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Old 10-05-2016, 15:24   #16
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Re: Autopilots... Why are they so finicky, expensive?

I bought a Jefa pancake drive and it was expensive. That was just the motor. Then the Garmin head unit
Think it costs 6000 euros all up. But the thing is awesome and completely different in every way to the previous raymarine one that was belt driven off the wheel..
Atleast this one turns or can handle rough seas etc.
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Old 10-05-2016, 16:39   #17
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Re: Autopilots... Why are they so finicky, expensive?

Going cheap on an autopilot is probably right at the top of cruiser things to later regret.
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Old 10-05-2016, 16:45   #18
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Re: Autopilots... Why are they so finicky, expensive?

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Originally Posted by sailorboy1 View Post
Going cheap on an autopilot is probably right at the top of cruiser things to later regret.
Amen to that....
The AutoPilot crew member doesn't eat, doesn't leave his crap all over the boat, doesn't complain about what's for dinner and can usually hold a course better than at least the last crew member I picked up to go down the outside of Baja with me....
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Old 10-05-2016, 17:23   #19
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Re: Autopilots... Why are they so finicky, expensive?

I agree with the OP. APs (and plenty of other boat items) are very pricey (for what they actually are)

Maybe the answer is to some extent in the numbers produced: it is difficult to inexpensively produce items in small quantities today. Boats are not like cars, our market is hundreds times smaller. And APs are not Chinese Tees - you want some quality, there is some design, some machining, etc, it all adds up.

Greed could be another culprit but one would have to see the frofits of the makers. I have not seen them (profits, not makers) and so I do not know if these (people) are getting very rich these days.

Maybe, but just maybe, the answer is simply that in times when we are so selfish and so lazy and so ignorant to sail alone and/or refuse and/or know how to, steer our boats, we must pay others, who simply can.

Should I buy another gadget or shall I pay the crew?

As behavioral economy teaches us, we prefer buying gadgets over employing people.

;-)

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Old 10-05-2016, 18:15   #20
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Re: Autopilots... Why are they so finicky, expensive?

If you are weekend cruising, then pretty much anything will do.
Magnetic compasses are not stable enough for great steering in rough conditions. There is lots of on going development in this area. Most AP's started with Fluxgate compasses, some high end ones with Gyros (expensive). Rate compasses were quite an improvement in steering over the fluxgate alone. Now Solid state (like the Precision 9 from Navico/Simrad/B&G - see below) is where it's at.
If you make serious passages, esp shorthanded, a good AP is worth every cent.
As above, there are various capabilities, from basic compass course keeping, thru to very competent models with Pitch ,Roll, and Yaw sensors and software, crash recovery (like after a broach in a big wave, not a computer crash!), gybe prevention, wind steering - incl apparent/true auto switch when surfing etc - this is on pilots like the B&G 5000 series - as used on boats like the vendee globe. If you are doing 30 knots on a 60 footer with the kite on, single handed, and wish to sleep, you better have a GREAT AP!!
Some of these fancy things are now filtering down to the Triton series pilots, with the addition of the precision 9 solid state compass - with pitch roll and yaw compensation.
It all depends what you need. Personally I have over 30,000NM with a Simrad pilot on my own boat. Hydraulic ram direct to the quadrant. It has been fantastic, but I have had one AP computer failure in that time. It will steer the boat in any conditions I'm willing to sail in (ie not hove to or on a parachute), and will shortly be enhanced with the addition of the Precision 9 mentioned above.
Oh yeah, and I sell, install, and maintain these systems for a living these days...
Feel free to take or leave my advice/experience as you see fit :-)
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Old 10-05-2016, 18:58   #21
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Re: Autopilots... Why are they so finicky, expensive?

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Originally Posted by barnakiel View Post
I agree with the OP. APs (and plenty of other boat items) are very pricey (for what they actually are)

Maybe the answer is to some extent in the numbers produced: it is difficult to inexpensively produce items in small quantities today. Boats are not like cars, our market is hundreds times smaller. And APs are not Chinese Tees - you want some quality, there is some design, some machining, etc, it all adds up.

Greed could be another culprit but one would have to see the frofits of the makers. I have not seen them (profits, not makers) and so I do not know if these (people) are getting very rich these days.

