Originally Posted by Shoalcove
I would like to hear more of the capabilities of the integrated AP and how others have set them up specifically since I'm about to install an AP this spring.
"Integration" of an autopilot isn't really as involved or complicated as the term seems and has been taken to an extreme here.
An electronic autopilot, by definition, is already a highly integrated system in the sense that it takes heading data from a compass sensor, rudder
feedback data from another sensor, puts it all together inside a computer that controls a power supply and mechanical or hydraulic drive mechanism and displays the data for you on a display/control unit. To get them to operate, most of them also require the purchaser to connect some type of speed sensor into them - either a GPS
or a typical paddlewheel type transducer.
So the most basic below deck
autopilot you can buy is already a system of 5 separate independent components integrated together with a communication network. And you have to connect at least one other, and preferably two, piece of equipment to it yourself.
Most people consider this collection of highly integrated gear
as a "non-integrated" autopilot.
Where the line gets drawn between integrated and non-integrated is when one decides to connect either navigational waypoint data or wind data or both to the computer of the autopilot so that one could take advantage of two modes of operation not available to the basic integrated package. Namely, steer to waypoint and steer to wind angle. Or not take advantage of them - the choice does not go away once that communication cable is connected.
That's it. That is the whole scary big end of autopilot "integration" - waypoint and wind data.
If you have older instrumentation you want to integrate with a new autopilot, this can be more tricky of an installation
because you will be dealing with NMEA0183 and its small little wires connected to terminal strips or through multiplexers. If you have NMEA2000 capable instruments and get the same in an autopilot, integration is dead simple - just plug
the autopilot into the network backbone cable and you are finished. It will see all of the data on the network, it will share any data it generates (like its rate compass and rudder
position data) and everything will interact with each other without the conflicts and finickiness of NMEA0183.
If you choose to operate this (now dangerous) integrated autopilot in one of its two modes not available to a non-integrated autopilot, you will interact with it in exactly the same way as if it wasn't integrated. The AP will not force you to go below and watch movies nor will it force you to stare at the chartplotter
the entire time it is active. You may sit in your cockpit
and keep a lookout. Go to the bathroom after scanning the horizon first, and everything else you would normally do if the autopilot was only steering to a heading.
If you put a waypoint on or through a piece of land, then you will learn a lesson and never make that mistake again - just like as if you gave it a heading that took it over the same. If you are steering along by a wind angle and sail into a waterspout or white squall where the wind suddenly veers dramatically, your wife and children
will not be thrown overboard
as the autopilot goes nuts and whips the boat around in a whirlpool frenzy. Instead it will simply beep annoyingly at you and hold its initial course.
The beeping will be annoying because you will have noticed the wind shift 1 second after it happens (if not have seen it coming first) and will be busy taking care of sails
and other things that you will be free to handle. After which, you will then acknowledge the annoying beeping and the pilot will be happy. You will not be awakened from a drunken stupor with a lady of the night anymore than if the autopilot wasn't in wind mode.
And if you get one that can steer to VMG using polars and laylines, it will not force you to tack. You can still make that decision yourself - it simply tells you when the computations are such that it is most efficient. All of the high end pilots do this and all racing
boats use them slavishly because they have learned that the amount of multi-modal data that can be integrated by a computer is far more up-to-date and precise than a busy human. But you can definitely call those shots yourself if you want.