I think the below decks models which attached to the rudder
post are the way to go.
I would recommend using the GPS
interface to steer your boat... follow roots and so forth. Even when used between waypoints you will have to get involved in sail trim as the wind
direction and speed is likely to change as well as sea state... following a compass
course is hardly an advantage and can actually get you into trouble.
It is no problem to enter a heading and make mid course corrections and if you are tacking, gps
driven pilots are of no use. Plus having to monitor
and enter headings keeps you engaged in watch keeping and position plotting but not tied to the helm
Shiva has an Alpha 3000 which has been driving for over 22 years and with virtually no service! And this is 99% of the steering
. I don't have experience with other pilots except for a few deliveries and did not care for them. Here's why.
The Alpha 3000 heading is set with a large rotary dial ticked off in degrees. North being up and South down. This is intuitive. If I set a waypoint and it's 110° I turn the dial just past east.
If I want to tack, I turn it about 120 degrees of so in the direction of the tack and then handle the sheets
. Then I make the required course correction.
I positioned the control unit so I can turn the dial etc and see in all directions, much like one would it standing at the helm
. Other boats I've see failed to mount the control head
to allow one to see out and use the pilot at the same time. This is similar to having the radar
display below decks!
Whatever you get, mount it in the optimal location.
I don't like the press button heading changes. I don't find this a good user interface.
The Alpha must be mechanically engaged to steer. This is done with a Morse or teleflex cable and should be place close to the helm. It will only "engage" in one position so you'll want to engage and then disengage in center helm with the king spoke of the wheel
dead center so you can turn the helm to the right spot to then engage or disengage the pilot. This system provides NO friction or drag when manually helming the boat. But you MUST disengage it to do so. Other pilots have an alarm
and a clutch
which disengages I believe. You can't hear the alarm
in roaring noisy seas and the boat will turn head to wind
and "stop" or be tossed around in the waves. Alpha's helm stays engaged if the pilot is turned off and will slowing move off course and out of sail trim. The pilot will not mechanically disengage by itself.
It has controls for response time and sea state both of which hold straighter courses when set properly but will use more electricity if they are making more course corrections.
You can get a wired remote
. But I see no use for it on a small yacht.
The install is not easy since you need to mount the ram drive at precisely the right angle - perpendicular to the rudder
post with enough room for it to extend and clear any obstructions. You can do the install yourself with proper measurements and drawings and it will require a strong attachment point for the ram.
Electrically it is easy to wire with the only caution being the placement of the fluxgate compass
. You want it as close to center of the boat and as far from the ends and beam as possible and not close to any ferrous metals. Proximity to ferrous metals will destroy the compass' ability to detect heading.
These types of pilots are not inexpensive. But since they should (and mine has) lasted decades and 10's of thousands of miles, the amortized cost is acceptable.
You can't single
hand successfully without one for any length of time and without some sort of self steering
you will become exhausted in short order and get into deep trouble.
pilots are OK for lighter boats, as a back up and for coastal cruising. The below decks ones are for offshore
work, long hauls and rougher conditions.
My advice: Get one and you'll be pleased that you did.