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Trawler Q&A: A Steering Gear Snafu, Anchors Behaving Badly & Broker Ethics

Your technical questions answered by some of the most experienced trawler minds on the water.

Dear Editors: In an engine room I saw recently, a few potential problem areas in the design of the steering gear for the rudder caught my eye.

First, the connection from the hydraulic cylinder shaft to the rudder arm was in single shear. This can cause a torque effect each time the rudder is steered that might bend or break the bolt. I do understand that if the bolt is sufficiently sized and the connection is very tight, there might not be a problem. The arm looked very stout, but still, I thought these important connections should always be in double shear.

Steering Gear

Second, the hydraulic cylinder looked to be mounted solid at the cylinder end. I hope not. When the rudder is steered 20 degrees from straight ahead, the end of the piston rod moves laterally (considering the arm being 12 inches long) almost three-quarters of an inch. If the arm is shorter, the movement is more, and if longer, less, but any movement has to be compensated for by mounting the cylinder end so that it can rotate. If the cylinder were mounted solid, there would be serious lateral force on the cylinder and shaft bearing/seal, causing wear and failure.

I might be wrong about the mount, but it looked like it was solid in the photo. Have there been any issues with a hydraulic steering setup like this? —Bob Bolles, Ormond Beach, Florida

You have a sharp eye! That means of securing the autopilot ram to a tiller arm has been used for decades with multiple autopilots and, to my knowledge, has not created problems. There is no history—that I am aware of—of breakages or other damage, so the bolts must be sized adequately to handle the loads. You can see a rose joint there, which allows for sufficient movement to relieve many stresses, although not the shear stress to which you are referring. The bolt through the rose joint will be done up tightly, and I see in this case that it has a locknut to ensure it remains tight. At the other end of the autopilot ram, it will be mounted on some kind of a pin that allows it to pivot from side to side, taking care of the other movement and potential stresses you identify. The hydraulic piping at the ram is connected to the rest of the system with hoses that take care of any cylinder movement. These systems have proved rugged and reliable. —Nigel Calder

I have a boat that is “less than well behaved” at anchor in gusty winds, because of the windage being too far forward. Putting the full aft canvas up seems to help a little. Based on that, I’ve been thinking about rigging a riding sail. I wonder if such a project is even practical for those of us without masts. On a bar napkin, I scribbled out a potential schematic employing a pair of sails rigged from the outer corners of my boat’s transom up to the davits to help the stern get pushed back in line when swinging off the wind. Thoughts? —Misbehaving at Anchor

You’re on the right track. First, congratulations on knowing the difference between a riding sail and a steadying sail—they’re often confused. Second, know that we, too, share this condition with you. At anchor in a stiff breeze, our boxy trawler skitters around like a mad dog on a short leash. Your concept is sound, and the principles are proven. I encourage you to experiment with size and shape until you come upon the most effective configuration. Just be careful the sail isn’t in the wind shadow of the boat. That will compromise its performance. A helpful tip is to position it as far aft as possible, and as high up as possible, so it’s in clean air. Also, it may not need to be as large as you might initially believe. I suspect the aesthetics keep more powerboat operators from using one. Please send us a picture of the ultimate successful design.
Bob Arrington

I’m in the process of purchasing a trawler and am working directly with the seller’s broker. After a sea trial, haul out and survey, I got another ride on the boat to get some hours on the engines prior to a second oil sample being taken (the first sample results were questionable). On returning to shore, I noticed that the hour meter had not moved, and I brought it to the broker’s attention. He casually admitted there were an extra 200 hours on the engines and that the owner was “keeping track of them.” I probably wouldn’t have moved on the boat had I known the hour meters did not match the boat advertisement. A broken hour meter seems like something a broker should reveal up front. I feel like I have been deceived, not to mention I’ve shelled out a lot of money just to get here. What accountability does the broker have? —Anonymous, Southport, North Carolina

There may be relevant details I don’t have about this situation, but regardless, if the broker knew this and didn’t tell you, that is unethical. It should have been divulged. If the broker is a salesperson under a managing broker/business owner, you need to have a conversation with that person immediately. If the broker is a member of a regional yacht broker association and/or licensed in California or Florida, you may be able to lodge a complaint. I don’t know what sales agreement form you used, but there may be recourse in the language. This could possibly be viewed as a breach of contract.

There are many things a buyer won’t know about a trawler until it is demonstrated during the survey. To you, the vessel looks nice enough to make an offer, but you don’t know what actually works and what doesn’t. Surveys are expensive, and there are no guarantees. You don’t have to buy the boat, and the seller doesn’t have to correct any findings, but usually both parties can work out a solution if they are reasonable.

You didn’t mention whether a diesel mechanic was involved. We insist that our buyers hire a diesel mechanic since the engine machinery (mains, transmissions and generators, etc.) may require expensive repairs. It’s difficult for a hull surveyor to spend as much time in the engine room as he might need. Some newer electronic engines have the hour meter connected to the start key—if you turn on the key, the hours count, even if the engine isn’t fired off. This could add extra hours that aren’t really from actual run time. A broken hour meter is the opposite; you don’t know how many hours aren’t accounted for unless it is a new enough engine to have computer diagnostics.

Your predicament does not reflect well on the yacht brokerage profession. It is easier to be a broker representing the buyer and seller in a dual-agency role if you are completely transparent. This situation shows another reason why engaging a buyer’s broker to be your advocate has become more popular. As a buyer, you may not know what to ask or what is normal. Your broker is supposed to be the experienced person who is advising you and looking out for you. You want a broker who will listen to you, and one you can trust.

I have argued for the past seven years to have disclosures included in yacht listing agreements and sales contracts. I get a lot of pushback, especially from brokers, to which my reply is, “If you know it, disclose it. That’s simple and fair.” Like you did, a buyer will eventually find out if something was intentionally disguised or hidden. If the broker knows something that materially affects the safety or value of a trawler, he is ethically required to disclose it, preferably in writing and before any offer or survey. —Jeff Merrill, CPYB

For more Q&A sessions with our Passagemaker pros, explore our Ask the Experts column archives HERE