Common problems with outboard boat steering include steering that becomes stiff suddenly, steering that locks up completely, and steering that turns in one direction easily, but does not turn in another. When steering tube grease hardens, it stops the movement of the steering cable, resulting in steering stiffness or lockup. However, boaters often believe that the steering wheel helm is the problem. One-direction steering signals cable damage, such as when a stainless steel cable strand breaks and hangs up.
To fix sudden stiff or locked-up steering, undo the nut at the end of the cable end on the drag link, remove the cable, and clean the hardened grease off of it. Then, clean out the steering tube by using a steering tube brush on a drill motor. After cleaning, grease the steering cable again and reinstall it. Performing this procedure one or two times each year prevents the problem from occurring.
The steering wheel helm is where boaters steer their boats, so most of them assume the steering wheel helm is causing the steering stiffness problem. It is rare for a mechanical steering helm to lock up. If a steering cable locks up, it does so only after rust becomes visible, the outer casing cracks open, or the cable end that bolts up to the steering tube develops a lot of play. When boaters attempt to fix the steering stiffness problem by forcing the steering wheel to turn, the result is destruction of the helm and the steering cable.