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Old 20-07-2017, 16:59   #1
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Hydrovane vs Auto Pilot Opinions

Hi all,
I have a 41' Cheoy Lee Pedrick (28K Displacment) currently with a Raymarine wheel pilot. I have (6) six volt Trojan Batteries as house. We are leaving in just over a year from So Cal to Mexico, South America then thru the canal east. Possibly cross an ocean someday. I had decided on the Hydrovane but am now rethinking a bit as it takes up so much real estate on the transom and I will be doing allot of coastal stuff. The current wheel pilot is too weak for sure. Am I better to go with a stout auto pilot refit and will my battery bank suffice. I am adding solar panels.

I really like the thought of a wind vane but am now thinking to spend the money on a good auto pilot and which auto pilot should I be looking at.

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Old 20-07-2017, 21:15   #2
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Re: Hydrovane vs Auto Pilot Opinions

Since nobody else spoke up..... I'd always go for a reliable autopilot first. You'll get way more use out of it vs a windvane, especially doing anything resembling coastal cruising.

For reliability, the installation is typically more important than the equipment itself. Install it well, and it will never let you down.

We had 4-six volts with 475watts of solar, and it kept up fine crossing the Atlantic twice.

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Old 20-07-2017, 21:31   #3
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Re: Hydrovane vs Auto Pilot Opinions

I did a little coastal cruise from SF to Vancouver Island last summer, 1500 nm. The cruise was predicated on finding as little wind as possible, since we were going uphill. We were successful.

If I was going offshore, not on that trip but crossing an ocean, I'd go for a vane.

But for coastal cruising, a robust AP can't be beat. They can be squirreley going downwind unless sized properly and that means a below-decks unit (forget wheel pilots). Your boat is too big for one of those toys anyway.

Which one? That's like asking mom which girl to marry. Lots out there. Good luck.
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Old 20-07-2017, 21:42   #4
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Re: Hydrovane vs Auto Pilot Opinions

I have both and like both. If I had to choose one or the other I would choose the autopilot OR hydrovane with tiller pilot attached to it.
Remember the hydrovane by itself is no good when you are motoring and you will be motoring regularly.
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Old 20-07-2017, 21:56   #5
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Re: Hydrovane vs Auto Pilot Opinions

I opted to use my Raymarine autopilot and have a complete back up unit for it on board. The Hydrovane seems like a decent unit but does use up real estate and does not improve a sailboats looks imo.
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Old 21-07-2017, 09:46   #6
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Re: Hydrovane vs Auto Pilot Opinions

We will have both. This article impressed me some time ago, but it still holds. In addition, I did a delivery with heavy weather during which both the vane and the AP conked out for a while. It convinced me that hand steering is to be avoided offshore and that a vane and an AP are "belt and suspenders":
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Old 21-07-2017, 09:49   #7
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Re: Hydrovane vs Auto Pilot Opinions

After many years and crossing oceans with both an autopilot and a wind vane, I've settled on a Raymarine autopilot. As funjohnson pointed out, an AP is the only way to go in coastal cruising. You'll use it all the time. A wind vane, on the other hand, may actually be dangerous in coastal situations where, if unattended, with a wind shift, the vane might put you on the beach.
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Old 21-07-2017, 10:24   #8
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Re: Hydrovane vs Auto Pilot Opinions

Google " pelagic auto pilot"
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Old 21-07-2017, 11:33   #9
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Re: Hydrovane vs Auto Pilot Opinions

We also wanted redundancy for our below deck autopilot when ocean crossing, but the cost was too high to us for an exact duplicate. Instead, I bought a used CPT wheelpilot in case the main failed.... it never did. I sold the CPT after the crossing for close to what I had into it. The CPT would be a great back-up, and it would steer your boat without an issue.

But, on our new boat, we've installed a below deck autopilot and a Cape Horn Windvane. It ended-up being the lowest cost solution for redundancy with our tiller.

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Old 21-07-2017, 12:08   #10
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Re: Hydrovane vs Auto Pilot Opinions

I have a CheoyLee35 that came equipped with a Monitor windvane. I did not find it to be particularly effective because of the way the steering is geared on my boat. I have rack and pinion steering that takes 6 turns hardcover to hardover. The result of that is the Monitor could not effect enough change in rudder angle via the wheel adapter to maintain the course with the coastal cruising that we do. Plus I was the only one that could get it to work at all.
I added a Simrad AC42 autopilot with a NKE hydraulic drive a few years ago and it has been fantastic. Steady steering and very convenient. I would not give it up. You can add an Ecopilot from PYI for better power use but that hasn't been a factor for me. The Monitor has been in my shed for 3 years.
If you have similar steering on your CL I would consider how to rig a windvane so that you get its full utility. Best of luck!
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Old 21-07-2017, 13:04   #11
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Re: Hydrovane vs Auto Pilot Opinions

I've got another angle on this for you. You can fit a tillerpilot onto the arm of the Hydrovane for 500 bucks plus some DYI, and you'll have both. If the vane is there already, it seems like it would be a waste to ditch it.

I've seen this installation on a number of boats, and the owners all seem happy with it.

It's an idea, unless you're set on losing the vane. I think that the Hydrovane site has some info on this.

For a belowdeck pilot, I'd recommend NKE. We're thrilled with ours, and we've owned quite a few brands.

Good luck, TJ
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Old 22-07-2017, 09:24   #12
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Re: Hydrovane vs Auto Pilot Opinions

I love my autopilot. And I have a Hydrovane that I am in the process of installing.

