Join Date: Feb 2000
Location: Annapolis, Md
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any bad experiances with wheel autopilots?
I have some experience with a number of wheel pilots. There seems to be a lot of factors at play. The primary seems to be the proposed use of the autopilot. They are fine for 35 or so footers under about 12000 lbs (The manufacturer''s weight ratings seem a little optomistic when things get bouncy) They seem happiest when motoring. They seem to work best on boats with fin keel and counterbalanced spade rudders. They seem to work worst on boats with high lateral (yaw) stability as the forces seem to prevent the small quick trim that is necessary in a following sea. I was very disappointed in wheel pilots on boats much over 15,000 or so as the momentum of the boat seems to cause pretty wide swings and use a lot of juice.
I am using an Autohelm 4000 on a 10,500 lb 38 footer for coastal cruising. It works fine in most of the lighter conditions that I have encountered but really was not up to handling the boat in heavier going. Its funny because the helm loads were pretty low and adjustments were minimal yet every so often there would be a large wave in the wave train that would confuse the logic of the autopilot.
I think that I would opt for the heavier duty, more sophisticated below decks 5000 or 6000 series if I were going offshore or putting the unit on a heavier boat.