Maybe, but just maybe, the answer is simply that in times when we are so selfish and so lazy and so ignorant to sail alone and/or refuse and/or know how to, steer our boats, we must pay others, who simply can.

Should I buy another gadget or shall I pay the crew?

As behavioral economy teaches us, we prefer buying gadgets over employing people.

;-)

b.
Paid crew on a family cruising Yacht? I think I must be doing something wrong. Just me, my wife, the baby and the dog.
Mom takes care of baby, which leaves me and the dog to run the boat. Autopilot drives while I do stuff.

I'm also so selfish and ignorant and lazy I have a mechanical windlas to raise the anchor, sails so I don't have to paddle my 35' boat, a stove so I don't have to murder seagulls for dinner then eat them raw because those new fangled stoves are a lazy man's way of cooking?

I think a certain amount of technological advantage is assumed when one talks about cruising boats. Is an autopilot the straw that breaks the mechanical advantage camels back?

Maybe but it seems like kind of an arbitrary tipping point to me.

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Old 10-05-2016, 19:16   #22
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Re: Autopilots... Why are they so finicky, expensive?

Here's an old thread a friend of mine wrote about autopilots, well before the advent of the more sophisticated stuff came on the market, essentially dealing with the "toy" APs generally available for mid-30 footers that sail coastal or in enclosed waters:

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Many manufacturers have designed and offered much better equipment since, but these are the reasons the "toys" don't work too well.

The better ones, like those mentioned here, including Rich's CPT suggestion, offer the OPTIONS of integrating or non-integrating your AP with other instruments.

Like anchors, religion, politics, and wheel vs tiller, it is up to each skipper to make an informed choice on what most suits their own requirements.
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Old 10-05-2016, 20:19   #23
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Re: Autopilots... Why are they so finicky, expensive?

There seems to be confusion between expensive and effective. Just because an AP is expensive doesn't mean it does a better job, and just because it is inexpensive doesn't mean it is inferior. I have (repeatedly) bought the "best" tillerpilot from Raymarine (previously Raytheon, Autohelm) and have been repeatedly disappointed. And I have met many other cruisers with tillers that have had the same experience. The linear drive is inadequate for my vessel, and it lacks features that would improve reliability (stop switches at each end, internal rudder reference) that can be had on commercial servo drives for a third the price (less than the price for a single replacement electric motor from RM). The simple ST2000 I bought 25 years ago actually steered a better course than anything since.

Of course part of this is that APs designed for the cockpit are not nearly as powerful or rugged as those that can be had for mounting below on the quadrant. But this is just the drive. The controller is essentially the same but with larger drive transistors and heat sinks.

As for high pricing, it is a reflection of modern marketing's concept of pricing to perceived value, not cost. Even as the hardware costs for the controllers have dropped in recent decades the prices have edged up. As for the drives, AP suppliers don't have enough volume to manufacture electric motors, hydraulic pumps, or linear drives competitively - mostly they buy and mark up by 3x or 4x (which might be justifiable but is expensive).

It is certainly possible to find autopilots that are effective and reliable for far less than $5k. They won't be as pretty, won't carry the logo of a big manufacturer of marine equipment, may not interface to wind sensors and/or GPS output, won't act as a display of networked data, but they will steer the boat reliably. The choice is there, and yours to make. Personally I am giving up on Raymarine...

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Old 11-05-2016, 07:33   #24
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Re: Autopilots... Why are they so finicky, expensive?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ungvar View Post

Autopilot drives while I do stuff.
So what is this stuff you are talking about? Reading cook books? Watching TV series? ;-) Is steering NOT the stuff of sailors?

Steering is used to be the essence of sailing. Steering her, trimming sails, keeping watch, taking the position down. These used to be why people went on the water.

To be a passenger, I'd rather take a cruising ship. Where the AP is not only doing all the work but also serving cold drinks!

Yes, I agree with you, 99.9%. You are talking about the real world, I am talking about the imagined one.

And so we found the answer to the OP question. APs are so expensive because cruisers need/want them so badly.

We are living in a world where hands on is passe. We are outsourcing our lives.

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Old 11-05-2016, 08:04   #25
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Re: Autopilots... Why are they so finicky, expensive?

