Operational issues with electronic power steering (EPS) systems — also known as joystick systems — usually boil down to two things: poor regular maintenance and improper installation, according to Ole Parker of Parker Yacht.
The good news is that they are fairly easy to maintain and unlikely to fail if installed correctly.
About a dozen captains, engineers and crew stopped by a recent Triton seminar about these systems hosted by Parker, whose company specializes in tender and outboard maintenance and repair.
It wasn’t long ago when EPS systems were a novelty on smaller boats, but they are becoming the norm, he said. On smaller boats, they tend to be installed in the back of the bilge for two reasons: it makes the hydraulic hoses shorter and there just isn’t enough room at the helm station. On boats with EPS systems, the autopilot will go through it as well.
“Nowadays, pretty much anything with twins and above all have EPS,” he said.
The best way to keep these systems operational is to keep salt spray at bay. That doesn’t mean they can’t get wet, though.
“It looks waterproof,” Parker said as he handled a unit in his workshop in Fort Lauderdale. “I don’t know if they say it is, but let’s use the term water resistant instead.”
When crew give the tender a washdown at the end of the day or charter, splash some of that fresh water on the unit.
“The majority of problems I see with these systems stem from lack of daily maintenance,” Parker told the group. “They don’t get rinsed down. Salt spray gets into the controls and switches and shorts out.”
And pay special mind to the units after a long tow.
“This happens a lot when you’ve been towing for several days and it’s been raining,” he said. “The boat is floating low and the bilge carries more water than normal. The unit gets half submerged, all the posts on the plug get wet, and before you know it, green stuff is growing on it. … When it’s green, you are on borrowed time.”
If the unit gets to that point, there is still hope, he said.
“A lot of times, it’s the harness that goes bad,” Parker said. “A straight short fries the system.”
“You can replace the harness, but 90 percent of the time, the plug is the problem,” he said. “Use a little dielectric grease, but not too much.”
Better yet is to prevent if from getting that bad in the first place, he said. Boeshield T-9 or Corrosion Block work great on the plug, he said.
“What I would do is make a console cover or have a good console cover made,” he said. “Make one out of weblon that’s zipped or snapped over the unit to keep the majority of the salt spray off it.”
Absent that, he said, “fresh water and Boeshield are your friends.”
Lucy Chabot Reed is publisher of The Triton. Comments are welcome below.