From the title of the post you can probably gather that I'm shooting the moon here, but I'm trying to figure out the best autopilot setup for a NMEA 2000 system that is starting from scratch.
The autopilot upgrade is happening at the same time as an upgrade to all of our instruments, probably to a Garmin GWS 10 bundle (triducer, wind speed/direction, GMI 10 display). This will include wind speed and direction and is all NMEA 2000.
Obviously we'd like to integrate the autopilot into this, so that it can use wind data to steer, share it's own data (heading, and maybe rate gyro), and serve as an alternate display for some system data (probably just wind). We probably would not bother integrating it with GPS at this point but definitely would eventually.
We'd also like to go with a wheel pilot (for price, ease of installation, and the fact that we'd see it as a backup to a windvane in the long term). Our boat is 36' and 15,000 lb so I realize this is on the boundary of wheel pilot effectiveness.
I've been surprised with how weak the wheel pilot market seems to be. From what I've seen, the only major player is Raymarine's SPX-5. CPT has some non-network options that are slightly more expensive, while Garmin doesn't do wheel pilots and Simrad seems to have no updated models.
So it seems like the SPX-5 is the only choice for a modern network-integrated wheel pilot. Even this, though, is not NMEA 2000 certified. It's Seatalk/NMEA 0183, so it would require an adapter. Besides this, it seems to get good reviews.
So my questions for anyone who knows anything about this are:
1. Am I making a mistake going for a wheel pilot?
In my opinion it's a mistake, our boat is similar size / displacement,
We have had a SPX-5 drive unit on our boat for the last 3 years, for the two first years it was only used while motoring.
Last spring we integrated wind into the autopilot to steer on wind, mid summer the manual clutch started to auto release.
My theory is that even if the boat is balanced and easy to steer, wind gusts can have been enough to overload the system (My brother used the boat while this happened - so I don't know the details). We are replacing with a linear drive now.
The SPX will give slow response compared to a linear drive sized for the boat
2. Am I missing something and there is a reasonably priced NMEA 2000 certified wheel pilot out there?
Not to my knowledge.
3. Can the SPX-5 really handle a 15,000 lb boat in light to medium conditions?
Answered in 1.
4. Will there be data issues between the SPX-5 and a NMEA 2000 network (mostly ability to take wind data, but also speed, reliability, and ability to output data such as heading and maybe gyro info)
According to Raymarine it has SeatalkNG=NMEA2000
I have SeltalkNG (i70 + iTC-5) integrated with NMEA 2000 (Furuno + em-trak AIS) and NMEA 0183 (Actisense NGW-1 to Coursemaster Autopilot)
Integration has not been difficult.
5. Is wind data and network integration worth all this trouble for an autopilot?
Wind - yes (if you sail shorthanded)
MFD to AP - No (I prefer to set/change course manualy)
Instruments (compass) - Yes, because I get a network independent of the MFD. The MFD is the largets power consumer on the network - like to be able to turn it off.
With my other stuff i get GPS (COG/SOG/POS), compass, AIS, wind, speed on the i70 display.
The beauty of a "Pure" N2K network is the independence of the components.
6. Are there any potential cost savings to be had between the autopilot and the new instruments system? (i.e. shared display/network hardware, or further bundling --
Yes I have;
Three elctronic compasses now;
-Furuno NMEA 0183 for the MFD (shared on N2K)
-One for the Autopilot that can be shared via NMEA 0183 to N2K,
-The old Raymarine (currently not connected to the iTC-5.
Two GPS receivers;
-Furuno NMEA 0183 shared on N2K
-one for the AIS (require its own but can share), GPS data shared on all three interfaces (N2K, NMEA 0183 High speed & NMEA 0183 low speed)
although the Garmin bundle seems tough to beat)
You could use a SPX-5 drive unit with the Autopilot from Garmin.
Then you could easily upgrade the drive unit at a later stage
And, of course, is someone going to release an upgraded wheel pilot as soon as I spring for the SPX-5?
When I get my crystal ball (old fishbowl) working I will let you know