Quote:
Originally Posted by barnakiel View Post
So what is this stuff you are talking about? Reading cook books? Watching TV series? ;-) Is steering NOT the stuff of sailors?

Steering is used to be the essence of sailing. Steering her, trimming sails, keeping watch, taking the position down. These used to be why people went on the water.

To be a passenger, I'd rather take a cruising ship. Where the AP is not only doing all the work but also serving cold drinks!

Yes, I agree with you, 99.9%. You are talking about the real world, I am talking about the imagined one.

And so we found the answer to the OP question. APs are so expensive because cruisers need/want them so badly.

We are living in a world where hands on is passe. We are outsourcing our lives.

b.
My first couple of years I cruised the only "luxuries" I had on board was a VHF and an RDF. Navigation was DR then a sextant as I make longer passages. I spent many, many hours steering and my conclusion, steering might be the stuff of some sailors but standing at the helm watch on watch for days at a time it isn't the stuff of this sailor.

Standing watch, trimming sails, navigating, passage planning, managing the boat; these to me are the essence of sailing. Once I learn the feel of a boat, when the sails need a bit of trimming or reefing, how the boat handles under different points of sail and different wind and sea conditions I just don't see the point in holding on to the helm for hour after hour after hour. Tending to the other stuff seems like a much more productive use of my time and energies.

I don't mind getting my own cold drinks but if someone invents an AP that will wash the dishes I'm interested.
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Old 11-05-2016, 08:20   #26
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Re: Autopilots... Why are they so finicky, expensive?

I had the paint brush out painting the deck in the sun whilst doing 6 to 7 knots accross Biscay last week. AP was doing a fine job steering and we did discuss beforehand about If AP wanted to paint or steer.. I won and chose to paint.. I think the AP is a necessity on board.
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Old 11-05-2016, 08:27   #27
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Re: Autopilots... Why are they so finicky, expensive?

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Originally Posted by barnakiel View Post
So what is this stuff you are talking about? Reading cook books? Watching TV series? ;-) Is steering NOT the stuff of sailors?

Steering is used to be the essence of sailing. Steering her, trimming sails, keeping watch, taking the position down. These used to be why people went on the water.

To be a passenger, I'd rather take a cruising ship. Where the AP is not only doing all the work but also serving cold drinks!

Yes, I agree with you, 99.9%. You are talking about the real world, I am talking about the imagined one.

And so we found the answer to the OP question. APs are so expensive because cruisers need/want them so badly.

We are living in a world where hands on is passe. We are outsourcing our lives.

b.
Yes, steering without A/P is a full time job for one person. Stuff would include sail trim, navigation, checking the bilge, checking the engine room making log entries etc.

Steering was traditionally the realm of unlicenced crew, it was not considered a worth while task for officers or other highly skilled seamen.

Do you think the master of a modern ship would waste his time with steering, or the officers? No, in confined waters GP's (deck hands) do the steering, more than a couple of miles off shore, the task goes to autopilot so the GP's time can be better spent chipping and painting.

If ships with crews of 20 don't spare a man to steer, why should I with only a wife, baby and dog?

Joshua Slocum spoke at length about his self steering system in Sailing Alone Around the World. Steering wasn't worth his time.

I think you might be placing more importance on the task of routine steering than the task is really worthy of.

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Old 11-05-2016, 08:56   #28
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Re: Autopilots... Why are they so finicky, expensive?

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Originally Posted by barnakiel View Post
So what is this stuff you are talking about? Reading cook books? Watching TV series? ;-) Is steering NOT the stuff of sailors?

Steering is used to be the essence of sailing. Steering her, trimming sails, keeping watch, taking the position down. These used to be why people went on the water.

To be a passenger, I'd rather take a cruising ship. Where the AP is not only doing all the work but also serving cold drinks!

Yes, I agree with you, 99.9%. You are talking about the real world, I am talking about the imagined one.

And so we found the answer to the OP question. APs are so expensive because cruisers need/want them so badly.

