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Old 20-07-2010, 08:06   #1
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Need Advice for New Autohelm

Hi, my wife and I have been coastal & blue water cruising for 9 years and our ST 4000 needs replacing. Our 37' ketch's (Northern) displacement is approx. 20,000. I'd love to get a used 4000 but I'm worried about not having tech support or replacement/repair help.

We like to keep things simple on our boat. We only use charts and GPS and never hook the autohelm up to a chartplotter (we don't own one) or laptop.

I'd love some opinions form others who've had success from some of the autohelm models that are out on the market today.

Thanks,
Ken svpolaris@yahoo.com
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Old 20-07-2010, 08:25   #2
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Autohelm is now Raymarine, right? Raymarine stuff is so-so. Just good enough. Popular. Economical. I've used various models, new and old. Works okay. I really don't think any engineer at Raymarine has ever been out on the water and tried to use the stuff...

I'd like to hear what serious alternatives CF'ers offer?
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Old 20-07-2010, 08:27   #3
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I think you would receive better advice by sharing the nature of your steering system. For example, I have hydraulic steering and the autopilot that I use requires much less mechanical force than a system applied to a vessel with a direct tiller to rudder attachment. Are you using a wheel to cable to quadrant? What is the design of your system? Take care and joy, Aythya crew
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Old 20-07-2010, 09:13   #4
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Autohelm is now Raymarine, right? Raymarine stuff is so-so. Just good enough. Popular. Economical. I've used various models, new and old. Works okay. I really don't think any engineer at Raymarine has ever been out on the water and tried to use the stuff...

I'd like to hear what serious alternatives CF'ers offer?
I think that's a little harsh.

Raymarine stuff is variable in quality and effectiveness. The hydraulic ram pilots are very good indeed, in my experience. If the engineer that designed the fuzzy logic software for the ST4000+ course computer has never been on the water, then he deserves a Nobel Prize, because it is extremely effective.
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Old 20-07-2010, 09:50   #5
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Interesting. The poor performance of the ST4000+ I have on my other boat is exactly what I based my opinion on. It has truly insane responses to heading and turn rate. The designer obviously spent too much time studying fuzzy logic and not enough time at the helm. No Nobel there. A bungee steers better in many conditions. For me, it starts to work better if I turn off all the fancy features. Including the ones you are not supposed to. The auto-setup completely fails as the boat goes completely out of control with it's fuzzy guess at settings.

That and their inane user interface. Or the connectors that last, what, one week in a marine environment.

The Tillerpilot that leaks water like crazy (works fine on starboard tack so the water can drain out the way it came in) and has an aluminum pushrod screwed onto a bronze bearing. Do you suppose it instantly corrodes? No sailor would make that mistake. A warranty is different than reliability when you're offshore.

I have thousands of sea miles with the blasted things. Tiller, wheel and underdeck. They're usable. But not impressive by any measure.

If they'd open up the software I'd help them out. I have many years of servo control experience. One hint: off course to port and increasing...try a little turn to the right...not ever the left. Or if I push the +10 degree button: turn the wheel right now, don't stutter for 5 seconds and then turn as there is a log in our path.

I like how they default the display to the commanded heading and not the actual heading...too embarassing I suppose.
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Old 20-07-2010, 23:22   #6
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Polaris - type of steering..

Dear CaptForce,

You're right I should have mentioned that I had a quadrant steering system (with the cable). Simple and old fashioned.

I appreciate the responses so far, but I would love someone to mention the brand names/models I could check out that could "better" what I'm using (that would work for my weight and type of cruising).

Fair winds to all,
Ken
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Old 21-07-2010, 00:17   #7
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I've never heard anything bad about Alpha Marine Systems autopilots. And their race pedigree is impressive. They look like they are tube sets from the 50's, and their web presence is funky. But definitely talk to them about what you want.
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Old 21-07-2010, 01:59   #8
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Originally Posted by daddle View Post
Interesting. The poor performance of the ST4000+ I have on my other boat is exactly what I based my opinion on. It has truly insane responses to heading and turn rate. The designer obviously spent too much time studying fuzzy logic and not enough time at the helm. No Nobel there. A bungee steers better in many conditions. For me, it starts to work better if I turn off all the fancy features. Including the ones you are not supposed to. The auto-setup completely fails as the boat goes completely out of control with it's fuzzy guess at settings.

