Hello all,

Lisa and I are new to the club but not to boating, we just purchased a 1980 410 commander which has been more of a floating condo than an operating craft and I am bringing all the systems back online. One thing I noticed is the wheel on the flying bridge turns but it is clearly not connected. The hydraulic lines are there and look a bit dirty. I was wondering if anyone might have any suggestions on how to check this out and look for what might be causing this? Does this only connect when the vessel is running?

Thanks for the help, we will begin posting pics of the "Irish Wake" shortly! 

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You, more than likely, need to prime the steering.  This should be covered in your manuals. It involves putting air into a something in the bilge ( my dad usually handles that)  and the bleeding the lines up on the bridge ( I handle this part). The valves are in the cabinet under the wheel.  We actually do this every spring.  My previous owner said they had not done this for several years and they actually even lost steering in the lower helm, too!! That got our attention,  so this is a prelaunch activity every year.

What kind of oil do you use in  the steering? Mine is the color of ATF oil. That is what I have used to top it up.

There is an aluminum reservoir in the bilge. Mine  (1973 410) is right behind the starboard engine on the bulkhead. It has a sight glass to see level and a pressure gauge. On top of the reservoir is a Schrader valve...like the air valve on an automobile tire. I run mine about half full and at about 10 psi. If I  go over 20 psi I get a leak in the lower helm somewhere.

John Brock

If the pressure goes below 10 psi the upper station won't work - sometimes just bringing the pressure back up to ( 15 - 20 psi ) will do the trick as long as there is no leak.

Just bringing the pressure up will not be enough and could leave you with a lapse in steering as air passes through the helm.  Fill your res 3/4 full, the red fluid was dexron 2.  pressurize to 30 lbs , watch the pressure gauge. If you notice the pressure dropping you may have a leak but unlikely as you are using the lower station already. It is best to have two people to do this as you want to maintain pressure in the res as you bleed the system. Starting with the highest helm turn the wheel slowly 2-3 seconds / turn 60 - 80- turns in one direction only. repeat at subsequent lower helms again turning only in the same direction. The oil level as well as the pressure will drop as you force good oil out of the res, through the lines and to the helm and piston, air and aerated oil will flow back to the res tank. Repeat going in the other direction, again beginning with the highest helm and finish with the res approx 2/3 full and the oil pressure between 25-30 lbs. The manual says higher but given your system is older like mine I would start at 25-30. You do need to bleed the pressure off if you require more fluid while bleeding. I find the small 12volt  electric air pumps work but don't take your eyes off it , it only takes a few seconds to get that small res to come up on pressure. the small hand pumps for refilling fenders work well also. Once the system is bled, I find just topping off the air is good. Mine is usually at 20 in the spring, I bring it to 25 and then again in the fall, back to 25. There is a process for bleeding the autopilot should you have one but that is usually only required if you lose fluid due to a leak or component replacement. When finished your turns lock to lock should be within 1/2 turn at all helms.

I have an autopilot but never use itI never us the upper helm. It worked when last I tried I about 4 years ago.

I have a leak in the lower helm if I  go over 20 -25 lbs. Looks like it's from the helm pump, not a fitting, but I have not been able to actually see it.

Last year I developed a new symptom. I have to constantly, slowly correct direction  by turning the wheel left. Never need a correction right. I also notice a slow helm rotation produces little to no steering effect.  Have to first give it a good turn, then it seems to catch and be ok.

Could it be air in the system? Some problem  with the steering cylinder? Check valve in the autopilot?


John Brock

check valve in the helm is my first guess as that is where you are seeing the leak, the rudders are constantly putting back pressure on the system when the are in a turn and in this case are bringing you back off your intended course as they re-center themselves. The need to give it a good turn can also be an indicator of air in the line as well. A good hydraulic shop can usually turn you around in just a few days. Not sure where you are located but we have two awesome shops here in Mass.

Not sure we have a hydraulic marine shop on Lake Erie. I will probably do it myself. Do you know where the check valves in the autopilot are? Maybe it's just obvious if I give it a look. The next question would be can I get a rebuild kit for the valves? Next option would be to bypass them and take the autopilot out of circuit,.


I don't John,I would check with your autopilot manufacturer with questions about rebuild kits etc. The check valves I had mentioned would be in the helm. Not sure of your mechanical ability but every time I have seen someone play with their hydraulics short of bleeding or a component swap out it has turned into a disaster. Take pictures (videos are better) and make sure everything is spotless. Tools, rags, work area. Good luck.

Well my upper station was not working - added a small amount of fluid , pressure to 20 and all was well ! 6 years later one of the quick couples on the fly bridge started leaking - picked up a new one at TSC and changed it . I was expecting to have to bled the system but I tried it first and to my utter joy it worked fine and has for the last 2 years . So if you a really small long term leak or the res. tank was leaking air you may not have to bled the system . The worst that could happen is you have to bled the system . The helm units are multi piston pumps ,often they can be fixed by replacing the seals and the many o rings .

Getting the helm pump out of the lower looks like an  issue in limited access. Once I get it out I will send it somewhere to rebuild it.

John, if you cannot find a local shop I have sent several people here and always with great results.. The last guy was told to go grab lunch and they would have it done when he came back. They usually have next day turn around.  https://www.rosesmarine.com/products_steering.html

John Brock said:

Getting the helm pump out of the lower looks like an  issue in limited access. Once I get it out I will send it somewhere to rebuild it.

Thanks for the tip Kevin!


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