigot for the oil reservoir and a right angle connector to avoid a repeat of the problem.
How to inspect a hydraulic system
This failure made me realise that my steering system needs regular checking. The thought of it failing crossing Lyme Bay, on the trip from Plymouth to Emsworth, still fills me with horror.
Does the steering feel normal when you turn the wheel smartly from side to side? If it feels ‘notchy’ air may have got into the system.
Do twin engines move at the same time? Overly light or heavy steering may warrant further investigation before taking the boat out to sea.
Check the oil level in the reservoir. Oil doesn’t evaporate and if the level falls there’s a leak.
Carefully check all hoses, seals and connections both inside and outside the boat for wear or deterioration. Cracking and/or discolouration may indicate that failure is imminent.
Remove the cap from the reservoir and check the colour of the oil. It should be clear and almost the same colour (may be slightly darker) as when it was put in. If it’s black, the oil has deteriorated, so the cause should be found and rectified and then the oil changed. If it’s milky then water is getting in.
Check the steering ram to ensure none of the fittings are loose, that it moves without hindrance and that there are no leaks from any of the seals.