Is Autopilot Necessary In PNW?

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TrawlerDavid

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At age 70, I have made an offer on my first trawler after many years of sail. 1976 GB 36, well-maintained. Most importantly, my wife saw the boat yesterday and approved of the galley. Hull and complete engine surveys happening next week.
The boat does not have a functioning AP at the moment. Considering that our use will likely be day cruising and San Juan island trips rather than coastal or extended cruising, I'd appreciate thoughts from those of you with experience on whether the AP is essential or important for safety. I had an AP on my last sailboat, a Pearson 33, which was invaluable when I singlehanded and needed to hold course while raising and lowering sail. On the GB I always expect to have another person to helm while I move from lower to flybridge or use the head, and my practice is never to leave the helm when underway.
If not really necessary, then an expense and another system to maintain that won't be used much. But if those with experience think the AP is an important adddition I'll start research on what would integrate with the cable steering and Raymarine C140 plotter. Thanks for the assistance!
 
It is necessary if you want to enjoy yourself. If you don't want autopilot get a way faster boat.
 
Is an AP necessary? Not really but I wouldn't own a boat without it even for short runs of an afternoon. So much more pleasant with an AP.

What's wrong with the AP on the boat? I don't know GBs well but some of them have mechanical steering vs hydraulic. Your research should include asking other GB owners of similar vintage.

Congrats on the boat. Hope the transaction proceeds smoothly. GB36 is one of my favorite boats of all time. Quintessential trawler.

Peter
 
Agree, it’s really nice and does a great job holding a heading and or course. I love mine.
 
Get One!

An autopilot eliminates the tedium of steering a course so you can enjoy the view and look out for logs. Plus, when connected to your navigation software, it will minimize cross-track error. That is important in the currents of the PNW!
 
I didn’t think I needed AP, until I installed it . Now I know I needed it.
 
Congratulations and wonderful boat! A good friend has had multiple GBs and every one was excellent.

Agreed that AP is highly desirable in the San Juans although not technically required.

In addition the the other reasons given why it helps attention and enjoyment, I find it helpful (used cautiously) in some of the narrow entrances such as the harbors at Stuart Island and Lopez Pass. I set AP to go right down the middle, and then watch very carefully. It steers better than I can, especially with current set. (TBF when it gets really tight or precise I steer by hand of course. Shallow Bay comes to mind, or Deception Pass.)
 
AP was a deal breaker for my decision on any boats I've owned!
 
It will significantly reduce stress and fatigue, allow you to pay better attention to other things going on around you and on your boat, and greatly enhance your boating experience. I wouldn't own a boat without one. Worth every penny.
 
At age 70, I have made an offer on my first trawler after many years of sail. 1976 GB 36, well-maintained. Most importantly, my wife saw the boat yesterday and approved of the galley. Hull and complete engine surveys happening next week.
The boat does not have a functioning AP at the moment. Considering that our use will likely be day cruising and San Juan island trips rather than coastal or extended cruising, I'd appreciate thoughts from those of you with experience on whether the AP is essential or important for safety. I had an AP on my last sailboat, a Pearson 33, which was invaluable when I singlehanded and needed to hold course while raising and lowering sail. On the GB I always expect to have another person to helm while I move from lower to flybridge or use the head, and my practice is never to leave the helm when underway.
If not really necessary, then an expense and another system to maintain that won't be used much. But if those with experience think the AP is an important adddition I'll start research on what would integrate with the cable steering and Raymarine C140 plotter. Thanks for the assistance!

An AP is essential on any cruising boat, IMHO. Who wants to drive when you could observe, twist a dial, make course corrections on the AP, and drive to a waypoint on "Navigate" when the waypoint becomes available. I wouldn't even consider having a boat with out it. I had enough time driving work boats without it. Those can be tough hours.
 
Interesting. On my previous boat did not have it (36' Shepherd express cruiser). Had this boat for 15 years in the PNW. The current 36' GB has it and I have only used it a couple times, more so I know it works than anything. Do not really see the value. If I am moving I am looking where I am going, steering doesn't add much bandwidth and the second or two switching from autopilot to manual might make a difference re a deadhead or floating log - and there are lots of those in the PNW.

Given that I have only had the AP for a season I may change my mind over time.

A possible reason for preferring manual steering for me is seasickness. If I am driving I don't get seasick, otherwise it is a risk :)
 
A respected member of this forum said to me “ an auto pilot makes a slow boat far more enjoyable”…. So true.
 
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Yes, get it fixed or replace it. It will give you a much better ability to have situational awareness. You aren’t locked in looking at a compass or exactly where you are steering. You will be able to sorta step back and observe what is going on around you. I set the autopilot and then start looking all around the boat, check the gauges, check the chart plotter and then check the heading. Then repeat over and over. Without an autopilot you tend to focus more on the heading and loose situational awareness, and that is bad. It will also make your trip less tiring. We were crossing Lake Ontario in our last boat with 5 to 6’ waves coming off the starboard quarter. I set the autopilot and let it do it’s thing. The heading would go + or - 20 degrees due to the push on the stern. But it saved my shoulders from constant steering for hours on end. Well worth it.
 
