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Old 08-14-2012, 11:51 AM   #1
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Need autopilot advice

Next fall I will be doing a complete revamp of my steering system (I have a leak in one of the original copper lines - didn't want to mess with it since it looks very brittle and will probably break as soons as I touch it). Since I will also do a complete makeover of the cockpit bilge (change old water tanks, clean and paint), I'm thinking this is the perfect opportunity to install an autopilot.

I'd like to get suggestions from you on brands and models but also some education on the various components I will need since I don't know much about autopilots and how they work. I have two nav stations so I'm guessing I will need a second control device for the flybridge. One of the (maybe silly) questions I have is: can I interface the autopilot with my GPS (Garmin) and program waypoints for the AP to "follow"?

So what is your experience with autopilots? Any features I should look for/avoid? Is a remote control a nice thing to have or just an expensive gadget that gets lost or broken?
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Old 08-14-2012, 11:54 AM   #2
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Garmin makes an auto pilot.

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Old 08-14-2012, 02:50 PM   #3
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Simrad and Raymarine have lead the pack for a long time. You can mix and match components...but you have to understand what you are doing.

Raymarine has offered packs for a decade or more...you might try their website for info.

There have been a lot of advancements in autopilots in the last decade but the basic hold a course and go to a wayoint remain pretty well the same for the new and old timer systems so I would go with a name that has good experience and customer service. After that a good install is next most important.
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Old 08-14-2012, 03:50 PM   #4
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We installed a Simrad AP24 with a control head at both stations 3 years ago. It's been great and I would buy another. It replaced an old Robertson so the install was easy. Simrad was easy to work with on the specifications. I was out of the country so I dealt direct via email and then we purchased the system on the internet.

Most of the new autopilots are NMEA 2000 and each manufacturer uses different cabling/connectors. You may have some compatibility issues with NMEA 183 also. Simrad does sells cables to interface with NMEA 183 to NMEA 2000 for about $100/input. As usual if 2 pieces of electronics do not "talk" to each other, the manufacturer's all say it's the other guy. We do not use all the capabilities that the AP24 has to offer and there are alot. On Hobo the autopilot is pretty much a stand alone system.
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Old 08-14-2012, 06:53 PM   #5
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For a look at a basic inexpensive unit look at the Si-Tex SP70/80. I'm installing one as we speak.
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Old 08-14-2012, 07:18 PM   #6
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Thanks for the input. I took a good look at Raymarine's site and I found a lot of useful info on the components required. Very interesting products.

Meridian: I looked at Si-Tex but it looks like they only sell control units, no pump. How did you make the rest of you system?
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Old 08-14-2012, 08:16 PM   #7
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I just installed a Garmin GHP 10. The installation was easy and the unit is very user friendly. It is N2K but connected right up to my NMEA 0183 plotter for GPS input. Chuck
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Old 08-14-2012, 08:30 PM   #8
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If you walk the commercial docks it is not very likely you will find any of the popular brands listed above. What you will find is ComNav and Wil Ham. Last week from San Pedro Point on Santa Cruz Island to the entrance at Ventura I arrived 4 feet off course. 26 miles, 5 foot following seas and 20 knots of wind. 4 feet xte. ComNav 1420.
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Old 08-14-2012, 08:44 PM   #9
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If you walk the commercial docks it is not very likely you will find any of the popular brands listed above. What you will find is ComNav and Wil Ham. Last week from San Pedro Point on Santa Cruz Island to the entrance at Ventura I arrived 4 feet off course. 26 miles, 5 foot following seas and 20 knots of wind. 4 feet xte. ComNav 1420.
Maybe where you are but Simrad/Robertson has been extrodinarily popular on the east Coast with commercials and Raymarine has been catching up. The old timers liked Wood Freeman...but they are being phased out as they become more and more ancient.

The maine electronic firm I worked for a decade ago stopped installing Comnav for lack of parts/support and while I know they have a strong following, I never even heard of or have seen a Wil Ham autopilot...even after thousands of vessels run, boarded, maintained.
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Old 08-14-2012, 09:09 PM   #10
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Here is another vote for the Sitex SP-70. I installed one 3 years ago and they sell the pump. The entire kit (with the pump) was something like $1800, and that was with the higher volume pump.
It does everything I could ask including navigating with signal from the Garmin gps...takes me right on the money.
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Old 08-14-2012, 09:26 PM   #11
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In all fairness...they all will hit a buoy if coupled up correctly. So it boils down to reliability and customer support.
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Old 08-14-2012, 09:35 PM   #12
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You need to back up the ComNav statement. There is nothing you can't have tomorrow. You have always been able to talk to the engineers. Now or 10 years ago. What is the firms name and phone number I'll call and ask. Also Simrad does make one unit for a large boat with no rudder feed back. No thanks. Which Raymarine unit are you going to use on a 90 ft seiner?

I'm sure the OP does not need the same AP that is used on a 90 ft seiner or a 300 ft superyacht but it is nice to have a unit from companies that do build for those vessels.
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Old 08-14-2012, 09:40 PM   #13
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You need to back up the ComNav statement. There is nothing you can't have tomorrow. You have always been able to talk to the engineers. Now or 10 years ago. What is the firms name and phone number I'll call and ask. Also Simrad does make one unit for a large boat with no rudder feed back. No thanks. Which Raymarine unit are you going to use on a 90 ft seiner?