The Hydrovane is backup as an autopilot and auxilliary rudder.

I believe in backups. I have a manual bilge pump to back up the electric. I have a power survivor 40 watermaker that can be operated manually. Paper charts and sextant to back up GPS. u.z.w.
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Old 22-07-2017, 10:00   #13
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Re: Hydrovane vs Auto Pilot Opinions

Both wind vane and autopilot can be useful, but electric autopilots have become much more reliable and powerful in recent years. This, together with the more robust electrical systems, with multiple sources of power generation, means the tide is gradually shifting in favour of an autopilot instead of a wind vane for the long distance cruiser, at least in my view.

A backup self steering system is a strong priority for anyone with a shorthanded crew who is crossing oceans, so the combination of autopilot and wind vane has appeal , but I think the simplicity and functionality of two autopilot systems, if you deem a backup necessary, is gradually winning.

The major problem is installation. Wind vane steering in particular is hard to install and has associated compromises, but modern yachts do not always have enough space for a dual under deck autopilot systems either, especially large over specified drive units, which I think is one of the keys to good long term autopilot performance.

However, windvane steering does provide some (limited) steering potential if the rudder system is damaged. So give this problem some thought if you decide to go without a wind vane steering system.
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Old 22-07-2017, 10:22   #14
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Re: Hydrovane vs Auto Pilot Opinions

I did 53,000 nautical miles in my 40 footer both coastal on the Australian east coast about 10,000 miles & around the Pacific islands. A moderate amount of the latter could be considered coastal. I also spent 8 years running 200/300 passenger tourist day trip boats & some extended great barrier reef cruising.

The yacht I fitted with a self contained windvane self steering system, in a bumpkin fitted to the stern, & easily unbolted when desired. I probably hand steered about 500 miles of those 53000 miles, & could go for periods of months without starting the main engine.

My experience is that even in the trades the wind will wander through about 20 degrees, making any compass heading far from effective when sailing.

Perhaps it was my experience with effective large power boats, but I always found motoring in a yacht a frustrating activity, to be avoided if at all possible. I would rather sail at 3 knots than motor at 6.

I also developed a distrust of auto pilots, using them for many hours daily on the tourist boats. To be fair, with the lower usage in a yacht they may be totally effective.
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Old 22-07-2017, 15:38   #15
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Re: Hydrovane vs Auto Pilot Opinions

Have done more than 10,000 miles with a vane only on three different boats. Two were Pendulum Servo Vanes (Aries, WindPilot Pacific Light) and the other an auxillary rudder style (WindPilot Pacific Plus). They were the best crew you could ask for, didn't have to be fed electrons, always ready and willing to do their job, the fews glitches were easily handled with common hand tools, didn't require a degree in electrical engineering to trouble shoot, and they were SILENT. If the boat sailed, they were steering, coastal, ocean passages, or just day sailing. Yes, it helps if you maintain some kind of a watch when coastal just in case there is a windshift but would hope you'd do that out of general good practice. Even used the vane to sail out of the marina.

Added an autopilot on my last two boats but they were only used for motoring. Definitely a plus as I've had to do more powering coastal cruising than I like. Never got around to using a one armed autopilot on the vane, pendulum servo or auxillary rudder, but it seems like it would be the best of all worlds.

Installation of the vanes was an easy no brainer. Installed the WindPilot Pacific Plus in a midwinter rainstorm in Alameda. Took me less than two hours to drill the holes for eight bolts, put the vane in place and tighten up the bolts. The Aires took a little longer as I had to have the mounting pipes bent to the proper angle but installation was still a breeze. Had to drill the holes for the mounting brackets and figure out where to put the blocks for the steering lines but still an afternoons job in the water. Installation of Wind Pilot Pacific Light on my newest boat turned out to be a bit more involved to get a proper run of the steering lines. Interesting that the smallest boat took the most work.

Adding a wheel pilot on one boat took longer than installing the vane. Doing an under deck autopilot would have taken a long time, a lot of boat yoga in very cramped area under the cockpit and probably a haul out and rudder removal to mount the ram. The thought that an autopilot install will be easier than a vane, other than a wheel pilot, just isn't reality. A below deck auto pilot install isn't going to be cheap or easy especially when you add in the additional batteries and charging capacity to feed the hungry bastards. Then there is expense of having a complete other unit as a back up which would be a necessity for me for open ocean passage making. If you are the type that's going to sail with a crew of 4 or more, a backup autopilot system isn't necessary. Of course you might lose your sanity having to put up with the crew you think you need to back up the A/P.

An auxillary rudder self steering vane has the benefit of being a back up for your ship's rudder and doesn't have steering lines running about the boat. They are not as quick or as accurate as a pendulum servo unit and probably won't have the power of the P/S vane in more boisterous sailing, read storms. On the Aries, rigged steering control lines down each side of the boat so could steer the boat via the vane from anywhere on the deck. Many people like their Hydrovane but always questioned the wind only actuation of it's rudder. The WindPilot Pacific Plus with it's pendulum servo rudder driving it's steering rudder is only limited in steering ability by having enough wind to deflect the windvane. That's damned little wind and actually better than a P/S vane.

So yes, I would have a minimal autopilot to handle those few times on a passage when there is not enough wind to sail. Have a windvane for the rest of the time.
Peter O.
'Ae'a, Pearson 35
'Ms American Pie', Sabre 28 Mark II
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