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Old 26-03-2017, 14:47   #1
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Auto-Pilot Primer please

Hi -
I sail a Cape Dory 330 (full keeled 33'er 13,500lb displacement dry and empty). About 5 years ago I installed a Raymarine X-1 wheel pilot which never handled the boat reliably in following seas which were either large or steep. It has progressively deteriorated to the point that the clutch on the wheel now pops out even in calm water. I nursed it along with bungie cords and the like as long as I could. I need a new AP. It looks like the current Raymarine Model (the EV-100) is sized just like the X-1 (to boats displacing 16000lbs or less) so I am very reluctant to install another wheel pilot which doesn't do the job.

What is the deal with Below Decks APs? Is there a clear leader in the market? Are there significant differences in the difficulty of installation between brands or models? Is one model or brand more easily serviced than others (particularly outside the US)? I am looking for the best combination of price, reliability, ease of self installation and serviceability. My other electronics are all Garmin. Thanks for any and all suggestions! (and I am open to quality used equipment if anyone knows of a deal -)

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Old 26-03-2017, 16:21   #2
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Re: Auto-Pilot Primer please

Are you adjusting your sails 1st, so the boat runs a/the course you want, and then engaging a-pilot! If not you are probably straining a-pilot, with to much power for it to handle! Just a thought!
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Old 26-03-2017, 16:32   #3
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Re: Auto-Pilot Primer please

Thanks Mike. The problems are the same under power alone and (yes I try to balance the boat out as if I was using the windvane even if running just the AP). Mostly just trying to get a handle on the under decks AP options and considerations.
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Old 26-03-2017, 18:52   #4
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Re: Auto-Pilot Primer please

Another thought ... my Raymarine autopilot (don't know model number) had the issue of the clutch popping out. It took all but 5 minutes to loosen a screw, adjust the belt tension and tighten the screw.
(it did take some time to determine this simple adjustment was required)
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Old 26-03-2017, 19:02   #5
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Re: Auto-Pilot Primer please

I would say that most brands are pretty reliable with the odd lemon. The key is all in the sizing and installation. If your boat has not had an under deck autopilot drive then none of them will be especially easy to install. Unless of course the boat was made with an autopilot in mind. I just posted a link to a Raymarine autopilot installation document on the Ray web site. Should be easy to find.
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Old 26-03-2017, 20:14   #6
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Re: Auto-Pilot Primer please

Don't have an opinion on drive unit as not familiar with your steering setup. If you have an X-5 power unit then it is rated at 6 amps continuous and as best as I can figure 10 amps max (newer units actually sense the motor current and provide an error message if rating is exceeded). Usually the most energy thrifty place to drive from is the wheel shaft. Most all of these things use a small permanent magnet DC motor and as such the drive and driver don't have to be blood relatives. I am using an RM X-5 and a 30 YO Benmar rotary drive unit. The X-5 does not provide a clutch signal but 12 volts and a switch can cure that.

Point to all this is before you tear it all out might try to just replace the motor/actuator end and see if the X-5 will handle the load. Also add a rudder position sensor while you are fooling around in this area if you don't already have one.
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Old 26-03-2017, 20:54   #7
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Re: Auto-Pilot Primer please

All the options for types, brands and models of APs could fill a book or two.

I've had several over the years and consider a good AP to be one of the most critical pieces of gear for long range cruising.

After lots of research and reading here's what I think I learned.

Brands

1. Raymarine. A lot of them on the water with various opinions on quality and reliability. They don't use standard NMEA 2000 bus and I don't hear good things about tech support.

2. NKE. I hear it's what all the big race boats use. Top of the line, big money.

3. B&G/Simrad. All part of Navico. B&G used to be sail oriented, Simrad power but latest models from what I can tell are the same. Very good gear, very good tech support. Standard NMEA2000, works well with other brand electronics if you want to mix and match.

4. Alpha. Very good reputation. Lower power draw than most others. Small company and in the past a few complaints about support.

5. WH. Used by a lot of commercial fishermen. Stand alone, doesn't integrate if you want that. Strong reputation for reliability.

6. Garmin. Relatively new to AP. Don't have a lot of track record.

Hydraulic or mechanical drive? Many cruisers claim hydraulic more reliable. Not sure why that would be as hydraulic still has a motor plus the hydraulics. Mechanical drives are generally quieter. Hydraulic more flexibility in mounting.

Linear direct drive vs rotary motor drive to steering system. Linear is independent of the wheel, connects directly to the rudder post so can be a backup steering system.

There's more, like I said, it could fill a book. Bottom line, I went with a new Simrad and will stick with linear, mechanical drive.
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Old 26-03-2017, 21:47   #8
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Re: Auto-Pilot Primer please

The best in the business right now by quite a big margin is NKE. They are so far ahead of everyone else they should also be considered #2. But NKE is not cheap, they really aren't crazy expensive, but they are atthe top end of the market.

Personally I have never seen a wheel pilot that I thought was worth all that much. They all tend to be underpowered when it really counts.

