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How Does Outboard Steering Work?

The outboard steering procedures for a tiller-controlled outboard motor are often confusing for beginning boaters.
The entire motor assembly, including the lower unit, turns on an outboard-powered boat.
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  • Written By: Lori Kilchermann
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 18 December 2014
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When observing outboard steering, most people are intrigued by the fact that the motor appears to turn in the opposite direction than the operator is wishing to go. The reason for this is simple. When using outboard steering to turn a boat, the motor turns in a manner that will enable the stern or back of the boat to be pushed around to point the bow or front of the boat in the intended direction. In this regard, outboard steering operates much like a common fork lift truck that uses its rear tires to steer. This is not a typical concern when using a steering wheel to control the boat; however, when using a tiller to control the outboard steering, it can sometimes be confusing.

Most watercraft are set up in a manner that allows the pilot or operator to simply drive the boat in the same manner as he would drive an automobile. Using a system of pulleys and cables or a hydraulically-operated ram, the outboard steering is controlled by simply turning a steering wheel in the direction of intended travel. Due to the nature of a boat to slip through the water, most turns are accompanied by some slight hesitation and are not as abrupt as the turning of an automobile. As the boat slides through the water, the turns are more of a controlled slide, though most outboard steering systems do provide relatively quick maneuvering and fast reaction.

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The outboard steering procedures for a tiller-controlled outboard motor are often confusing for beginning boaters. The tiller-controlled outboard has the throttle mounted on a long handle or tiller protruding from the front of the outboard motor. The operator sits in the rear of the boat and controls the speed by twisting the throttle. The boat turns by pulling or pushing the tiller handle towards or away from the operator. This action causes the outboard to pivot in its mount, thereby turning the boat. The direction the tiller needs to be moved in order to turn the boat is often the confusing point.

In this manner of outboard steering, the operator that is wishing to turn the boat to the right must push or pull the tiller to the left of the boat. This, of course, depends on which side of the boat the operator is sitting on. In order to go to the left, the tiller is moved to the right. This outboard steering style is easily learned and quickly becomes second nature for most boaters.

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