Electromechanical Marine Steering System




This Instructable was created in fulfillment of the project requirement of the Makecourse at the University of South Florida (www.makecourse.com)

***DISCLAIMER: This project has not been tested and is only a concept. Do not actually put this on a boat. Modified steering systems can result in death and should not be tampered with unless you know what your doing. Seriously, this is a concept only. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO USE THIS ON A BOAT OR ANY MOTOR VEHICLE***

Most marine steering system use a mechanical or hydraulic connection to operate. The Electromechanical marine steering system is an exploration into using electronic components to steer boats, with fly-by-wire controls, and universal compatibility for most outboards. By doing this, we remove the need of petroleum based fluids, expensive hydraulic hoses & steering cables, and create an easily modified boating experience.

I highly advise watching the video to become familiar with what the finished product is to look like.

Step 1:

Step 2: Items Required

The video above lists some of the parts used, as well as one of the previous designs of the project. This design was changed as it resulted in a lot of weight hanging in front of the engine. The initial design also integrated Bluetooth between the helm and outboard. This was scrapped unfortunately, due to time constraints, but can still be done by using two HC-05 modules.

As this is an ongoing project, the parts list is variable.

  • Arduino Uno
  • 2 - Multi Turn Potentiometers (Preferably 5-10 turn, 10k Ohms. You don't want your wheel to go Lock-to-Lock to Quickly.)
  • 43 Amp Motor Driver (Or whatever you prefer to use)
  • 24 volt, 350 watt Gear Motor (Again, Variable)
  • 12 volt battery
  • Assortment of wires & breadboards
  • Access to 3d printer
  • 12mm x 8mm Lead Screw
  • 12mm x 8mm Lead Screw Flange (The lead screw & flange are usually sold together on eBay or Amazon.)
  • 5/8" x 18" Threaded Rod (Homedepot, Lowes...)
  • 5/8" Nuts & Washers
  • Pillow Block Bearings - eBay (You'll need to edit the support brackets to hold your bearings. Just make sure that the bearings have a bore diameter of 12mm for your lead screw.)

Step 3: 3d Printing Your Parts

Begin by 3d printing your brackets and tiller assembly. I've included the IPT files for you to use. I used PETG for these, as the layer adhesion was much better than ABS. You'll want to make sure that these parts will mount to your lead screw and bearings, so modify as needed.

When modifying the parts, keep in mind your tolerances. It is very important that these parts are snug. Too much freedom between parts will result in twisting of the support brackets, eventually snapping your parts when torqued.

Step 4: Assemble Your Steering Mechanism

If you haven't noticed, there aren't many parts. I tried to keep it simple. The 5/8" Threaded rod will feed through the pivot tube of the outboard. The support brackets will mount to each end of the rod.

From here, you'll want to mount your bearings to the support brackets, and run your lead screw through both bearings. Thread your flange and pivot plate assembly on before running the lead screw through both bearings.

Mount your DC Motor to the end of the lead screw. You may need to modify your motor brackets to mount onto the support brackets. It ultimately depends on the motor that you purchased.

Step 5: Programming Arduino, Hooking Up Motor Drive & Helm

I used the IBT-2 Motor Driver when programming the Arduino. The sketch reflects their connections. The two pots will connect to A1 & A3. The sketch will compare the resistance between the two potentiometers. When the difference is great enough, the arduino will signal the Motor Driver to move the tiller in the needed direction.

Step 6: Print Helm

The helm is constructed of two parts, the wheel and base. You'll need to measure the shaft diameter of your potentiometer to ensure that it fits in the base & wheel. Once installed, run the wires from the potentiometer to the arduino.

Step 7: Test the Design!

Hopefully you made it this far. Again, the design is rough and far from being a usable product. But, it does allow for a lot of customization & improvement. Give it a shot and see what you can do! Good Luck!



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    3 Discussions


    7 months ago

    Electric steering has been around for well over 60 years. I did not see how one steers your boat when the system fails. Motors fail and seize, electronics fail, so an instantaneous takeover of the helm is an absolute requirement. To view one of the premier manufacturers of hydraulic and electric steering drives and autopilots, look to Ray Marine, they have been building them for many decades. As a school project, yours is fine, great project, and no doubt fun.


    7 months ago

    I like the idea and the concept. But it has to go through a few more iterations first. It needs to be a lot more responsive to the steering wheel. The steering wheel typically only turns about two turns max, end to end. So a less turn potentiometer has to be used or mechanically gear reduced to approximate real situations. And that pot has to be totally linear and very precise.There are times when you seriously want a very quick hard turn to avoid something in the way or floating in the water. So your design need to incorporate that capability as well. I think you really could be on to something great. The screw feed needs to be more course to help with those things. While fine threads on the screw thread allows for very smooth movement, it has to be able to turn very fast to allow quick turns. Just a few updates and I think you could have something marketable. JMHO