Fall Boat Inspection-Get Ready for Next Season–Winter or Spring
Has Been Steering Customers Straight for Over 38 Years!
Best known for its high performance hydraulic steering and tie-bar systems, Latham Marine has out-paced any competition and is internationally used by top racing teams, performance boat enthusiasts and people who take “pleasure” boating seriously. With over 10,000 parts and 7,000 components, including drive accessories, trim tabs, controls, lifts and hoses and fittings, all engineered in-house and built in the USA, Latham Marine products are hard-tested in the most brutal environments, resulting in robust, ultra-reliable marine hardware. Latham Marine also expanded from performance boats to fishing boats and sport yachts where stronger, better-engineered systems were needed to accommodate the extra power, weight and speeds of today’s technology.
With fall boating here, it’s time to either start plans to put the boat away or if you’re lucky, move it to a warmer location! Whether prepping your vessels for the last outings of the season or getting ready for the next chapter, Latham Marine suggests now is the perfect time to inspect your boat’s external steering system. When a marine system is as trouble-free as Latham’s steering, it might be easy to take for granted, but with age, hard use and harsh conditions, even a product as reliable as Latham Marine eventually requires maintenance, rebuild or replacement.
According to Tom Gongola, technical sales specialist at Latham Marine, there are easy steps that even the least technical boater can take to assure their steering system is in top form and save a great deal of time and aggravation while out on the water for a fun day of boating!
First, if your steering rams are 10 to 15 years old, it could be time for a rebuild. All Latham steering rams receive a serial number that shows when they were built, purchase date and any service history performed by Latham Marine. So if you purchased a pre-owned boat with Latham Steering, the information is still available.
For the do-it-yourselfers, a PDF of the build is available to show exactly what goes where, but Latham Marine highly suggests that you allow their professionals to do the factory re-builds. Latham representatives are also available toll-free at, 800-422-RAMS (7267) if there are glitches or you need advice.
Gongola also advises boaters who remove their drives for inspection and maintenance to take advantage of the down-time by having the steering system inspected as well. There are additional ways for a boater to provide basic steering system checks and Gongola recommends making them part of your regular boating ritual. First,
he says, start the system check on the outside of the boat.
Check the condition of external hoses–they should be pliable and free from signs of wear. In addition to leaking, worn hoses can allow seawater to enter the system, causing additional, more costly damage. “Check hoses at least once a year, especially if the boat has been in storage,” Gongola adds. Then check the condition of all of the steering system hardware; drive mounts, nuts, bolts, tie-bar assembly – nothing is too minor. Check the steering rams as well.
Check for potential steering cylinder trouble while the boat is on the trailer (the engine off and propeller removed). Check for air in the system by shaking the drive unit; there should be no movement in the cylinder rods. If there is, air must be bled from the system. If there is fluid leaking, a cylinder rebuild is necessary. Eventually, time and the elements take their toll on O-rings and other seals, which are replaced in every rebuild.
Cylinder rams should not be pitted, deformed or damaged in any way. Gongola says that only parts showing significant wear will be replaced in a rebuild, but he strongly recommends having both cylinders rebuilt or replaced at the same time if a problem is detected with one. Latham Marine can even restore the cylinder’s chrome plating, which Gongola says is more than just aesthetics. “The plating helps protect against corrosion from saltwater, especially in older, brass-under-chrome steering rams,” he adds, although all Latham steering systems have been made from stainless steel since the early 90s.
Now, Gongola says, it’s time to check the inside. Check the steering fluid level. The fluid level in the power steering reservoir should remain constant from a cold engine start to shut down after the engine is well warmed. “If the fluid level drops at cold start,” Gongola warns, “it indicates air in the system which should be bled off.” If you want to do the work yourself, a call to Latham can help you walk through the process-if not, see a service
Latham steering, even full hydraulic systems use standard automatic transmission fluid. The reasons are simple: it’s inexpensive, widely available and different brands can be mixed without concern–something that can’t be done with hydraulic fluid, according to Gongola who further advises that the fluid should be a “healthy red color, not discolored in any way.” If it is dark, thick or sludgy, call Tom and he can provide some advice on fluid draining and replacement. Check the power steering pump belts for wear and proper tension. Most filters should be replaced after about 100 hours, depending on the type or use of the boat. Any time the system is serviced, it’s a good idea to replace the filter.
Finally it is time to start the boat. “It is always better to avoid having problems in the water by doing your
preliminary checks out of the water,” Gongola emphasizes. As you start out slowly and evaluate the steering, make sure the steering is operating “as usual.” Under engine power, turn the wheel fully left-to-right. Does it feel
“normal?” are there any strange noises, or does anything feel differently than it did?
Latham Marine can rebuild a steering cylinder starting at around $250-350 and up, depending on the condition and if any part replacement is necessary. Gongola notes this is “an inexpensive way to maintain or even improve the performance of your boat,” reminding that a “steering failure while underway can lead to a very bad day on the water.”
As part of its regular inspection routine, Latham will completely disassemble and totally refit the entire steering ram. Latham will perform a complete pressure test for proper operation and return the ram to the customer, ready to re-install.
For more information, call 800-422-RAMS (7267) or visit www.lathammarine.com. Latham Marine has been steering customers straight for over 38 years, so insist on genuine Latham Marine parts.