I'm sure the OP does not need the same AP that is used on a 90 ft seiner or a 300 ft superyacht but it is nice to have a unit from companies that do build for those vessels.
OK...90 foot seiners.....yeah we are talking the same thing...

And NO it's not nice to have something from a company whose support goes in one direction and the little boat stuff is barely on the table...we have all seen that...not saying that's true with WH...but like I said...never have I seen one on a rec boat...then again I'm not on many 300 footers either.

Simarad ruled the roost on small boat autos for many years, Raymarine caught up pretty quick..everything else in my world is a distant third in tems of numbers (won't comment on quality as that's almost impossible to defend).
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Old 08-14-2012, 10:32 PM   #14
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Generally the big name companies make the controls, brain boxes, sometimes the compasses and rudder feed backs. The pumps and linear drives are made by other vendors. So what you are really buying from Simrad, Furno, Raymarine, etc. are the brain box and control displays. Several good companies out there. When I buy electronics, I generally choose a company with a good track record making that product. Second, I buy a model that has been out for a couple of years with good acceptance and no design / production problems.

Have had my Simrad for 10 years (3K to 4K hours and 30K to 40K miles). It's interfaced to my Navnet and works flawlessly.

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Old 08-15-2012, 02:05 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fotoman View Post
Next fall I will be doing a complete revamp of my steering system (I have a leak in one of the original copper lines - didn't want to mess with it since it looks very brittle and will probably break as soons as I touch it). Since I will also do a complete makeover of the cockpit bilge (change old water tanks, clean and paint), I'm thinking this is the perfect opportunity to install an autopilot.

I'd like to get suggestions from you on brands and models but also some education on the various components I will need since I don't know much about autopilots and how they work. I have two nav stations so I'm guessing I will need a second control device for the flybridge. One of the (maybe silly) questions I have is: can I interface the autopilot with my GPS (Garmin) and program waypoints for the AP to "follow"?

So what is your experience with autopilots? Any features I should look for/avoid? Is a remote control a nice thing to have or just an expensive gadget that gets lost or broken?
Most of the autopilots will take a NMEA 0183 signal from your chart plotter. If you follow a route on your plotter it sends the specific sentences for the autopilot to follow your route (VS a magnetic heading).

I've used this feature quite a bit, and am actually happier using a magnetic heading most of the time.

The reason is that when following a route, the the autopilot (in my case a Simrad AP24) uses XTE Cross Track Error as its steering input. When the XTE indicates you are off course then the autopilot corrects to close the XTE.

This works great in smooth seas, but when you get almost any non head on or following sea conditions, the wave will push the bow over, making you go off course. The autopilot senses its off course using the XTE and steers to get back on the original route.

If you look at your track you'll see "weaving" back and forth accross the route.

Changing to magnetic mode corrects this. The autopilot reacts instantly to a change in bearing, putting you back on course, instead of waiting for you to actually get off course when in route mode.
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Old 08-15-2012, 06:19 AM   #16
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The commercial grade like our Robertson is old and is a stand alone .

No interface , just an eyeball for a compass heading and off you go.

For us the commercial reliability is worth the loss of a chart plotter that will con the boat into her slip.
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Old 08-15-2012, 06:35 AM   #17
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While it's never perfect...autos can be adjusted to follow the course more tightly. Alost as tightly as just following a heading because that's all it's really doing anyway...it's just correcting back to maintain a head instead of a specific inputted course.

The reliability in autopilots generally isn't the course computer...it's usually the pump or the"interface", "junction box", or the rudder feedback that's an issue. Having a slightly more sophisticated microchip to follow a chartplotter shouldn't scare anyone off.

Both course following and track following are useful tools....a good skipper should be comfortable in being to use both if they are available.
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Old 08-15-2012, 08:22 AM   #18
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Thanks a lot guys. Once again I got a lot of useful info from you. I read a few instruction manuals last night and was able to get a good understanding of autopilots and the way they work. They Sitex would probaly be a good choice for me (good bang for the bucks). And since I will not keep this boat for many more years, it would probably be the right choice. I only use the boat for short weekend trips and for my summer vacation and I am often short handed or with crew that is unfamiliar with steering a boat.
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Old 08-15-2012, 09:22 AM   #19
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If you are looking on the web for the Si-tex they changed their ID's. The old SP-80-R or SP-70-R is now an SP-70-3 or 80-3. Exact same parts. The R designated a rotory feedback unit. Also the control head for the SP-80 is only set up for an in-dash install. You would need to make your own bracket if you want to make a top mount. Other than that, it is a complete system although their manuals leave a lot to be desired.

I hope to complete my install this weekend.
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Old 08-15-2012, 01:04 PM   #20
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If you are looking on the web for the Si-tex they changed their ID's. The old SP-80-R or SP-70-R is now an SP-70-3 or 80-3. Exact same parts. The R designated a rotory feedback unit. Also the control head for the SP-80 is only set up for an in-dash install. You would need to make your own bracket if you want to make a top mount. Other than that, it is a complete system although their manuals leave a lot to be desired.

I hope to complete my install this weekend.
Keep us posted on how it turns out.
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