Rebuilding an Edson Wheel Brake

Edson is a manufacturer of sailing steering systems commonly found on American cruising yachts. My 1990 Ericson came equipped with an Edson pedestal with a wheel brake. The wheel brake serves to lock the rudder in a fixed position, which is important if one is sailing solo and needs to leave the helm to adjust sails or do some other errand.

At this point I don’t have an autopilot, so I have been depending on the brake during my various test sails. The brake performs poorly in that it has a hard time arresting the rotation of the rudder and the knob is extremely difficult to turn. I thought I had one problem, but in fact I had two distinct problems. I looked on-line and, sure enough, there is a wheel-brake maintenance kit sold by Edson. I ordered one from Jamestown Distributors for a good price.

Edson has some how-to videos for the install.

The first step is to remove your compass. then your engine controls:


There’s another five minute video about the brake replacement:


The helpful young man suggests to viewers that one should put a rag below the work area to catch parts that might fall during the process. I thought to myself, “Good idea, I’m a wise and careful worker, so I wouldn’t want any parts to drop down my pedestal.” (Foreshadowing)

I attached my cocktail rack to the pedestal guard hold the compass. The compass slid up off the top of the pedestal.

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Next, remove the plastic collar, then address the engine controls. Remove four screws.

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From this point I followed the instructions of the earnest young man in the Edson video. I added rags and then got all the parts out. Pulling the cotter pins for the engine controls was difficult. Do you have one of those vise grips that operates at the end of a set of chop sticks? That’s really all you need. I don’t have one of those.

But, with enough careful bending and wiggling I got the old parts removed and the new ones lined up.

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The old brake pads were glazed, and I destroyed the sleeve bushing, but otherwise I can see how one could just replace the liner material and save some money. I was feeling proud of myself for not having dropped any parts down the hole.

I began to re-assemble the brake mechanism, inserting the new sleeve bushing, a washer, the loose brake leg. But then I couldn’t shove the brake axle in any more. It was really wedged. It hardly seemed fair. It was brand new. I had followed the instructions. Why if it won’t push through, I’d better try to back it out and lubricate it when – (clank pling) I freed the handle/axle in a single motion and heard one of my new brake legs drop to the deck of the boat inside the pedestal.

The plastic delrin bushing into which the handle slides was a major problem, if not the major problem with the wheel brake. Not really the brake liners. They weren’t good, but what really made using the brake impossible was that it would get stuck and not turn. The bushing was too narrow. I suppose it serves to prevent metal-on-metal rubbing and keep out water. But I needed it to allow the axle to turn more freely. This problem with the bushing preventing the handle from turning was totally separate from the brake-grip problem. This is what I really needed to solve.

I went home and got my Ryobi drill and a hacksaw blade. With the hacksaw blade I cut off the portion of the bushing that was left outside of the pedestal after installation, as well as the portion inside sticking out into the pedestal. This reduced the length of the bushing from about 1.5″ to about .75″. Next I artfully scoured the inside of the bushing with a 3/8th bit on my drill and tested periodically by re-inserting the wheel brake handle. Short work.

So, I abandoned the one new brake leg at the bottom of the pedestal for now and reinstalled the old glazed one on that side. New leg on the threaded side and everything back together.

My engine controls had been sticky since I bought the boat. They have improved markedly with regular use, but were nowhere near the “buttery smoothness” that one would hope to get. I had to detach the cable clevis pins to remove the handles to reach the wheel brake, so while I had everything apart, I wiggled the cables some and they seemed to operate pretty well. Interesting.

So after I had the brake re-assembled and was thinking about leaving the engine control mount as I found it (re-glued to the pedestal) I took a closer look at the control junction, and wouldn’t you know, more of those plastic delrin sleeve bushings:

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So, ordered a couple more of those bushings. Edson part number 960-a-125. Especially on my transmission lever, a huge source of needless friction. I planning to open those up a little more with the Ryobi drill trick again, seeking buttery smoothness and a wider inside diameter.

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