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Old 12-02-2009, 13:56   #1
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Homicidal autopilots

A couple of boats in BC were running alongside BC ferries when they did a sudden 90 degree turn in front of the ferries , killing everyone aboard on one boat and killing the skipper's wife and kids on another.
People asked "Why would they suddenly turn in front of a BC ferry." They probably didn't . Their autopilot probably did it for them. When the buttons on an auto pilot jam , it throws the helm hard over. Electrical interference can also do this . I've had it happen many times.
I have asked the Transportation safety board, the media , the Mounties and the Coast Guard to warn the public of the danger. My suggestions have been met with indifference or sarcasm.
This was used as the excuse for mandatory boat operators cards . Has anyone seen a question on this issue on the safe boaters course ? In the questions for the exam? On Coast Guard safe boating pamphlets? Not a chance. It appears they are more interested in protecting the manufacturers from liability. Or perhaps they are hoping a future incident of this type will give them an excuse for further intrusion into the freedom of boaters, for personal bureaucratic empire building efforts.
Ask them
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Old 12-02-2009, 14:33   #2
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I'm new to boating but is there a lobbyist for boaters rights or a organization or something

Because, in my opinion we are losing rights everyday.
the water still has a feeling of freedom i would hate to witness that be stripped away too.
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Old 12-02-2009, 15:23   #3
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Brent,

I understand that your motivation for this thread was to bring attention to oppressive regulation, with which I fully agree ( the oppressive part ), But I am curious about the technical defects you refer to in the auto pilots. I have installed a good number of autopilots from a reputable west coast Canadian company and have NEVER had feedback from owners about these problems.
I would really like to know more about this issue, its scary, can you post a link to the story or tell me where I can find details. As small as Bermuda is, we do have a number a good size catamaran ferries whose routes take them right through pleasure boating areas.
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Old 12-02-2009, 18:28   #4
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A question to ask might be, "who would want to run in close proximity to underway large vessels while under autopilot?" This seems to be a spectacularly unsafe practice for a number of reasons.

I'd like to see the links as well as I can't recall such a tragic occurance. Was this recent?
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Old 12-02-2009, 18:39   #5
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Brent, Beatle has a great idea! You want to contact Boat U.S. They are VERY interested in safety, and you can present them with your findings. Maybe an article in there for ya...
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Old 12-02-2009, 18:53   #6
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When we lived in SoCal on several occassions we had our ST4000 suddenly snap us into a 90* turn without warning, on both occassions near Angles Gate, while a Navy Guided Missile Frigate was departing Long Beach Navy Yard.

Several weeks later, when we discussed the matter with some of the sailors at the Navy Yacht Club, we were told: "Oh yeah, when the boats clear the Gate they initialize their Air Defense Radars and the beam can really effect nearby electronics". I'll tell the world!

s/v HyLyte
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Old 12-02-2009, 19:23   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave the Canuck View Post
A question to ask might be, "who would want to run in close proximity to underway large vessels while under autopilot?" This seems to be a spectacularly unsafe practice for a number of reasons.

I'd like to see the links as well as I can't recall such a tragic occurance. Was this recent?
Dave...you nailed it. NEVER use your autopilot when you are near anything solid. That's just good seamanship.

This case of colliding with the ferry was caused by bad seamanship. Its very unfortunate, but its completely operator error and nobody elses fault.
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Old 12-02-2009, 19:31   #8
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In fourteen years of sailing with our Autohelm 7000, we have never had the autopilot do an unintended right angle turn or go berserk. I reckon that I would be steering by hand if I was close to major shipping for obvious safety reasons.
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Old 12-02-2009, 19:33   #9
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I have had mine do some very bizarre turns. The problem was a fluxgate that wore out. I had no idea before then that a fluxgate could wear out....but changing out the fluxgate for a new one cured the problem. It is a ComNav 1001 unit.
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Old 12-02-2009, 20:11   #10
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I know of one sailboat that was on Autopilot as it passed close to a large fuel barge.

The Steel of the fuel barge became NORTH and Blam!!!!! 6 feet of the bow GONE

I was aboard a vessel coming under the Francis Scott Key Bridge...the owner had the vessel on autopilot........I was on watch with the owner (I did not know he still had it on)...he paniced...as I turned it off I was able to steer us away by FEET

Two rules we go by (among many) on the vessel that is my Avatar......NO AUTOPILOT Near Bridges and NEVER EVER EVER EVER use a buoy as a waypoint.
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Old 12-02-2009, 21:27   #11
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I have had an autopilot throw the helm hard over a couple of times. I have also used the AP in tight quarters but NEVER unattended and ready to take manual control if something happened (like maybe another boat's AP going haywire and turning in front of me).
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Old 12-02-2009, 21:48   #12
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A couple of fellow fisherman were killed when relying on an autopilot with a quartering sea to steer then past Green Cape in Disaster Bay without a reliable lookout
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Old 12-02-2009, 21:54   #13
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Chief, are those BC ferries steel? Or alu?

Or perhaps the BC Ferry pilots are using ray guns to zap those autopilots and kill the folks who dare to ride alongside instead of paying the ferry fare?

Statistically, if those suicide turns were caused by autopilot failures, we'd see an equal number of autopilot failures that turned AWAY from the ferries, and we'd have heard from autopilot owners and operators that "I nearly got killed by the ferry when Otto went bonkers!"

No tales from anyone whose autopilot made a hard turn AWAY from the ferry? Port or starboard?

Then the ray guns are more likely than autopilot failure. Both are worth looking into, but the answer may be that the mythological prudent mariner should BE ON THE HELM when in any traffic situation.

And curiously, it was Chas. Darwin's 200th birthday this week, was it?
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Old 12-02-2009, 22:24   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave the Canuck View Post
A question to ask might be, "who would want to run in close proximity to underway large vessels while under autopilot?" This seems to be a spectacularly unsafe practice for a number of reasons.
Hmmm, this was exactly my first reaction when I read the original post.
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Old 12-02-2009, 23:56   #15
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If they didn't have time to disengage the pilots, they were too close. One more thing: you say that there was a COUPLE of boats. How many? Two autopilots failing at the same time in the same in the way and in the same place is extremely unlikely. Either they were close enough to the ferry for the steel to affect the compasses, or they were not on autopilot and one just made the turn and the other followed. Either way, it's bad seamanship.

/Hampus
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