We are living in a world where hands on is passe. We are outsourcing our lives.

b.
Well I was told in my introduction thread to go at this potentially as cheap as possible. I can certainly see why. It looks to me as if sail boats lose about 80% of their purchase price in the first 5 years after they are new. Then you need a new motor, new standing rigging, rudder, something about keel bolts needing fixing. Through hulls wear out. Sails... Bimini and dodger canvas. Water makers, generators... Although some people forgo generators, and just fix a second bigger alternator on their motor... Alternator diodes. Marine refrigerators...

As a consummate DIYer, I am ok with all this. (I have a line on a second hand Singer industrial sewing machine, and a drill press with a low enough playout to double as a lath!) It seems to me... To do this I will have to be a shipwright as much as a Sailer...

Part of that will be eventually be building an Autopilot. To do that I need it on a platform which allows for that type of tinkering. It seems to me a lot of the high end boat maintenance stuff is like automotive repair... replace parts until it works again.

That's not really what I want to go for... I made my fortune by taking buildings that no one wanted, and making them into something that has value. It seems like sailing, certainly the trip that is my goal, won't be too different from that.
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Old 11-05-2016, 11:12   #29
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Re: Autopilots... Why are they so finicky, expensive?

I don't think there is a more proven autopilot made right now than NKE, and they have a side benefit of being price competitive.

Having been out short handed when the AP decided to stop working, there is nothing more prone to cause problems. Cruising vessels simply do not have the man power available to dedicate someone to be permanently driving the boat. If given the option I would rather loose the engine than the AP... HecK I would probably rather loose any single system on the boat before the AP.
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Old 11-05-2016, 11:54   #30
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Re: Autopilots... Why are they so finicky, expensive?

Hi MLC,

I think you are misinformed or misunderstanding some of these issues.

For example:

Quote:
Originally Posted by MidlifeCrisis View Post
Well I was told in my introduction thread to go at this potentially as cheap as possible. I can certainly see why. It looks to me as if sail boats lose about 80% of their purchase price in the first 5 years after they are new.

For a top of the line, well maintained, lightly used boat I think you have that figure reversed. A boat like that might maintain 80% of the purchase price. That would be the best case scenario. More typically a production boat might lose 30-40-50% tops unless it was really, really abused. Think abused, overused and severely neglected charter boat losing 50% or so.


Then you need a new motor,

At five years? Guess my 1984 diesel is 25 years overdue.

new standing rigging,

Maybe five years if sailed hard in the tropics or serious sailing in high latitudes. 7-10 years is possible. Even then this isn't a huge expense. Replacing the original, 30 year old rigging on my 42' Pearson about $4000 including all new wire, toggles, turnbuckles and even the chain plates. New Harken roller furler added another $3000 to that.

rudder,

Rudder???? Don't think so. Sometimes they break, a few brands/models have had problems due to poor design or construction, but a well built rudder on a well built boat can last the life of the boat.

something about keel bolts needing fixing.

Check them at least once or twice a year. Many last the life of the boat. I could go on point by point but bottom line, it's not nearly as bad as you are making it.

Through hulls wear out. Sails... Bimini and dodger canvas. Water makers, generators... Although some people forgo generators, and just fix a second bigger alternator on their motor... Alternator diodes. Marine refrigerators...

As a consummate DIYer, I am ok with all this. (I have a line on a second hand Singer industrial sewing machine, and a drill press with a low enough playout to double as a lath!) It seems to me... To do this I will have to be a shipwright as much as a Sailer...

This is absolutely correct, that is unless you have really deep pockets and want to pay the pros and boat yards to do it all for you.


Part of that will be eventually be building an Autopilot. To do that I need it on a platform which allows for that type of tinkering.

You can assemble the parts but are you able to write a fairly sophisticated control program to run the parts?

It seems to me a lot of the high end boat maintenance stuff is like automotive repair... replace parts until it works again.

My experience that boat repair is a lot more diagnosing and repairing instead of parts swapping. The majority of the repairs on my boat are done that way. Pull apart an expensive AP motor and install new, standard issue bearings that cost $20 instead of installing a new motor for $1000 or more. Did the same with my anchor windlass and a couple of water pumps.


That's not really what I want to go for... I made my fortune by taking buildings that no one wanted, and making them into something that has value. It seems like sailing, certainly the trip that is my goal, won't be too different from that.
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