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Go Back   SailNet Community > General Interest Forums > Gear & Maintenance
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  #1  
Old 02-14-2007
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Question Hydraulic autopilot?

My lovely wife says she will buy me an autopilot for our sailboat. I'm hoping you folks can help me make a decision.

Our boat is a Cascade 36 cutter rig, with a 13,000 pound displacement. It is already equipped with a nice hydraulic steering system and an 6 cubic inch ram pushing a balanced rudder. We sail in Puget sound where there is a great deal of fast-moving commercial boat traffic, and a lot of logs in the water requiring a constant lookout. The open cockpit of our boat requires that the control head be very weatherproof since it will be exposed even when we're docked. We see a lot of heavy wave action in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Admiralty Inlet, so holding a course is not always easy. The winds are not very dependable, so we spend a good deal of time under diesel power.

I've looked through the sailnet archives for autopilot info, which has been helped me figure out what's important. The autopilot needs to do only two things for me: (1) hold a designated compass course and (2) hold a point of sail on a close reach. This will allow the helmsman to temporarily leave the helm to assist with sails, scan the surroundings for incoming commercial traffic, or tend to an emergency.

I have no desire to allow a GPS to control the autopilot. I love having a GPS, but I can't see ever trusting it to steer the boat. I'm reasonably competent with tools and electronics, so I plan to do the installation myself.

Raymarine has a nice bundle that meets all my needs for about $1800 retail:

http://raymarine.com/raymarine/Produ...roduct_id=1577

I'd want the SmartController remote control ($470) to be able to steer around obstacles from the bow when visibility is poor, so the total price would be about $2270.

Now my questions:

(1) Does the gyro controlled version (S1G corepack) really work well? Anyone used one in a heavy following sea?

(2) Are there any issues with autopilots I should be concerned about?

(3) Can you recommend a mail-order dealer?

(4) Are there other brands of Autopilot I should be looking at?

Thanks in advance!
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Old 02-14-2007
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Check out Comnav and W-H Autopilots. I believe they are simply more robust products.
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I would also look at the Simrad line. I really like their autopilots better than Raymarine.
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By all means check out W-H Autopilots. The P-3C would be perfect for you.

The owner/engineer/designer Will Hamm is a great guy, gives wonderful service, is available by phone at ungodly hours of the day and night, and produces a wonderful product. Many of the Pac NW fishing fleet are equipped with these robust autopilots.

I bought and installed one a few years ago. Absolutely love it. Component parts in my system can be seen here: http://gallery.wdsg.com/BornFree-NewAutopilot

You won't need the hydraulic components, since you already have a hydraulic steering system.

Good luck,

Bill
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Old 02-14-2007
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I like the Raymarine pilots but don't have any direct experience with the Gyro units. As for dealers... defender.com, pyatch.net, hamiltonmarine.com and binnacle.com, mauriprosailing.com are all good guys I've dealt with.

I'd also recommend getting their wireless autopilot remote, the S100 or the Smartcontroller... as they will allow you to control the autopilot from anywhere on your boat. The remote has a range of about 30' from the base unit, which you could mount near your nav station, and it would probably work anywhere on the boat. I have the smartcontroller installed on my boat. Makes singlehanding much simpler.
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We have an Alpha Marine 3000 unit http://www.alphamarinesystems.com/ which has worked very well for us. Their gear looks to be more robust than the Raymarine equipment. Their dealers include Hinkley and Valiant...
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We have a W-H P3C. Been on the boat for years, installed by prior owner. Works great. Has a remote control. Basically steered the boat for me from Miami to the Virgins. The PO crossed the Pacific for several years with it no problems. W-H is local to you. Check them out.
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We put a ComNav autopilot on our Morgan 36 Out Island. Had _no_ problems over 3,000 miles, from Vancouver BC to Costa Rica.

I'm not sure if our model (I think it's a ComNav 1420) will support a wind-angle sensor, though. Do you really need that?

The only "trick" is sizing your pumpset correctly. You want a lock-to-lock time of around 15 seconds or less.

Charles
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Old 02-15-2007
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Thanks everybody for your advice. I'm contacting Comnav (Richmond, BC) ,W-H (Bainbridge Island, WA), Simrad (Everett, WA) and Alpha Marine (Mercer Island, WA). Happily, they're all all within 150 miles of my home. I'll follow up here when I've made a decision.
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SailorByFate,
My boat has hydraulic steering and came equipped with the ST6001 system. We both love having the convenience of autipilot and have had no problems whatsoever with this system. The main controls are located in the pilothouse, in addition to a wired remote control - which also functions from the aft cockpit helm.

We've cruised offshore in AP mode many times with following seas and it tracks very well with our 18,000 lb displacement. Since the PO installed the system I don't recall the exact technical specs - manuals are all on the boat.
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