We are just finishing up our rv travels for the winter and heading back to seattle. The wife commented about how much more relaxing traveling in the boat vs the rv. She was referring to letting the boat follow a plotted course while we just enjoy the view. I see the boat constantly making corrections due to current and wind.
 
The autopilot frees you from the tedium of steering so you can do the important tasks involved in managing the boat: navigation, collision-avoidance, radar tuning, coffee preperation, etc.

It is minimum equipment.
 
Considering that our use will likely be day cruising and San Juan island trips

I'll buck the trend and say don't worry about it right away. Sure they are nice however with your cruising agenda you can probably get by fine without one. Also hand steering your boat for a season will probably give you a better sense of how the boat handles in different conditions. It's also possible your boat may hold a course for a 1/2 mile or so before you have to bump the wheel. I'd say try without it for at least a few trips then decide. As a side note I have two vehicles with manual transmission.
 
Agree with all comments. The only downside to an AP is falling asleep. If you get drowsy turn it off for a while, or go check your engine room, or play with your other electonics.
 
We use our AP for about 80% of our steering. And we learned recently we can't hand steer in heavy fog, with no distant visual reference.

-Chris
 
I wouldn't have a boat without one. That said, the autopilot that came with out 1972 GB was . . . . anemic at best. It was one of the old belt driven to the helm on the upper deck, with a friction clutch that you engaged with your foot after engaging the autopilot itself. It was NOT adequate for the boat. So, don't spend a lot of money to fix the existing autopilot until you confirm from someone knowledgeable that it should be adequate for the boat. Your surveyor will be a good place to start, providing he is competent.
Best of luck in whatever you decide!:dance:
 
The autopilot offered by Garmin is cheap and effective and comes with a wide range of interface options. That said, I'd also recommend dumping the cable steering for either a hydraulic or steer by wire option.
 
As repeatedly noted above, AP gives the false sense that one is paying closer attention to navigation hazards. In theory, it could allow for increased situational awareness, but there is no evidence, even anecdotel, that this is true universally. It is much like claiming that cruise control on a car makes a better driver. It depends on how bad a driver to begin with. Just like self-driving cars will really increase the proficiency of some drivers, but there is likely a serious downside.

My present boat has AP. The first in 40 years. It can add to comfort and maybe safety. But check out the YouTube video of the collision between the trawler and the Washington State ferry. The trawler skipper was enjoying the benefit of his AP.
 
Where will you be going? From Seattle, your most frequently used courses will repeat themselves, at least near your home port and near your most frequented destinations. AP will give you several times the enjoyment of each passage by reducing the time you need to be concentrating on steering to your course. Get one!
 
AP

Get an Auto Pilot, gives you a better chance to watch for deadheads and traffic, constant plotting, checking course made good, current, tidal action etc.
It makes for more alert and safe passages. The PNW is full of surprises and the best cruising.
Don
 
I’d take stock of my other systems first and just steer till I knew the boats skookum. A new to you boat might have some surprises then start spending on luxury machine steering. Just me but I need a good rib and stable davit system before iron Mike because exploring is why we boat….IMO
 
My present boat has AP. The first in 40 years. It can add to comfort and maybe safety. But check out the YouTube video of the collision between the trawler and the Washington State ferry. The trawler skipper was enjoying the benefit of his AP.


The problem here was NOT the autopilot, it was inattention on the part of the skipper. Attributing the collision to the AP is like saying "He had an anchor on board, so that must have caused the collision."
 
Yes, even with an autopilot you still have to maintain situational awareness. I believe that an autopilot helps do that since you don’t have to be locked in on the heading. You still have to be looking around. I have a routine, I look at the heading, scan all around the boat, check the gauges and plotter. Then repeat over and over. If you run into something it certainly isn’t the fault of the autopilot but rather the idiot behind the wheel…
 
No, not neccesary.

Nice to have though. My A/P crapped out 20+ years ago and I have done without since. But when I had it it was nicer for boat operation.

BUT you must still be watchfull.
 
I use my autopilot for steering 100% of the time. Not just for following a plotted course, or point and shoot, but also for hand steering with a follow up lever.
If you hand steer, you tend to make more rounded corners, steer around tide rips, logs, clumps of floating brush from peoples water front property, etc…
In our cruising area, there aren’t a ton of long, straight, course lines to follow, so hand steering is sensible either using the wheel or the follow up lever.
Whether or not we are holding course with the pilot or hand steering, there’s always someone at the helm to monitor.
A GB36 has a pretty comfortable helm position for hand steering, So I could go either way, but an autopilot is pretty high on my list of things to have.
 
I've always enjoyed hand steering. My day guests do also. Your initial cruising will likely be short and frequent where you don't require it, then as you grow more comfortable and confident, your trips will get longer where it will come in more handy especially during evenings where situational awareness is more challenging.

Install one when you have the time and money, but don't feel pressured or panicked to do so immediately. That list of repairs and upgrades that you've been preparing can prioritize your electronics and such. Personally I would have radar before A/P especially with the rainy crappy winters we have here, although we are now heading into a pleasant Spring and Summer.
 
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