Friday, December 13, 2013

Verado/Uflex Autopilot Hydraulic Plumbing DIY 101

Installing a autopilot with a Verado or the Ulex equivalent steering system is not difficult, but it does come with some nuances. These systems come with a proprietary high pressure power steering assist pump, and helm pump. Despite this, the plumbing is pretty straight forward, but the fittings and hoses are different. In this case we are installing a Raymarine system, but the process is similar for the other systems.

These steering systems use ORFS (O-ring face seal fittings) for connections, and there are really only three places to buy the hoses and fittings. Your Mercury dealer, Uflex dealer, or hoses and fittings can be purportedly be bought, and custom hoses made at Parker Hannifin Hydraulics. If you need more hoses or fittings they are less much expensive if you buy them on-line.

This is the business end of the Verado helm pump. The only catch is you have to be able to identify the hoses, and the identifiers are stamped in center of the device.

When the hoses are attached it's very hard to read them. In many cases I take a hose off for better visibility. A flashlight is also a necessity, at least with my creaky old eyes in a dark console. What I often do is to look at the sizes of the hoses. Typically two are larger. These are the P hose (High Pressure), and the T hose (Low Pressure Return Line). The other two are smaller.

Since the return hose is low pressure, you can squeeze it a bit. You can't do this with the others at all. By identifying one hose, and using the drawing you can locate the others. We are only going to remove the L hose (Left/Port) and the R hose (Right/Starboard) and you need to keep track of which is which. The T hose will get cut in half somewhere, and don't cut or muck around with the P hose at all. The E port is not used. Double check you have the right hoses located.

Our next big hurdle is the Verado Hose Adapter Kit. This is a collection of hoses and fittings to do the Verado plumbing to the autopilot pump. There are two things to note. These are short hoses that will require the autopilot pump to be in close proximity to the helm. The second issue is in some cases you don't get everything you will need in just one kit.

The Raymarine kit is complete and the hose length is 4'.

Furuno has two kits. One at 3', and the other at 6'.

The Simrad kit is purchased in two parts. One with the return hose, and fittings, and the other kit part has the main lines which are available in either 3' or 6' lengths.

The Garmin kit is 5' but you will lose some of this due to shadow drive's horizontal mounting. If you are using a 3 port pump configuration you will need two additional ORFS tee's, and two additional hoses to get to the pump. If you are using a five port pump configuration you will need two additional ORFS to 1/4 NPT fittings. Garmin has the only kit that comes with a quart of Mercury steering fluid. This is something you will need in all cases.

One you have gone through the purchasing gauntlet you're ready to go to work. In most cases the fluid loss from the hydraulic installation is minor. A handful of paper towels, and an old towel (not from your bathroom if you value your marital status) will be all that's needed.

Since we are doing a Raymarine system, here is their drawing. Pull one of the L or R hoses off. Attach one of the new hoses in its place. Connect a tee to the bottom of the new hose, and attach the hose you removed to it. Repeat with the other hose.

It's Installer's tip time. Don't tighten the tees until the end. Where was I? Oh yeah now just connect the hoses from the tees to the autopilot pump. It doesn't matter to which side, the computer will sort this out for you in the dockside set up.

Cut the Verado helm return line, install the tee, and hose clamps. Make sure the hose clamps are good and tight. Take the return hose you got in the kit, cut to length, and attach it from the tee to the pump.

Remember my comment about not tightening the tees? These hoses are typically pretty stiff, and don't want to roll up into nice compact rings. This is even more difficult it the hoses are locked well into the tees. So do the best you can to make the hoses go where you want, and then tighten the tees. Double check all of the other fittings at the same time. You're through with the plumbing if you haven't made a mistake.

Turn on the ignition key, and let the Mercury pump wind up. Crank the helm left to right a couple of times until any gassy sounds and squealing noises stops. Fill the Mercury steering pump reservoir. Job done. If you used one of the good towels, make it go away soonest before you get in trouble.

Before you buy, check with the autopilot manufacturer for their recommendations for both the system, and the pump type and RTFDF thoroughly.

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