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Old 12-09-2019, 02:03 PM   #1
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Auto pilot or radar ....

for a boat under 30 feet, cruising Lake Michigan, Upper Mississippi River and other trawlerable places which is more desirable as we can not afford both at one time ... Radar to interface with the GPS or autopilot to interface with GPS?

Looking to update our Acadia 25.

Bob.
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Old 12-09-2019, 02:07 PM   #2
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An autopilot is for convenience- not having to helm the boat continuously; radar is for safety- getting through thick fog (well also maybe a convenience) and seeing ships coming your way to avoid them and to follow thunderstorms to avoid them or prepare in time. So which is more important to you?


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Old 12-09-2019, 02:24 PM   #3
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I appreciate the quick reply David,

What is more important to me ... I am not sure. I believe radar, as I can see in fog and see other vessels. On the River, staying on course is paramount, being off course a few yards can be the difference between hitting a wing dam or running aground and staying in deep enough water. Radar is great for seeing buoys, Auto pilot is great for staying on course.

I wonder how many people use their radar often vs how often they use autopilot. I likely will go for radar.

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Old 12-09-2019, 02:32 PM   #4
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I agree with D.M.
When you are out how often do you have to deal with fog or other causes of seriously reduced visibilty? An A/P won't help with that much. The radar would.

I installed my radar about 2 yrs ago for the same reason, potential foggy conditions. And it happened and I'm glad I did. I didn't have to worry to much about commercial shipping although that could not be ignored but I did have to be concerned about the large number of small sport fishing boats out and they were.

We had dealt with poor visibility for many years previously, fog, snow, HEAVY rain but the distance and time needed was relatively short. The radar trip we had to travel in poor visibility for long periods. THe area was known for that and the periods of clarity would not have allowed us to get from one moorage to the next. Thus the radar.

SO consider what the conditions you travel in are likely to be.

I will admit the A/P can also be helpfull as it will likely steer a course more accurately than you can and it will allow you to pay more attention to chartwork electronic or not, but it cannot show you obstacles.
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Old 12-09-2019, 02:41 PM   #5
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Radar! we experienced our first bout of pea soup fog heading to Block this summer, w/o radar I would have been porked.
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Old 12-09-2019, 02:47 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob B. View Post
.

I wonder how many people use their radar often vs how often they use autopilot. I likely will go for radar.

Bob.
I use autopilot every time I use the boat.
I use radar less than 10% of the time. And of those times, less than half I really need it.
I do not need it to see buoys. I know where I am by looking at my chart plotter. It's an old one but it's dead on.

I say get autopilot. It runs the boat so you can pay attention to other things like keeping a good lookout.
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Old 12-09-2019, 02:50 PM   #7
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I like to know who else is out there. Don't like to get surprised by the folks fishing in the channel when there is no visibility.
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Old 12-09-2019, 02:53 PM   #8
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Autopilot is like having another person on the boat. With a good deck watch, you rarely need radar.
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Old 12-09-2019, 02:57 PM   #9
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Though I have relatively little experience on the Great Lakes (a couple weeks here and there), we have put over 4,000 miles under our keel here in the PNW in 7.5 years - ALL of it steered by hand. We do have a 30+ yr old AP, but it has never worked (it does provide a rudder angle indicator, though...).

By contrast, we have used our radar quite a bit by comparison. Which is a relative statement. If I were to estimate the percentage of time we have needed radar, it's probably only 5-8% of our total time underway. However, those times radar was way more than a convenience!

That being said, radar is actually only ever needed if you happen to get caught out in fog. I even wrote a blog post about it:

https://www.pacificnwboatertested.co...wireless-radar
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Old 12-09-2019, 03:04 PM   #10
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Radar! we experienced our first bout of pea soup fog heading to Block this summer, w/o radar I would have been porked.
I understand the recommendation for Radar over A/P, but I disagree. Hand-steering in low/no visibility conditions is awful so having radar and no A/P is not great. Get the A/P and take extra care to stay out of junk.
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Old 12-09-2019, 03:31 PM   #11
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We love our autopilot. Having said that if I had to make a choice between the two, I would have to go with radar since you can always steer the boat but radar is a safety item and I will always lean to safety first. It isnít like this is a forever choice since you can add the autopilot when you have the funds. But when you need radar, you need it and an autopilot wonít help in that situation. I would get the radar and then learn how to use it. Good luck.
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Old 12-09-2019, 03:37 PM   #12
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It is a hard choice...one that many won't make and will just buy both as both rank up there in convenience and safety.


Some will call the autopilot a safety item because it reduces fatigue and inattention of the helmsman/lookout in many cases.




