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Old 09-09-2012, 09:11   #1
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Windvane vs. Hydraulic Autopilot

OK. Next. Gotta double ender. Autopilot needs replacement. No windvane. Also want dinghy davits on rear.

Bottomline I can't really comfortably have davits and a windvane. So my question is: Can an autopilot be a good enough standalone solution for blue water and if so which one? I heard these were really reliable-----Wagner magnetic heading hydraulic units----especially if oversized considerably.

Thx.
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Old 09-09-2012, 10:47   #2
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Re: Windvane vs. Hydraulic Autopilot

Skip the davits. Get a Cape Horn or a Voyager windvane AND a hydraulic autopilot. Use the windvane while sailing and the autopilot while motoring.

You may find this "famous in passagemaker circles" article by Tony Gooch of some guidance:Windvane, Autopilot, steering systems

Very convincing, I've found.
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Old 09-09-2012, 10:55   #3
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Re: Windvane vs. Hydraulic Autopilot

I use the Monitor windvane, and a B&G electro-hydraulic autopilot. The windvane works very well in most conditions, but davits would be a problem. The autopilot performs well, as long as you keep it dry. It does consume a non-trivial amount of power.

My B&G autopilot is about 12 years old now, and the electronics are still going strong. I did have to replace the hydraulic pump motor because it got wet when a limber hole (drain) in my boat got plugged. I've put thousands of miles on it since then with no problems. These days there are probably better choices than B&G.
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Old 09-09-2012, 14:10   #4
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Re: Windvane vs. Hydraulic Autopilot

Great responses. Thanks. I guess drag the dinghy or stow on deck for passages.
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Old 09-09-2012, 14:27   #5
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Re: Windvane vs. Hydraulic Autopilot

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Originally Posted by Lojanica View Post
Great responses. Thanks. I guess drag the dinghy or stow on deck for passages.
Might be worth looking at if you're heading off long distance. Apart from the power draw at least with a windvane if it breaks you can usually get it pointing the boat in roughly the right direction with some string and tie wraps. If something blows on an electric one than that's it. Hand steering day and night for possibly a very long way.

I've been in the back room of the Chandlers on Horta, Azores. An awful lot of broken bits of autopilot in there.
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Old 09-09-2012, 16:11   #6
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Re: Windvane vs. Hydraulic Autopilot

What are your sailing plans? Long ocean voyaging or coastal cruising?

Most cruisers realistically just do coastal cruising -- even though they tend to make much use of the term "blue water". If your plans are more realistically coastal cruising, then at least IMHO, I would choose davits over wind vane.
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Old 09-09-2012, 16:18   #7
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Re: Windvane vs. Hydraulic Autopilot

My intent is cruising to remote locations. My conundrum is as you say---once settled into a new locale davits are useful. Deck stowing of the dinghy is fairly painful, although I can get more creative and make it easier for sure. Realistically I know deep down I need the redundancy of dual self-steering but will have to suffer through the dragging and stowing the dinghy. I have an older hydraulic unit but it needs replacement as it is unreliable.
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Old 09-09-2012, 16:29   #8
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Re: Windvane vs. Hydraulic Autopilot

i sail a ketch. i find my hydraulic autopilot is awesome and needs no assistance. uses minimal electricity and doesnt interfere with my mizzen boom or sail. is exceptional in high wind situations and does a great job.
some folks like extra stuff--i dont. some windvanes are excellent equipment and some dont work.
but i dont have everyman's sailboat..
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Old 09-09-2012, 16:42   #9
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Re: Windvane vs. Hydraulic Autopilot

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Originally Posted by Lojanica View Post
My intent is cruising to remote locations. My conundrum is as you say---once settled into a new locale davits are useful. Deck stowing of the dinghy is fairly painful, although I can get more creative and make it easier for sure. Realistically I know deep down I need the redundancy of dual self-steering but will have to suffer through the dragging and stowing the dinghy. I have an older hydraulic unit but it needs replacement as it is unreliable.
Think your right about redundancy. Not a nice feeling stuck in a port somewhere for weeks waiting for an overnight delivery

I've always lusted after davits but have an aries in the way. managed using the pole and a few pulleys to lift the dinghy with halyard and a winch. You get used to anything quite quickly.
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Old 09-09-2012, 16:55   #10
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Re: Windvane vs. Hydraulic Autopilot

First, modern, properly installed autopilots are very rugged. Many, many boats used them exclusively with no problems operating them many years. They steer unstable racing machines around the southern ocean non-stop for months without problems. Those boats actively seek out the worst weather. Fishing boats in the Bering Straights and North Sea use some of the same systems available to cruising boats day in and day out for years without issue. It does matter which type of AP you purchase, though. Some are deservingly bad, and any attempt to use full-time a tiller pilot or wheel pilot will fail quickly.

Additionally, many boats traveling long distances simply cannot mount or use windvanes. Ever hear of a catamaran sailing the world? How do they do it? How about power boats? Large monohulls?

Installation is crucial. Most autopilot failures are installation failures because the owner or installer did not understand the forces involved and the physical tolerances necessary for operation. Improper installation breaks mechanical parts and causes electronic components to work beyond designed performance.

