Steering Systems and Controls

Are boaters afraid of complete electronics when it comes to controlling the steering, speed and direction of their boat?
The answer, apparently, depends on whether you’re talking about steering or other controls.
For throttle control, electronics are becoming a bigger and bigger part of the game, replacing more mechanical linkages and hydraulic cylinders. For steering, however, component manufacturers are, at this point, still convinced that consumers would rather “fly by linkage” than rely on “Fly By Wire” — meaning electronic steering is still something of the future, not the present.
Sure, complete electronic controls definitely have a future, and more than one company will privately admit that they are working on the systems. But those same folks say they are waiting for signs of market acceptance.
“It’s that whole water-and-electricity thing,” one steering company official quipped. “People still don’t trust the steering of their boat to wires.”
For now, the name of the game is improving mechanical and hydraulic steering systems, according to officials we talked to at the major steering companies.
The Steering Business
Within the business of steering systems, Teleflex Inc.’s purchase of Morse Controls in February of 2001 narrowed the shooting field and created Teleflex-Morse, the market share dominator in the United States.
Uflex USA, a division of European-based Ultraflex, is one of the only other major steering system manufacturers shooting for the midle of the recreational boating market. In Europe, Ultraflex is stronger than it is in the U.S., where it is a solid No. 2 player.
Mechanical systems still make up the majority of the steering system market, particularly for smaller boats where low price and simplicity are key factors.
That said, hydraulic systems are starting to gobble up more of the market, as consumers start to demand the higher quality, control and feel of a dampened system. A Teleflex official at the METS Amsterdam show said the U.S. market is now about 70 percent mechanical and 30 percent hydraulic, with hydraulic systems gaining in share.
Uflex, has been primarily known for its mechanical systems, though the company has recently released a whole line of hydraulic systems that will put the company more into the heart of that market.
“In the last 18 months, we’ve released more new products than in the last seven years,” explained Bill Michel of Uflex.
High-end vendors like Kobelt and Rexroth, meanwhile, shoot for an entirely different market.
Also at the METS show, Jack Kobelt was showcasing his products for big yachts and various ocean going vessels. In this market, electronics have made a bigger dent, as builders combine electronics with pneumatics or hydraulics.
Electronics Popular In Controls
In the controls segment, the fear of electronics is passing quickly. That, in turn, may make customers more open to electronics in steering as the years pass.
With electronic controls, boaters are able to control more functions more easily than with mechanical systems.
Plus, with engines already carrying electronic fuel injection and other features, it appears to be less of a mental “jump” for consumers to accept electronic control of the engine’s rpm.
“The market is headed toward totally electronic,” one Glendenning official pointed out while standing next to one of his company’s electronic systems that has a mechanical backup.
There are still plenty of hydraulic, pneumatic and mechanical systems in this segment, however.
Product Listings
The Mighty Mariner From Kobelt
The Mighty Mariner is a new mini system has all the same attention to detail and quality as its larger predecessor, yet offers a compact, economical solution for smaller craft. The system is comprised of a 6505 control head with a 6527 electronic actuator, both in bronze and stainless steel. The control head is completely watertight from the topside. The 6527 actuator is a stand-alone actuator with manual override. The electronics are stored in the housing of the actuator itself, eliminating the need for the separate microprocessor unit. Communication is via a CAN Bus. This system offers up to four stations with station interface, station lock, overriding throttle and synchronization. Contact Kobelt Engineering, 8238 128th Street, Surrey, British Columbia, Canada V3W 0A6; 604/590-7313; www.kobelt.com.

Uflex’s New Offerings
Uflex is releasing an entire new hydraulic steering line including three options for cubic inch displacement helm pumps in tilt, standard and back mount configurations, as well as two new outboard steering cylinders and four new inboard cylinders. The cylinder featured above is the new Uflex front mount outboard cylinder (UC 128), which was specifically designed to work on almost every 2- and 4-stroke outboard. It is the most compact cylinder in its class, UFlex claims. Contact Uflex USA, Inc. 941/351-2628 or www.uflexusa.com.

Its All About Titanium
ZF Mathers has unveiled a new titanium control head. The PVD Titanium fits into the company’s MC2000 lineup. PVD Titanium control heads have passed extensive salt spray testing, demonstrating outstanding corrosion and abrasion resistance as well as UV resistance, according to ZF Mathers. Plus, MC2000 control heads are compatible with any ZF Mathers electronic control systems. Contact ZF Mathers LLC, 1415 Pacific Drive, Burlington, WA 98233; 800/546-5455.

Next Stage Of EEC-2001
Glendinning is offering a new Electronic Engine Control (EEC) System for electronically controlled engines and transmissions. The EEC-2001 provides many features not found on any other electronic engine control. WARM, SLOW, TROLL, BUMP, and 2-BUTTON STATION TRANSFER are only a few of the features available. The EEC-2001 provides the boat operator with diagnostic information about the operation of the system. The EEC-2001 also sports a new, contemporary look to its Control Head. Gear positioning indicators and Mode indicating lights make this head informative and attractive. The EEC-2001 is available in chrome and black powder-coated finishes. Contact Glendinning Products, 740 Century Circle, Conway, SC 29526; 843/399-5005; www.glendinningprods.com.

Teleflex BayStar
Customers seeking the light steering and other advantages of hydraulic steering systems without the heavy price tag of standard hydraulic steering systems now have a choice from Teleflex Morse called BayStar. With BayStar, owners of boats with up to 150 total horsepower get steering with less play and no feedback, like the SeaStar system, but with a more paletable pricetag. Teleflex officials say this new system will be a popular step up for boat owners on a budget. Contact Teleflex Marine, 640 North Lewis Road, Limerick, PA 19468; 610/495-7011; www.teleflex.com.

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