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Old 04-21-2017, 06:24 AM   #41
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Well, an autopilot can do several things. At its basic function, it follows any course (compass direction) that you set. Coupled with a chartplotter, it can follow a route or towards a waypoint that you have set on your chartplotter. Most waypoint following has the ability to dodge obstacles and then return to the course.

I use mine mostly to just follow a course. In open water, I can duck below to get a snack, but I first look around, note any traffic that might be a problem and if nothing is threatening for a few minutes, I will go down below for a minute or so.

I also use it to follow a tight ICW channel. This takes constant attention, adjusting course a few degrees port or starboard to stay in the proper position. But this is still easier than hand steering. I have a remote control head so I can sit back and make these course changes.

But when conditions get tight, like entering a crowded harbor, I always hand steer.

David

Exactly Me too
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Old 04-21-2017, 06:58 AM   #42
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Wow, from...little things...big things grow...

Just a simple question as to how auto pilots work, and we are onto our third page...and now I want one...waaaahhhh...

Point of order though, re one hazard not discussed thus far, and which is especially a risk when programming an AP to take you to set waypoints. This has caused collisions in various parts of the world, including here in Oz. They are sooo accurate that boats have collided because they have been so accurately following programmed in waypoints marked on charts, then not kept the look-out they should, that it ends up a bit like two self-driving cars coming in opposite directions one a single lane road. Bang..! Just sayin'...
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Old 04-21-2017, 07:47 AM   #43
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If I'm navigating through an unfamiliar area I will plot out a course and inspect the whole route at various levels of zoom on my charting software. In this way I build confidence that there are no hidden hazards in advance.
I do this quite frequently, even if I'm intimately familiar with the route. I also use the radar at the same time, just to stay confident with its use. ( The real reason is that I'm a gadget freak and love playing with the electronics!)
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Old 04-21-2017, 09:17 AM   #44
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Very valid point, Peter B!
And, it was true before the widespread adoption of autpilots. I long ago learned to avoid the direct route between two obvious waypoints.
For example, coming out of an inlet, we then turn north and head for that as yet invisible sea buoy marked on the chart. It is foggy, and about half way to that waypoint you realize that every other boat in the area, either leaving the inlet, or approaching it, on autopilot, or hand steering, is on the exact same highway!
Best to offset your course a bit!
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Old 04-21-2017, 10:14 AM   #45
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I use my autopilot to maintain a given heading when navigating open water, and to assist in holding the head to wind when preparing lines while single handing. If used correctly, it improves your situational awareness immensely, and for that reason I consider it essential equipment on all but the smallest day boats.

The autopilot is supposed to free up some of your mental resources so that you can concentrate on traffic and navigation, not lighten your workload so you can read and relax. Maintaining a deck watch is absolutely critical; accidents do happen because the watch stander leaves his post, especially with fishing boats, and the skippers involved are prosecuted.

I've got an old Robertson AP 100 from a fishing boat. It's a nice bit of kit, but it gave up the ghost when water got into the fluxgate compass. Hand steering from Roskilde, Denmark to Moss, Norway was especially interesting since I was alone.

I left the damn thing connected for the rudder readout, and it rewarded me by waking from its Standby slumber while I was in tight quarters, and opening the starboard rudder solenoid. That put the rudder hard over and prevented me from changing pitch to astern. Fun times. Lesson: Route the AP's solenoid power supply over a separate breaker, and flip it while not on auto.

I find the common route following feature utterly useless. I've had it available on a few boats, but never used it beyond establishing how it works. When time comes to change course, I always want to assess the situation before committing to a new heading. XTE is handled by putting the ERBL on our track in Transas, reading off the reciprocal, then comparing that to a fresh CTS. To each his own though... if you find it useful, by all means, have fun.
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Old 04-21-2017, 11:02 AM   #46
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The autopilot is supposed to free up some of your mental resources so that you can concentrate on traffic and navigation,"not lighten your workload so you can read and relax."

Damn good point! It allows one to increase their situational awareness.
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Old 04-21-2017, 11:31 AM   #47
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I plot my course for the day on my chartplotter, engage the autopilot to follow the route. Then I go below and go to sleep until the arrival alarm goes off or I get hungry. 10 hour runs are easy that way.
You too? LOL
We call our autopilot "Abe" because Abe freed the slaves. (well maybe he did not actually but it makes sense)
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Old 04-21-2017, 12:16 PM   #48
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To The OP: An auto pilot steers the boat along the preset heading.

Much of the above regards an auto pilot connected to a gps chartplotter. That is an amazing combination. I swear mine could drive the boat all the way to a destination except for docking and undocking.
I dont do that however just set a course to the next point and then determine what to do when I arrive.