Installation is equally as crucial for windvanes, with the same results for poor installations (minus the electronics part). The difference is that windvanes LOOK like they could tear your transom off and their installation is treated with the appropriate respect. In addition, a bad installation is immediately noticed in poor (or non) operation of a windvane and is corrected at once, where a poorly installed AP may operate for some time without noticeable problems before everything goes sproink.

If you are concerned about redundancy, an autopilot costs the same as a windvane. So an option is to have a spare autopilot in case the mounted one breaks. This, of course, assumes that you have the power to run an AP as a primary self-steering device and would be happy using one as a primary. If not, a windvane is a better choice for you.

The remaining concern would then be a complete and unrecoverable loss of your electrical system. This is rare, the probability can be mitigated down close to non-existent with some planning, and if it did occur with many 100's of miles from nowhere, you will be hurting regardless of your self-steering choice.

As for Tony Gooch's article, it doesn't take much logic to see where his data are not comparable and his conclusions incorrect. For example, he claims that the better performance of windvane over his AP was due to his miles made good each day were better for the windvane because the windvane adjusted itself to windshifts while he was sleeping and not adjusting sails. However, he either did not understand how to set his AP to wind mode (it was available on the model he used), or chose not to do so for some reason. Either way, his conclusions are erroneous. Many of the rest of his conclusions are equally as easily dismissed.

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Old 09-09-2012, 17:45   #11
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Re: Windvane vs. Hydraulic Autopilot

I didn't realize this was such a debated topic. Of course I like the idea of a windvane but an electronic controlled hydraulic autopilot purpose built to work well and correctly would certainly solve my davit issue. Maybe a sturdy, well-built hydraulic unit and then one or two cheapie wheel units as back-ups in the event of primary failure?
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Old 09-09-2012, 18:18   #12
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Re: Windvane vs. Hydraulic Autopilot

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lojanica View Post
I didn't realize this was such a debated topic. Of course I like the idea of a windvane but an electronic controlled hydraulic autopilot purpose built to work well and correctly would certainly solve my davit issue. Maybe a sturdy, well-built hydraulic unit and then one or two cheapie wheel units as back-ups in the event of primary failure?
I'm not debating this topic - I don't care which type of system you end up with. I was only trying to present some reality around AP's and their common use as primary and rugged self-steering devices. Many would have you believe that it is folly to go out of site of land using one, let alone try to cross an ocean. Windvanes are an equally good choice for your boat, and I could argue that case instead if you would like.

Have you priced wheel pilots lately? The only game in town anymore is Raymarine and they want $2,000 for them. That is only a couple hundred less than the price of a proper below deck pilot. Perhaps the cheaper, no longer made, older ones can be found on ebay.

While it may bring peace of mind, I would not count on a wheel pilot to function more than motoring in calms or sailing in moderate conditions (and not downwind). If you plan to keep one in storage, be aware that mounting them is not trivial. If you plan on keeping one permanently mounted, don't plan on it working after sitting out unused in the weather for years.

When I mentioned buying two AP's, I mistakenly thought your original post talked about having both a wind vane and an AP. I now see that that was a suggestion by another poster.

If you do not have the electrical capacity and regeneration capabilities for an AP, a wind vane will be a better choice.

Do you have hydraulic steering?

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Old 09-09-2012, 19:45   #13
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Re: Windvane vs. Hydraulic Autopilot

No chain steering but a hydraulic linear drive. The current AP is a good one but it is a cetrek which went out of business. I might be able to retrofir new electronics to the current set-up but nonetheless it needs to be all rebuilt.

I like the idea of a windvane and electronic linear drive AP but I also like the idea of davits as dragging the dinghy is a drag and hauling on deck is messy at a minimum and hard at times when the boat is pitching. Of course, I don't mind stowing the dinghty for long passages but for one day sails davits are way more user friendly. I have plenty of electricity and diesel for a energy hogging AP though. I think I just answered my own question.

Windvane, electronic AP, AND Davits but only use the davits when the windvane is not in use which will be when pocket cruising and one day coastal cruising. During those times I'll rely on the electronic AP only.

Now I just need to figure out how to stow the dinghy on the rear davits with a windvane. Should be easy when the WV is not in use.......
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Old 09-09-2012, 19:47   #14
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Re: Windvane vs. Hydraulic Autopilot

Ive had both ! I loved our wind vane ! used it for a LONG time ! but also had a Old WM electric steering unit that worked well ! But to day I would go with a Hyd self steering unit not a Raymarine if possible! LOL Theres one bilt in BC that will out work most anyother unit out there !! Not to pricey for what they do ! Just sayin some new stuff is better then the old stuff I grew up with !! and thats hard for me to say LOL and I saw one from Washington state, I don't remember the name but it was a real working boat type unit that worked like a charm !!!
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Old 09-09-2012, 20:25   #15
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Re: Windvane vs. Hydraulic Autopilot

Will you really be able to easily unmount enough of the windvane to use the davits? Seems like on a double ender with the vane portion gone, there is still a lot of gear hanging far out there - let alone the rudder will need to be out of the water or removed entirely. If davits are designed to clear all of that, will the dinghy weight be so far aft as to cause problems?

Then you have the storage issue for those parts and the bother of connecting it all back together to use again.

If it was me, I would chose one or the other, mitigate the tradeoff as much as possible and live with the choice.

If you are considering having both, I lay my bets that after using both for a bit the windvane will be collecting a lot of dust...

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