How To Measure A Boat Steering Cable

How To Measure A Boat Steering Cable

The longer you own a boat, the more likely you will need to replace some of its components. It’s a natural part of owning any type of vehicle but on boats, it can be challenging to know how exactly to replace parts like the steering cable. 

The steering cable is one of the most important parts of a boat but also one that a lot of people struggle to measure correctly for replacement. So, here we will guide you through how to measure a steering cable so you can get the right measurement for your boat! 

How Not To Measure A Boat Steering Cable

Before we jump into how to measure a boat steering cable correctly, we just want to go over the biggest mistake a lot of people make when replacing their boat’s steering cables – measuring the cable from end to end. 

Although it sounds like the logical way to measure a steering cable, you shouldn’t use this method as you will only end up with a steering cable that is the wrong length for your boat. Instead, follow the instructions below to accurately measure a boat steering cable. 

Using The Cable’s Product Number

There is a cheat way that a lot of people can use to accurately get a measurement for their boat’s steering cable – and that’s by checking the marked cable product number on the old cable’s plastic coating. 

This means that if you are replacing an old steering cable, you can use it to find the exact cable you need. 

It’s highly recommended that you replace your old steering cable with an exact replica, and this is why so many steering cables are marked with their product numbers.

This makes it much easier for people to find an accurate replacement without the need to actually measure the cable itself. 

To find the length of the cable through its product number, the length will be the final number on its marking. For example, if the marking ends in a ‘10’ then the steering cable is 10 feet in length. 

But, unfortunately, this is not the case for all boat steering cables. 

Over time, it’s likely that the number on your steering cable has worn off or is too faint to read accurately. So, if you have checked your boat’s old steering cable and you can’t find the measurements you need marked on its plastic coating, then here is what you need to do next. 

Measuring The Cable Manually

You need to grab some measuring tape, lay out the steering cable you are replacing, and measure it. 

As we mentioned earlier, a big mistake is that a lot of people are measuring the steering cable from end to end. This is not correct (unless you are measuring a jet boat cable, but more on that later).

Instead, you only need to measure the plastic jacket of the steering cable. 

So, lay out the steering cable and measure it from the top of the plastic jacket to the end of the plastic jacket. Do not measure any of the metal components of the steering cable. 

This measurement also needs to be done in inches, not feet. This is important for your later calculations. 

Calculating The Length Of Your Boat’s Steering Cable

Now that you have measured the length of your old steering cable’s plastic jacket, you need to do a little bit of math to work out the final length of your boat’s steering cable. However, what formula you need to do depends on the style of your steering cable. 

Here’s a list of the styles of steering cables and what formula needs to be used for each measurement. 

  • If you have a rotary cable, you need to add 18 inches to your previous measurement. Round up the answer to the next foot and this will give you the length of steering cable you need to order. 
  • If you have a rack and pinion style cable, then you will need to add 30 inches to your previous measurement and round that number up to the next foot. This will be the length of cable that you need to order. 

Once you have done the correct formula for your steering cable, you will be able to order your new boat steering cable accurately. 

Measuring JBS Jet Boat Cables

If you need to measure a jet boat cable, then this measurement will work a little differently. You won’t need to do any calculations or formulas – you just need to measure the jet boat cable from one end to the other, and round up the measurement to the nearest foot.

It requires a different but arguably easier method to get the right measurement for ordering your new cable. 

Measuring With No Previous Cable (New Installments) 

If you have no previous cable to measure (either it’s already been thrown out or your boat is new and needs its first-ever cable), then here is what you need to do. You need to make three different measurements that are: 

  • The wheel’s centerline to the gunwale or the deck (downward).
  • The dash to the transom.
  • The gunwale along the centerline of the cable connection on the tiller when centered. 

When you have these three measurements, what calculation you do next depends on how the cables are mounted. 

If the cables are mounted either to the transom, springer, or splash well, then you need to add up the three measurements and then deduct 6 inches from the final measurement.

Round the measurement up to the next foot and that’s the measurement you need to order. 

However, if it’s done through an engine tilt tube, then you add together your three measurements, add an extra 6 inches, and round up the answer to the next foot. Then you will have the length of your cable! 

In Summary

We hope this guide has helped you accurately measure your steering cable, whether you have an old one you can use or no previous cable at all! 

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