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Control Cables

Written by Nicholas Kamuda
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Control cables function as the interface between the skipper of a boat and the mechanical control mechanisms. Cables are used for communication between the skipper and many of the piloting controls on recreational boats, and because they are so important, they must be maintained properly. Careful maintenance of control cables can extend the cable's life, keep the controls on the boat tight and accurate, and prevent potentially shattering accidents.

For many boats, the feel of the steering and control cables change enough to give a skipper warning that the cables may be going bad. The first and primary warning is increased cable stiffness. If a wheel feels stiff, there is a good chance that either the steering cable is going bad or there is a pivot somewhere in need of lubrication. Likewise, if a control lever has become stiff, oftentimes the shift cable may be stuck or worn beyond repair.

Perhaps the easiest method of inspecting control cables is to disconnect the cables at the engine and feel the control again. If the wheel or control lever still feels stiff, the cable may need replacing. However, there could also be trouble in the control head, so it may be a good idea to disconnect the cable from the control head and try the controls again.

Maintaining Control Cables

Cleaning and lubricating the terminal rods at each end of a control cable is a common technique for extending cable life. Many manufacturers recommend water resistant grease for use around the terminal rods, especially if they are exposed to salt in the water. Cleaning the rods and cables with a rag or brush can help as well, but cleaners containing solvents could possibly dissolve the lubricants inside of the control cables.

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