But since you already have a raymarine system I would just scavange all of it and instal a ram instead of the wheel. They ar like night and day in terms of strength.
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Old 27-03-2017, 02:03   #9
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Re: Auto-Pilot Primer please

I don't agree about NKE. Good pilots, Sure, and popular with the mini 650s and other (especially French) boats. Consider the vendee globe boats, 80 odd percent of the fleet used B&G, mostly the H5000 system, but some wtp3 units as well. 1st boat used a wtp3, 2nd an H5000.
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Old 27-03-2017, 03:57   #10
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Re: Auto-Pilot Primer please

Quote:
Originally Posted by Stumble View Post
The best in the business right now by quite a big margin is NKE. They are so far ahead of everyone else they should also be considered #2. But NKE is not cheap, they really aren't crazy expensive, but they are atthe top end of the market.

Personally I have never seen a wheel pilot that I thought was worth all that much. They all tend to be underpowered when it really counts.

But since you already have a raymarine system I would just scavange all of it and instal a ram instead of the wheel. They ar like night and day in terms of strength.
The NKE isn't crazy expensive but a bit crazy for my budget. Complete Simrad a hair under $4000. NKE almost $8000.

I agree that wheel pilots are almost universally underpowered. Most do OK in moderate conditions but unless you have a small and/or very well balanced boat, they just can't cut it when conditions pipe up.

If the OP is on a budget then also agree that if possible, keep the Raymarine electronics and add a new below decks drive. Very easy to run almost any drive with almost any pilot as long as the pilot has enough output to push the drive.

Not familiar with the Wheelpilot so not sure if that will work. Some of the wheel pilot types are integrated and may not interface with other components.
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Old 27-03-2017, 05:32   #11
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Re: Auto-Pilot Primer please

I think wheel pilots are evil.

As mentioned, whatever you do choose a unit that is sized appropriately for your size boat. If it's close in terms of specs, opt for the more powerful pilot

I have an Alpha 3000 that is 31 years old, and only this past winter gave me problems. Tech support is nothing short of phenomenal. Called them and the guy who answered the phone stayed on with me for over an hour discussing troubleshooting procedures and options.

However, these are bare bones stand alone pilots. No integration with your network, no nothing. Relatively power efficient.

I'm personally considering switching to B&G if I can keep and use my Alpha drive unit, as I'm migrating to B&G gear anyway.

As far as ease of installation is concerned, that's going to vary depending on the space you have around your rudder post and strategies for mounting a ram and, of you want it, a rudder feedback unit. I would look at the installation instructions for the various drive units and analyze the implications for your boat. The head unit/black box can be anywhere.
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Old 27-03-2017, 12:10   #12
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Re: Auto-Pilot Primer please

I know this is slightly out of scope for the OP, but as folks mentioned the B&G H5000... as far as I could tell, these are (one of the) best on the market IF properly calibrated. And proper calibration of all the sensors involved is really only available to professionals that have the time, equipment, and inclination to do so.

I'm also not convinced that a system that can steer a planing hull Open 60 with a canting keel and new carbon sails, etc. really has any applicability to the vast majority of displacement hull cruisers. I'm sure gust response (for example) is needed when making 20+ knots in 40+ knots of wind, but who of us is sailing like this?

In other words, I doubt I'd see much of a practical difference between the H5000 and the B&G Triton2 system I'm working on installing. I vote leaving the racing equipment to the racers. Probably get a better return of sail-ability by spending the saved cash on new sails.
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Old 27-03-2017, 12:20   #13
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Re: Auto-Pilot Primer please

Quote:
Originally Posted by fallingeggs View Post
I know this is slightly out of scope for the OP, but as folks mentioned the B&G H5000... as far as I could tell, these are (one of the) best on the market IF properly calibrated. And proper calibration of all the sensors involved is really only available to professionals that have the time, equipment, and inclination to do so.

I'm also not convinced that a system that can steer a planing hull Open 60 with a canting keel and new carbon sails, etc. really has any applicability to the vast majority of displacement hull cruisers. I'm sure gust response (for example) is needed when making 20+ knots in 40+ knots of wind, but who of us is sailing like this?

In other words, I doubt I'd see much of a practical difference between the H5000 and the B&G Triton2 system I'm working on installing. I vote leaving the racing equipment to the racers. Probably get a better return of sail-ability by spending the saved cash on new sails.
That would be good advice if there were 3 categories of APs:
Racing
Distance/offshore cruising
Recreational

Unfortunately most of the APs are built for recreational duty use, IE weekends and a summer cruise.
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Old 27-03-2017, 13:38   #14
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Re: Auto-Pilot Primer please

Quote:
Originally Posted by Stumble View Post
But since you already have a raymarine system I would just scavange all of it and instal a ram instead of the wheel. They ar like night and day in terms of strength.
Not sure the x-1 will run a below decks ram. If you look at the lastest EV100/ACU100 it won't run a below decks ram presumably because it doesn't have the clutch facility, you need the more expensive EV200 and higher.

Since the OP has lots of Garmin why not use their control unit with a Jefa Drive? its the Garmin drive unit.

Jefa Steering Systems

As to the using the current Ray unit, worth checking the clutch as JD suggests and if that doesn't work, strip it out and sell it, they command a good price on e bay especially now as the Spring approaches.

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