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Old 21-11-2019, 14:52   #1
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To Linear or Not To Linear (Autopilot)

Hey all,

Question for all you passage makers: I'm in the process of refitting my Morgan 323. Initially, there was no question on whether to install a below-deck linear drive for my autopilot. More robust, generally longer lasting, and easier to keep course in junk weather. Recently though, I've been contemplating on just installing a wheel drive since we plan on installing a wind vane once we start making longer passages. In that case, would a linear drive be necessary? My instincts tell me to just pony up and install a below deck system. But for nearly double the cost over the wheel drive, I thought it would be worth getting some feedback and finding out which route would be a more complimentary system.

For what its worth, I think I've decided on Raymarine for either wheel or below deck. Monitor (or aries) for the wind vane.

Thoughts? Alternatives? Experience?

Thanks!
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Old 21-11-2019, 15:02   #2
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Re: To Linear or Not To Linear (Autopilot)

you going to be doing passages? If yes, then strong below decks drive is very desirable.

The Ray wheel pilots are fine for 'casual' use, but are pretty wimpy for 7x24 in rough conditions. We broke 3 on one north atlantic passage and the boat had a wind vane which we used quite a bit to unload the wheel pilots.

I dont know if it is still available but there was a wheel pilot called CPT which was more robust, more able to handle passages. But I would still prefer a good below decks unit.
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Old 21-11-2019, 15:16   #3
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Re: To Linear or Not To Linear (Autopilot)

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Originally Posted by Breaking Waves View Post
you going to be doing passages? If yes, then strong below decks drive is very desirable.

The Ray wheel pilots are fine for 'casual' use, but are pretty wimpy for 7x24 in rough conditions. We broke 3 on one north atlantic passage and the boat had a wind vane which we used quite a bit to unload the wheel pilots.

I dont know if it is still available but there was a wheel pilot called CPT which was more robust, more able to handle passages. But I would still prefer a good below decks unit.
100% agree that below deck is the way to go if it were our only form of AP.

Did you find you used both systems frequently on passage or mostly your vane? My thinking on it is if conditions are too light for the vane to be responsive, the wheel drive would be more than adequate. And if conditions are too rough (45+kts), someone would be at the helm tweaking the vane as necessary anyway. I assume (and I might be dead wrong) that the majority of the use we'd get out of the wheel pilot will be out cruising and not for passages.

4 years in and I'm still a newb, so your comments are certainly appreciated.

Thanks!
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Old 21-11-2019, 15:50   #4
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Re: To Linear or Not To Linear (Autopilot)

We had a monitor on that boat, which was a quite good vane, and our intent was to use it as much as was possible.

I think my wife calculated we used that vane 90% of the time offshore.

This was early in our sailing experience, and we may not have been very good at balancing the hull/sails, but there were times when the waves seemed bigger than the wind and the boat got knocked around and the Vane did not bring us back on course very quickly. So, we would try using the wheel pilots.

Depending on the vane there are also ways to hook an inexpensive tiller pilot to the vane and steer with that combo - rather than using a wheel pilot. That takes all the load off the tiller pilot - the heavy lifting is done by the vane. But the response rate is a bit slow - depending on the specific vane//tiller interaction - probably if you were clever you could figure how to improve the rate.

Idk, what we did was head off with the easy solution to see if it would work, figuring (correctly) that if it failed we could install a below decks later, which we did.
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Old 21-11-2019, 16:24   #5
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Re: To Linear or Not To Linear (Autopilot)

The Raymarine linear drive is a great machine. It is powerful, robust and quiet. So quiet, we can sleep on the berth that is right on top of it. Our boat has done two circumnavigations, plus, with one. They need a trip back to the factory for a rework about every 50,000 mile or so in our experience.

I really don't think any wheel pilot belongs on an ocean crossing boat--even if it's intended use is just short term motoring with a wind vane doing the bulk of the work.

Most of what you read will have you believe that wind vanes never break. They just always work. Not true. They are reliable, but nothing is perfect. Your electric AP should be a full on backup for your wind vane.
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Old 22-11-2019, 10:18   #6
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Re: To Linear or Not To Linear (Autopilot)

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The Raymarine linear drive is a great machine. It is powerful, robust and quiet. So quiet, we can sleep on the berth that is right on top of it. Our boat has done two circumnavigations, plus, with one. They need a trip back to the factory for a rework about every 50,000 mile or so in our experience.

I really don't think any wheel pilot belongs on an ocean crossing boat--even if it's intended use is just short term motoring with a wind vane doing the bulk of the work.

