Edson's steering and pump products have been proven in countless circumnavigations, expeditions, ocean races, and family cruises over the past century and a half or so. Here are some of the best practices learned over that time, with some links to other available resources.
As with so many other things, the best way to fix a problem is not to have one in the first place. The best way to do that is to start with a thorough inspection of the system as described here: Pre-purchase steering inspection - Edson Marine
Edson recommends replacing steering chain and wire on a 10 year cycle for boats used in saltwater. For boats that sail year round or spend significant time in semi-tropical or tropical climates, that cycle will be shortened. If the boat uses conduit in the steering system, that should be replaced on the same schedule, as should engine control cables.
The steerer shaft turns on needle bearings which are on a 20 year replacement cycle. A broken needle bearing (typical failure mode is that the plastic cage breaks) will at least cause marginalized steering but can cause a complete steering lockup.
Mentioned in the inspection link but worth a separate mention is to check the sheave pins. If your boat's sheave pins are bronze, replace them. They are 30+ years old and are well past their service life. Their stainless replacements are more durable. Depending on which sheaves your boat has, they are lubricated either with SuperLube (for needle bearing sheaves) or with a lightweight (30w or less) motor oil (bronze bushing sheaves). Properly lubricated bronze bushings riding on stainless pins will not create a galvanic corrosion problem. A broken sheave pin is difficult to replace underway and proactive pin replacement substantially eliminates the chance of this happening.
Your chain should be lubricated at least yearly, and twice yearly is better. Edson's ChainCare + is an ideal, purpose-specific solution to this task, and is also ideal for coating the cable. Alternate lubes are Boeshield T-9 and 30w oil. Oil doesn't work particularly well as a cable lube, and it's messy to use as a chain lube, but it works. If your boat uses conduit, you MUST NOT use petroleum-based products to lube it, as they will eat the plastic liner in the conduit and leave you with a bigger problem. SuperLube is the best lube for conduit.
Proper cable tension is critical for the steering system to perform at its best. A comprehensive guide to tensioning your steering cables is available here Steering cable tension - Edson Marine with some additional ideas here Cable tension dos and don'ts - Edson Marine. Slop in the steering system is a performance-robbing annoyance that's usually solved with good cable tension, but cable slack is also the primary cause of cables jumping sheaves and other higher-order problems.
Emergency tillers are an absolute requirement, but many boats are compromised with systems that are difficult to deploy and use. I recently encountered an emergency tiller which required removal of the pedestal to deploy. If there's one of those out there, there are more of them for sure. Familiarize yourself with how to switch to emergency steering and practice it before you need to use it.
Nominate one person on the crew to be in charge of the steering system and be the lead in the event of any issues.
A steering specific tool kit can be a life saver. A completely stocked kit consists of:
- Spare chain and cable (throw your old ones in a heavy duty Ziploc with some ChainCare+ or Boeshield)
- A tensioning hardware kit - Tensioning Hardware (edsonmarine.com) - or at least one take-up eye and two cable clamps appropriate to your boat's steering wire.
- A spare master link of the correct size for your boat's chain
- Dyneema lashing string. A 2022 Newport-Bermuda Race Class winner lashed their steering cable to their chain for the last day of the race when their (well past overdue for replacement) chain broke a link. Creative use of a thimble, cable clamps, and lashing string can make a temporary steering cable. Lashing string is great stuff.
- Dedicated crescent wrenches for each nut size in your steering system
- The correct pedestal rebuild kit for your boat.
- Quick pin of the diameter to match your sheave pins, but longer. In a pinch, the quick pin will be much easier to install and work well for temporary use. Replace with a proper sheave pin as soon as practical as a quick pin will rotate in the bracket, which wears down both bracket and sheave over time.
- Appropriate lubes