I emphatically agree with not steering to a mark but using an offset parallel course of at least 1/4 Mile. Today everyone has fancy electronics and will be on the same narrow path from mark to mark. offset your path and reduce conflicts.
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Old 04-21-2017, 04:29 PM   #49
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I swear mine could drive the boat all the way to a destination except for docking and undocking.
And that has been experimented with, much like driverless cars.
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Old 04-21-2017, 04:57 PM   #50
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We haven't discussed the use of a hand held tablet with charting software in conjunction with the autopilot/chartplotter.

I used to use the pan and zoom functions on my helm mounted chartplotter to check out the course ahead of me for obstructions as I don't input waypoints, just point the boat and follow a course. The tablet makes it much easier to look ahead for obstructions and on a recent trip along the Connecticut coast, check for currents. I zoom in on the tablet and pan forward with just a few swipes. When I see a current symbol near my track I click on it and I can see the current profile. Much easier than doing it with the chartplotter.

Now I suppose that touch screen chartplotters can do the same thing now. But having the tablet in your hands, sitting back comfortably is a nice way to check the course ahead of you.

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Old 04-22-2017, 11:13 PM   #51
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We recently went from Pensacola to Dog Island down by Carrabelle. I manually plotted 95% of the route, about 180ish miles, manually on the chart plotter. I did this manually on the Hds touch Lowrance units. Worked great. I had the machine doing the routing, turning, and it worked great! I did have to modify a few of the areas, because the chart was off a few hundred feet in the ditch. Overall we used the autopilot for about 98% of the time, of that about 90% was on NAV, meaning the GPS was driving the boat. 10% was just using the Ap to hold a heading. Anyone that has a autopilot that does. Or have it coupled to the gps is missing out! I also use the autopilot to hold a heading when the coast guard wants to board underway. Drop one engine to neutral and place the clutched up engine at an rpm to hold about 6kts. That way if I have an engine failure during the boarding process the autopilot just holds a straight line until it has no water over the rudders!
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Old 04-23-2017, 12:50 AM   #52
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Use my AP all the time. Love it. Let's me sit back and enjoy the ride tho I always keep an eye out. The biggest issue is crab pots... they are everywhere and I don't want to go over one.
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Old 04-23-2017, 01:34 AM   #53
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When I made my last transit up the Inside Passage I thought I had good electronic charts, it turned out that my chip didn't start having charts until just before I entered Alaska and the embedded charts lost all detail shortly after leaving the United States.

I had large scale paper charts and had done the trip before so I wasn't worried, but couldn't set waypoints with the chart plotter. I set my waypoints by using "go to curser" with my broadband radar and running point to point using the charts as reference with the radar.

I love having autopilot :-)
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Old 04-23-2017, 04:55 AM   #54
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Otto allows me to keep watch, check the boat and plan on what we are doing and where we are going. Otto is on 99% of the time. Turned off when we enter an anchorage or harbor/marina. Since we are basically in open water this works well. If we were on the ICW of the East Coast of the United States we would hand steer a little more.


During daylight in open water we generally have one person at the helm the entire time. Trips to the head or refrigerator are covered by the second person. This may be over cautious in our situation as we rarely come within one nautical mile of another boat, perhaps once an hour, and we can see the other boat for at least 15 minutes before the closest approach.

At night, things are much different. The person on watch is glued to the helm and if he or she must leave the other person must be awakened.

Otto however makes these passages doable without undo stress.
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Old 04-24-2017, 06:03 AM   #55
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You watch , the AP steers, big danger is taking a leak over the side ,loosing a hand hold, watching the boat head to the horizon.
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Old 04-24-2017, 06:04 AM   #56
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You watch , the AP steers, big danger is taking a leak over the side ,loosing a hand hold, watching the boat head to the horizon.
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Old 04-24-2017, 07:16 AM   #57
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A great addition to any diesel would be an automatic gizmo that wirelessly activates the fuel shutoff solenoid when you go overboard.
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Old 04-24-2017, 07:33 AM   #58
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Autopilot and going overboard. My often repeated story of teaching a "skipper saver" class for women who know little about handling the boat they cruised on. For years I had the same list of essential things to know. Wasn't until one of the past students had her husband fall overboard and she didn't know how to turn off the autopilot that I added turning off the autopilot as an essential thing to know.
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Old 04-24-2017, 07:36 AM   #59
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Autopilot and going overboard. My often repeated story of teaching a "skipper saver" class for women who know little about handling the boat they cruised on. For years I had the same list of essential things to know. Wasn't until one of the past students had her husband fall overboard and she didn't know how to turn off the autopilot that I added turning off the autopilot as an essential thing to know.
May I suggest another - disabling the syncronizers.

Whenever I hand the helm over to the missus she always checks before I leave the helm whether the AP and/or syncs are on.
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Old 04-24-2017, 08:23 AM   #60
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A great addition to any diesel would be an automatic gizmo that wirelessly activates the fuel shutoff solenoid when you go overboard.
They do exist. There are several devices available that connect helmsman or other crew member to an electronic kill switch via bluetooth. If you fall overboard, or get more than 50' from the helm, the engine shuts down

Here's one: fellmarine.com
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