Monday, February 26, 2007

Steering solenoid

One supposedly trivial task I have on my list is to change the solenoid for the steering gear.

To explain, Lady Jane has manual steering - which is, in effect, simply a pump which pumps hydraulic fluid to the steering rams.

Turning the wheel to the left pushes one ram, while turning the wheel to the right pushes the other ram, the rams push directly onto the rudder, and so Lady Jane is turned to port or starboard.

That is all well and good, but a bit labour intensive.

Lady Jane also has electric powered hydraulic steering, driven by a hydraulic pump and worked using two simple buttons.

The buttons control a pair of solenoids, which direct the hydraulic fluid to one or other of the rams.

This system could also be connected to an auto pilot, if I had one that worked.

Steering solenoidThe picture shows the 110v DC electric motor, the hydraulic pump, one of the solenoids and other pipes and things. Since I've owned Lady Jane, the electric powered hydraulic steering has never worked.

From the beginning, I've always been told 'all you need to do is just change the solenoid'.

Yeah, right!

Problem number one - someone else has already tried removing the solenoid and wrecked the allen key heads on the bolts. The heads on the screws holding the electric connectors in are also completely destroyed.

Problem number two - the steering solenoids are 110v DC - a device apparently unattainable.

Now I'm left with a steering system slowly seeping hydraulic oil where the solenoid used to be, no immediate means of replacing the troublesome solenoid and, to add insult to injury, no available replacement for the bolts I had to cut off to get the defective solenoid out.

On the positive side, I think the 'defective' solenoid may not be broken, and that it had simply been jammed on account of it rusting in place. Possibly because it had not been used for some time.

Interestingly, for me anyway, there are a lot of bits in that solenoid. Including a spring, which I may have lost.

Obviously something must be done before I go, else the manual steering may not work if things are just left as they are.


  1. Is it important to have 110v DC to the solenoid? could you not use, say 24 volts dc (using a 24 v solenoid of course) as long as its marked correctly and you have a " manual" available with warnings etc for the next owner. I am sure there are plenty of 24 volt solenoids out there, lorry type etc. you may need to step down the voltage from the control system but a transfotmer from Maplins or RS would do that for you!

  2. Rick Miles7:49 PM

    Hey Tim. Sure do know where you're coming from. 110 DC is nice in an historical aspect only it seems. We have been switching over from 110 dc to 110 AC 60C This involves a converter or a transformer. I know that our generators produce 110 DC 50C and we change it to 110 AC 60C before it get's to our main panel. That being said, we still have a 110 DC board that powers a few 110 DC motors that we still use aboard..steering pump, fuel transfer, and raw water cooling. When these motors fail( hopefully never!) I will replace them with 110 AC motors.YOu may also consider a battery bank and an inverter that creates 110 ac from say 24v DC.As Rob said, it seems that the solonoids might well work with 24v as our do with the 24v Robertson auto pilot. Now you're getting into the fun stuff!All the best!

  3. Whatever solution you come up with Im sure you dont need me to remid you to make the parts easily obtainable and as its steering keep replacements in stock (Or like the peniches and Dutch barges do)weld a ring onto the top surface of the rudder onto which you can affix a couple of chains/warps to a winch to steer externally for a while, or even a hand hydraulic pump that can be easily connected to effect some form of steering from the "steering room" as Im sure you know these things never break down until you really need them (just as you are approaching a mooring in a crowded harbour with one hell of a crosswind :o)) )Reminds me of electronic engine controls on a delivery to Ampuriabrava a couple of years ago they packed up just as I brought the boat in through the harbour entrance, only a circuit breaker but butt twitching time or what!

  4. Hi Rob

    My priority right now is to sort the steering for my impending 'jaunt' round to the Itchen.

    I suspect I'll simply use a blanking plate for now.



  5. Hi Rick

    Thanks for the comment.

    The issue of voltages is quite a problem, especially when considering the range of our vessels.

    I have steering gear, bilge pump/seawater cooling and the compressor all running off 110 v dc. Like you, I'll only replace these when they die (again hopefully never).

    Here in the UK, and many other parts of the world, domestic voltage is 240 volts, not 110.

    I am tending towards a 24 volt solution for the steering gear.

    As Rob points out, things need to be easily obtainable.

    I am also thinking for the future, when I invest in an integrated moving map/autopilot/radar etc., which will likely be a 24v system.


  6. Hi Rob

    I have a huge steering handle which goes over the rudder shaft, and some serious securing points for block and tackle to use in the event of an emergency.

    I can't imagine how stressful it would be to have to set it up and use it all in a hurry.

    I can see communication between the wheelhouse and steering room is likely to be pretty colourful.



  7. I bet that is an understatement. I can imagine it being a bit like the "navy lark" (eadio program from the 60s in which leslie phillips starred as the jimmy) where the jimmy on the bridge giving instruction to the helmsman said "left hand down a bit" etc. Dont go there, but should you have to then get the ships intercom set up with a speaker in the steering room as well as the engineroom!

  8. Hi Rob

    I have a few small walkie talkies, which work well for communicating across LJ.

    This saves wiring up everywhere.

    A phone system is on the list for sometime.



  9. Whoa! very posh! just the thing.

  10. It strikes me that all these little bits of 'civilisation' costs me progressively more in terms of power consumption!

    Next up will be some solar panels I suppose.