But ...in reality...many long distance cruisers will use their autopilot every day, all day long...and go months, sometimes years without using their radar in REALLY low visibility. Of course, depending on where you cruise determines that situation quite a bit.
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Old 12-09-2019, 03:42 PM   #13
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And to add to the last couple of posts, depending on your typical cruising grounds, traffic levels, length of travel day, how your boat steers, etc. autopilot may or may not be a significant workload reduction. Out on the lake, it likely would be. Get into canals and rivers and you'd probably spend almost as much time / energy plotting waypoints and tending the autopilot as you would just hand steering.
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Old 12-09-2019, 03:48 PM   #14
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But when you need radar, you need it and an autopilot wonít help in that situation. I would get the radar and then learn how to use it. Good luck.
Years ago I helped a buddy take his hold Chris Craft 45-foot wood motoryacht from San Francisco to somewhere in Oregon, something like 600 nms. She had old Chrysler gas engines, one with an exhaust leak in the manifold which confined us to the open wheel house. She had a VHF radio and that was it - no A/P, no radar, and a Loran that we would take Lat/Long readings and hand-chart on a paper chart. We made one stop for fuel in Crescent City. Seas were generally calm, but we hit pea-soup fog at night off Cape Mendocino. Every 20-mins or so we issued a pan-pan on the VHF with our location, speed, and direction of travel. I admit, it was scary. But hand-steering was awful - we easily swung 30+ degrees in each direction.

My sense is the OP, with his 25-foot Atlas (nice boat, BTW) and cruising grounds of Great Lakes and upper Mississippi will not be doing stretches like I did. Thus my vote for A/P as it will make life a lot more fun and enjoyable, and yes, safer. Having radar and hand-steering is not great and not exactly safe, just safer than not having radar. That said, as described above, I totally get the recommendation for radar. But if I were in the OP's shoes, I'd learn to watch the weather more carefully and stay out of the need for radar.
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Old 12-09-2019, 03:49 PM   #15
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Having lived in both Wisconsin and British Columbia, get the autopilot. The autopilot will get a lot of use, Wisconsin gets substantially far less fog than along coastal BC. And for backup download Navionics on to a tablet.

I ran into some unexpected forest fire smoke close to where I am moored on a beautiful clear sky day when I started out. When the smoke rolled in, I knew roughly where I was so I actually used Google map in conjunction with a chart to ensure I didn't screw up. I did slow down significantly. Also down load something like Marine Tracker to follow the big stuff, free download.
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Old 12-09-2019, 03:49 PM   #16
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I disagree with the comment on autopilots and possible uses.


First, many boaters rarely/never use the track function or need waypoints and they are in rivers of ICW in very confined waters...but the auto feature works just fine and with a handheld/wireless remote is nearly like hand steering...just not from right behind the wheel.


Only in some situations do I not use my autopilot all day long between NJ and FL...no matter the traffic, narrow channel or winding nature.


But that's me....not using one all the time is not an absolute either.
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Old 12-09-2019, 03:55 PM   #17
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Years ago I helped a buddy take his hold Chris Craft 45-foot wood motoryacht from San Francisco to somewhere in Oregon, something like 600 nms. She had old Chrysler gas engines, one with an exhaust leak in the manifold which confined us to the open wheel house. She had a VHF radio and that was it - no A/P, no radar, and a Loran that we would take Lat/Long readings and hand-chart on a paper chart. We made one stop for fuel in Crescent City. Seas were generally calm, but we hit pea-soup fog at night off Cape Mendocino. Every 20-mins or so we issued a pan-pan on the VHF with our location, speed, and direction of travel. I admit, it was scary. But hand-steering was awful - we easily swung 30+ degrees in each direction.

My sense is the OP, with his 25-foot Atlas (nice boat, BTW) and cruising grounds of Great Lakes and upper Mississippi will not be doing stretches like I did. Thus my vote for A/P as it will make life a lot more fun and enjoyable, and yes, safer. Having radar and hand-steering is not great and not exactly safe, just safer than not having radar. That said, as described above, I totally get the recommendation for radar. But if I were in the OP's shoes, I'd learn to watch the weather more carefully and stay out of the need for radar.

Just a thought.... for other boaters not that familiar.... would not a "Secuite" call been more appropriate than a "Pan Pan" if there was no immediate danger?
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Old 12-09-2019, 04:04 PM   #18
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Just a thought.... for other boaters not that familiar.... would not a "Secuite" call been more appropriate than a "Pan Pan" if there was no immediate danger?
I agree, a Securite would be appropriate.
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Old 12-09-2019, 04:06 PM   #19
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So how often is there persistent fog in your area?
Agree that we use our AP near 100 percent of the time when cruising and radar less than 10 percent. In heavy fog, trying just to maintain a straight course is a challenge without AP. Your mind plays tricks on you. Pilots call it Spatial Disorientation. You think you are going straight but when you look at the compass, your are way off course. That may be ok in the middle of Lake Michigan but in confined waters you can get in trouble quickly. And your AP probably is NOT going to keep you +/- a couple yards. 50 ft if you are lucky with a great install and setup.

My choice has been radar going on 25 years and AP on anything big enough to support such.
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Old 12-09-2019, 04:06 PM   #20
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These are mutually exclusive technologies for completely different things. One could argue that you use the radar only at night and in fog, or limited visibility, while you can use the auto-pilot anytime.

I would argue from this perspective... It's foggy and you need to get home, If only one were working, which one would you prefer was working?? IMHO you can ALWAYS navigate by hand-steering.

The other side of the coin is, you had better know how to hand-steer in the fog by compass or you'll be going in circles.

A few things I recommend. Be comfortable with hand steering, particularly by compass in the fog. Also run radar on sunny days and become familiar with the site image as compared to reality. It will help visualize what you're seeing on the screen in the fog.
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