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Control Cable Replacement - How (Mostly) To Do It


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This is the mostly step by step guide to changing the control cables on a Yamaha 2 stroke outboard, but I expect the basics will be the same for most outboards.  Yamaha use the same cables for gear selector and throttle control.


General observations:

1.       Take your time.  Rushing is a good way to make mistakes.  Forcing things is a good way to break them.

2.       Take pictures and label things.  If this is your first time tackling this job (as it was for me), it’s all uncharted territory so leave a trail of breadcrumbs.

3.       Start and finish fasteners with hand tools.  A battery powered drill/driver is a great way to undo and tighten fasteners.  It is also a great way to strip threads.


Step 1. – Order new cable(s)

To order new cables, you will need to know the length of your cables.  If you are lucky, you may be able to find the length marked on your existing cables.  If not, you will need to measure.  I measured as follows:

Remove the control and remove its backing so you can see exactly where the cables start.

Measure control to gunwale

Measure gunwale to start of the pipe that runs along the starboard side of the boat carrying cables various

Measure pipe.

Measure from end of pipe to stern bulkhead.

Measure from stern bulkhead to end of control cable in outboard housing.

Add all of these up, and round up to nearest foot to get a cable length.

Note that new cables do not have ends, so you will re-use the ends of your existing cables.


Step 2 - Disassembly.

Disconnect the control cables from the outboard end and the control.  This will entail removing the control from the gunwale.  It was only on the umpteenth removal (see below) that I realised that I didn’t have to disassemble the entire back of the control, just the bottom section.  The plus of removing the entire back was that I could check that the control mechanism was full of fresh looking grease.  I am a glass half full person.  When disconnecting take note of whether the two control cables have the same connectors to the controls.  On my outboard, the gear selector and throttle cable end were different.  If they are different, label them.


Be careful removing the clips from the control end.  On the Yamaha they are retained by E clips.  So named because “Eeeeeee” is the sound that you hear as they go past your ear.  See also F clips.


Step 3 – Feed Cables Through

Decide whether you are going to pull cables through from the motor or the controls end.  I decided to pull cables through from the outboard to the controls.  I joined both cables to the two new cables with cable ties and then wrapped in duct tape to make the join smoother for pulling through. 


I thought this was very clever of me, but it turned out to be not so clever.  Pull the cables through individually.  If there is another cable that has wrapped round one of the control cables, you will find that you can get so far, but no further. 


Before you start puling cables through, check that you will have clearance.  A previous owner may have had a cable tie fetish, you may need to address other obstacles such as removing the trim piece where cables go through the bulkhead.


Step 4 – Connect the new cables.  You can measure any adjustment of the old cables, to use as a starting point. 


With the cables connected, check operation.  Here are where you can learn from my mistakes.  Check that the throttle is closing and opening completely and that you can change between neutral, forwards and reverse.  Check that the boat idles and revs correctly and that the aux/cold running throttle works.  Cables may not (ahem) work in the direction you think.  You can check operation without re-attaching the control to the side of the boat.  Do not ask me why this is important to know.


Step 5 – Once everything is back together and neatened up, check that all electrics work correctly to make sure that you haven't broken anything.



In my case, I tackled this because I wasn't happy with the feel of my boat's controls.  Interestingly, the old cables didn't feel noticeably stiff when they were removed but the feel of the new cables once installed was much smoother than the old ones.  You can - apparently - lube old cables, but firstly, the cost compared to the effort involved is quote low, so once you go to the trouble of removing and re-installing, why not just install new cables?  Secondly, opinions seem to vary as to whether adding lube will work in the longer term.

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