Most of what you read will have you believe that wind vanes never break. They just always work. Not true. They are reliable, but nothing is perfect. Your electric AP should be a full on backup for your wind vane.
Same experience here. Have a Raymarine Linear mechanical type 2 drive right under the aft cabin bed and can't hear it working at all. Also very powerful and has no problem handling my 42', 25,000 lb boat with a plain, unbalanced, barn door rudder.

I know cruisers that use just a wheel pilot or have that as a backup but at the end of the day, if you can afford it, a real, below decks pilot is the best solution, even for backup.

FYI I drive my Raymarine linear motor with a Simrad computer and control head. Hear mostly positive reviews of the Ray AP but a few negatives and some complaints about support.
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Old 22-11-2019, 10:18   #7
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Re: To Linear or Not To Linear (Autopilot)

I agree with the previous posts. The wheel pilots are flimsy bits of plastic exposed to sea and spray. Linear drive is the way to go.

Here's another good reason: The wheel drive relies on the wheel steering/cables/pullies system. Any trouble with the cables and you have no steering. The linear drive is direct to the rudder shaft. No cables, no wheel, no problem.
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Old 22-11-2019, 10:38   #8
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Re: To Linear or Not To Linear (Autopilot)

Alright, solves that. Below-deck it is. Thanks everyone!
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Old 22-11-2019, 10:41   #9
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Re: To Linear or Not To Linear (Autopilot)

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I agree with the previous posts. The wheel pilots are flimsy bits of plastic exposed to sea and spray. Linear drive is the way to go.
True for most wheel pilots but there are a few that are reputed to be pretty solid. I haven't played with one but the CPT wheel pilot has a very good reputation.


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Here's another good reason: The wheel drive relies on the wheel steering/cables/pullies system. Any trouble with the cables and you have no steering. The linear drive is direct to the rudder shaft. No cables, no wheel, no problem.
No problem unless your rudder shaft breaks free of the rudder or the rudder falls off. But seriously, yes I like the redundancy of having the AP drive the rudder independent of the rest of the steering system.
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Old 22-11-2019, 11:09   #10
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Re: To Linear or Not To Linear (Autopilot)

CPT does still make & sell wheel autopilots. Bought one several months ago, haven't installed it yet.
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Old 22-11-2019, 12:09   #11
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Re: To Linear or Not To Linear (Autopilot)

It depends on the displacement. I believe an autopilot is totally adequate for ocean crossings and you need no wind vane. Many people think otherwise but that is OK. The only difference between a linear drive and a wheel drive is the delivered power, average power consumption and cost.

If your displacement is less than 12-14,000 lb, a linear autopilot will be an overkill. You can still install it and will enjoy it but it is not necessary. Wheel pilots do break more often but the part that breaks is the gearbox which costs $85 and you can and should carry spares. The linear drive is $1,700 plus a painful install.

It is true that a linear drive is helpful in winds over 30 knots but how often will you have such conditions? Not very often at all.
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Old 22-11-2019, 13:34   #12
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Re: To Linear or Not To Linear (Autopilot)

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Originally Posted by hamburking View Post
Here's another good reason: The wheel drive relies on the wheel steering/cables/pullies system. Any trouble with the cables and you have no steering. The linear drive is direct to the rudder shaft. No cables, no wheel, no problem.
Not necessarily, there is always someone with something different

We have wheel steering which uses a drag link directly to the rudder shaft.

SailAwy, were are you planning on going? because this might influence the decision.

As you have seen the below decks system is twice the wheel drive price from Raymarine. For us with a 5000kg 31ft yacht that was enough to make the decision and we bought the wheel version two years ago. We remain very pleased with it and I wrote up our experiences here:

Raymarine Evolution EV-100 Wheel Autopilot review

So for the price of a under deck RM system you could buy both an Evo 100 wheel pilot and a new wind vane. The Hydrovane at 70kgs is probably too heavy for a 32ft yacht. The Wind Pilot is better at 20kgs but costs 2500 Euro. However, there is the Neptune which comes in at 1800. Alternatively there are lots of second hand ones always changing hands.

So not necessarily a straight forward choice. Decisions, decisions
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Old 22-11-2019, 13:45   #13
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Re: To Linear or Not To Linear (Autopilot)

Have a look at <pelagicautopilot.com>, it's a 9 axis brain, the ram fits the Monitor self steering wind vane, and it's only $ 900, many out there, good review's.
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Old 22-11-2019, 17:07   #14
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Re: To Linear or Not To Linear (Autopilot)

[LIST][/LIST I have A 37 Tayana and love my CPT, I have used the Ray Marine wheel pilot , not even close to the CPT. I will mount A linear below deck AP prior to ocean crossings, keep the CPT as back up.

Congrats..

CPT customer service, is fantastic

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