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How to Choose a Steering Cable System

May 5, 2010

Rotary Steering Helm

Cable steering systems are the most common type of boat steering mechanisms used in vessels with an outboard or stern drive for propulsion. Available cable systems include single or double cable models offered with either a rack and pinion or rotary helm unit.

All cable steering systems contain a jacketed cable that connects the turning wheel through the helm unit to the outboard or drive of the boat. The helm uses a push-pull motion on the steering cable so that when the driver turns the steering wheel, steering cables control the outboard or stern drive and direct the boat.

Rotary steering systems are manufactured by both Teleflex Morse and Uflex. A planetary rotary helm is the most compact and consists of three or more gears that mesh internally with the cable drum to move the helical core of the steering cable. The rugged reduction gear rotary helm is built with one or more gears that mesh externally with the drum to move the helical core of the steering cable. These rotary helms offer a compact system that will fit behind any dash or console. Rotary steering cable systems are available in both standard versions and no-feed (NFB) versions.

Rack and Pinion Steering Helm

Rack and pinion systems are also available in standard and NFB versions. This system involves a pinion gear, hobbed directly into the helm shaft and engages a rack gear in a tubular housing. The rack and pinion helm may require more space behind your boat’s console because of the long bar that acts as the rack. Rack and pinion steering is the most efficient mechanical approach to moving the steering cable.

If your boat has an engine over 150 horsepower or multiple engines, you’ll want to choose an NFB or “Zerotorque” steering cable system, which is designed for higher horsepower performance applications. If you are looking for a smaller, practical system for a vessel with under 60 horsepower, the Uflex Rotech will work well.

One Response to “How to Choose a Steering Cable System”


  1. Great post and I really like the picture guides as well. I remember when I first started thinking this was more confusing than it should be


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