Personally, I would start with a hydraulic pilot and just skip the wheel
pilots unless you want to have 3 on board for spares. Good pilots are a big job to install and for the do it yourself types if you don't have a lot of experience with installing gear
this is not something you just walk into. Proper installation
is about the most important factor. The mountings are critical and they can take a fair load of power in heavy weather
. Installing the RAM takes a bit of skill as the loads on the mounting are extreme. There is not a significant difference in any one unit being easier to install. They all require your best electrical
skills plus mounting the RAM in a tight place on most all sail boats.
An auto pilot has to steer reliably when you can't. It's the only reason to want one. I've had to do long legs in 4 to 6 ft Chesapeake chop. A wheel
pilot mostly won't do that at all. I'll agree with Talbot on the new rate gyro's. They integrate with the Fluxgate compass
easily. I've been looking at the Raymarine rate gyro and I can plug
it in directly with my old system. The embedded technology in a rate gyro automatically adds ability to compensate better than software
ever could. It suddenly makes the difference in software
moot. Taken to the highest level such as with the ring laser gyros you can replace the fluxgate compass
with one of those. The problem they have is they cost more than many boats. The new rate gyro's they are using are not that expensive. I've seen standalone's for under $400 US. The fluxgate compass is not that complicated either and costs about the same. When installed properly they last a long time. Both my current
and last boat still have a working original fluxgate compass now close to 20 years old each.
For a pro install you can expect about of week of labor to wire and install one. Many aspects of the installation
are custom on each boat. You can try one location and then have to move it. There is a fair bit of signal wires and some larger amp load wires for the RAM. It means wires go to several places.
I'm ready to replace my ST7000 computer. The old design has a two parts
system where the wiring
connects to the main unit via a module that has all the wire connections and a DB 25 connector. The two parts
just bolt together. The DB 25 connectors are just ordinary not like the aircraft gas tight connectors use on commercial
aircraft. The internals of the connectors are now failing. The new designs don't do that any more.
I've had a local guy re-solder the board connections on both halves but the pins are going bad and can not be replaced. It started with dropped rudder
feed back data and now gets the false alarm
for low power
. Losing the rudder
feedback means your pilot is DOA. The good news is all I have to do is buy a new core
computer and it will plug
into the 1990 components and is compatible with the old control head
as well. The bad news is they cost about $1200. It's still a wiring
problem to extend all the wires so you can work on the thing without working inside a small compartment. They didn't leave enough extra wire in the last install yet the rest was all done very pro.
You really can't replace all that much in an autopilot
easily. The parts that can go bad are not always so easy to carry or install - even if you know what you are doing. You sure won't do it in any thing but calm weather at an anchorage or dock
Just so you know Raymarine will not re-solder a board - ever. All discontinued products are discontinued for parts and service
. I know a guy that will and he can fix a fair number of things at the electronics
level. You need to understand that all this is moving to a replacement only service
approach. You as a rule
can't fix any of this stuff any more.