That and their inane user interface. Or the connectors that last, what, one week in a marine environment.

The Tillerpilot that leaks water like crazy (works fine on starboard tack so the water can drain out the way it came in) and has an aluminum pushrod screwed onto a bronze bearing. Do you suppose it instantly corrodes? No sailor would make that mistake. A warranty is different than reliability when you're offshore.

I have thousands of sea miles with the blasted things. Tiller, wheel and underdeck. They're usable. But not impressive by any measure.

If they'd open up the software I'd help them out. I have many years of servo control experience. One hint: off course to port and increasing...try a little turn to the right...not ever the left. Or if I push the +10 degree button: turn the wheel right now, don't stutter for 5 seconds and then turn as there is a log in our path.

I like how they default the display to the commanded heading and not the actual heading...too embarassing I suppose.
Hmmm, well I've also got decades of experience with various Ray pilots. The wheel-mounted one on our old boat was fairly weak, as in unusable in following seas or any kind of heavy conditions, but I think that's a limitation of that type of pilot.

Our present boat has the ST4000+ with hydraulic ram, and it is unflappable. It steers much better than I can in all conditions. Never too much, never too little.

But it is perfectly set up. The boat was delivered from the yard with it.

I've had them on various charter boats over the years and the results were similar. On the other hand, the B&G and Simrad pilots I have used on friends' boats have not been as good. Never tried a Furuno; heard they're really great but can't speak from experience.

I think it has a great deal to do with how well they are set up and whether you have a rate-sensing gyro heading sensor. Tuning them is very complicated. And the gyro is really essential so that the pilot knows your yaw rate.

Mine does not "stutter" when you press a -10 or +10. The helm goes right over. I even use mine to tack when short-handed. It will go over with just the right rate of turn, and stops in just the right place, even in heavy weather. I think yours must be either way out of adjustment or defective.
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Old 21-07-2010, 03:36   #9
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Polaris, I can't be very helpful with your system, as all my experience is with self steering of vessels with hydraulic steering; however, I have found that the control head doesn't have to match the drive in all setups. I "married" a ca 1990 Nexus control panel to my 1973 Benmar drive and the've been doing well together for twenty years. Take care and joy, Aythya crew
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Old 21-07-2010, 04:45   #10
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Simrad AP 28. VERY NICE!

Marine Autopilot | SIMRAD AP28 | Award Winning Autopilots
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Old 21-07-2010, 04:50   #11
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[QUOTE=sailingaway221;488816]Simrad AP 28. VERY NICE!

Looks good. How much experience do you have with Simrad A/P's?
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Old 21-07-2010, 05:06   #12
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Well I put this one on my boat about a year and a half ago.......no problems with the set up ..... its easy to use....... never had a problem with it so far. Maybe 800 miles on it in the Caribbean. I put a ram on the end of it but even with all of it running in pretty heavy weather it is light on electrical use and so far 100% reliable.
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Old 21-07-2010, 07:18   #13
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I've sailed over 50,000 miles with my Simrad autopilot, and would buy another one today. When I bought the system, I told the local marine electronics store that I would be taking it to Australia to install in the boat myself, and I wanted the most reliable system they sold. They told me that the Simrad pilots had by far the least number of problems on installation and startup. It is also strong enough and fast enough to steer in a storm, which is the last time you want to be out there on the helm.

While the Simrad has had a few breakdowns, (the rudder feedback unit wore out, and so did the drive motor), what I like about it are the built-in diagnostics and protection systems. If your drive motor shorts out, the system shuts off and displays 'excessive drive current'. A friend had that happen on his autohelm, and had to have the dealer replace both the drive motor and the control board. I have also worked on a number of broken down autohelm systems in out-of-the-way places, and the autohelm solution is to have you 'call their extensive support network'. Sure they can support you in the Solomons, or Andamans, or wherever.

I also spent 13,000 miles on a boat with an Alpha--the brain was dumber than a post, and the boat fishtailed the entire way across the Pacific. Never again.
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Old 21-07-2010, 07:37   #14
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I have heard many complaints on this and other forums of Raymarine autopilots suddenly taking a hard turn. Not so many lately so maybe they have fixed the problem. Jeanne Socrates lost her boat when the AP took it up onto a Mexican beach.
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