By Dez Duran-Lamanilao
If you are a boat owner and have never once thought of equipping your boat with an autopilot, you must not be aware of the benefits (and fun) that you are missing on. Autopilots are especially helpful during long cruises, as long as they are working correctly.
Image source: Salt Water Sportsman
Here are some of the perks of running a boat with an autopilot:
- Savings on time and fuel since the machine can hold a straighter course
- More opportunities for you to do other stuff
- The freedom to read charts and instruments and to experience what you really went out there for
- The chance to install a hand-held remote so you can steer from anywhere in the cockpit
There are factors to consider in looking for the right autopilot:
- The type of vessel you have
- The size of and the displacement of your vessel
- Your hull configuration
- Your regular speed
- The boat’s steering type
- Your RAM size if it is hydraulic
Autopilots mainly consist of the driving device or motor, the flux gate compass, a control head, and the control panel. So how do you make sure you are choosing the right system?
- Autopilots may operate as either hydraulic units or the electric helm units that replace the existing cable steering box. Discuss with your supplier which type of unit would best improve your boat’s performance.
- Make sure that your autopilot has “point and steer” and other features and can interface with positioning equipment.
- Install a correct interface that will connect the autopilot to a GPS or GPS chart plotter.
- Ask your supplier if your autopilot can be adjusted to perform optimally. Examples are adjusting the speed of rudder response and the rate of rudder turn.
Autopilots may not be as simple as they look. Confusion is likely to happen especially if it is your first time operating one. Talk to an autopilot supplier and discuss in detail your needs and expectations so they can suggest which parts to use and guide you through the whole selection and installation process.