How to Adjust an Outboard Motor Steering Cable

Updated February 21, 2017

Your boat's steering system not only aims you toward your destination, it can keep you out of trouble until you get there. Outboard motor steering cables are supposed to be reasonably tight, but with most cable steering systems, one-eighth turn of slack is expected. Whether the steering is too tight or not tight enough, the happy part is that you can correct the problem with a few turns of a wrench and the sharp eyes of a friend to watch the motor while you move the wheel.

Tighten the 9/16-inch self-locking nylon insert nut on the bottom of the steering link rod fastener. If this nut is loose or missing, sloppy steering will result.

Inspect the end of the steering cable, where the cable passes through the motor's tilt tube, the hinge that allows the motor to tilt up and down. Ensure the locknut that connects the steering cable to the steering link rod is present and tight.

Look at the steering cable connection to the helm, under the dash. Ensure the cottar pin in the connector is present. Replace the cottar pin if necessary.

Follow the steering cable from the helm to the steering link connection, checking for loose pulleys along the way. While you're making this inspection, make sure that the last person to rig the steering cable routed the cable through all the pulleys -- a pulley missed by a novice repair person will leave a lot of slack in the cable. Re-secure any pulleys that are loose and, if necessary, disconnect and properly route the steering cable.

Look for any kinks in the cable, those with a radius less than 10 times the diameter of the cable. Steering cable isn't meant to make a right-angled turn and sharp turns and kinks will cause stiff steering.


Steering cables are made to specific lengths for specific boats. Generally, if a steering cable needs "adjustment," it means that some part of the steering system is loose.


Don't operate a boat with any kind of steering problem.

Things You'll Need

  • Socket wrench
  • 9/16-inch socket
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About the Author

Will Charpentier is a writer who specializes in boating and maritime subjects. A retired ship captain, Charpentier holds a doctorate in applied ocean science and engineering. He is also a certified marine technician and the author of a popular text on writing local history.