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Old 18-08-2018, 15:50   #1
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Looking for a good cruising autopilot

I'm a full time cruiser and, unfortunately, often single-hand.

My 2011 Catamaran had a Raymarine autopilot which I found inadequate for a number of reasons.
1) Occasionally just shut off and would have to open the engine compartment, remove the A/P cover, and reset the fuse inside the controller.
2) It required confirmation of any gps course change, even 1 degree or would go into standby. Not new course, not old course, just standby. This is particularly annoying on a great circle route in the middle of the night with one degree changes. I talked to Raymarine and they said it is intended behaviour an would not be changed.
3) It would also occasinally shut off, but be resettable from the helm.
4) And, of course, the raw data from the wind sensors on top of the gyrating mast are useless.
5) Alarms seemed to work pretty well, but I think they may have been handled by a Garmin chartplotter.

So, after hearing a B&G presentation at a boat show where they said they could compensate for the gyrating induced motion of the mast head, I replaced the Raymarine with a NAC-3 and P9 sensor from B&G and found:

1) They don't compensate for mast head motion, but supposedly could with their very expensive computer based system which still relies on analog sensors, not smart inertial sensors common in every smart phone or use the data from the p9 combined with mast height.
2) While they allow optionally smoothing of gyrating data for display purposes, they do not use smoothed data for alarms. So, to get a wind alarm over 25kt, I have to set the alarm for 50kt and get lots of false ones. Same for wind angle changes, autopilot alarms, and a 30' depth alarm just went off in 1,600' deep ocean due to some transient low reading.
3) The anchor alarm can't be set to coordinates, only the current location of the boat. This they've put on the list to change.
4) When initiating GPS navigation mode it displays the intended course change for confirmation, but when I accept a 5 degree change it will sometimes change course 45 degrees and then overshoot the track without reference to cross track error or current course over ground which I usually arrange to be very small. Quite disconcerting in a pass or traffic!
5) I've also noticed that when using wind mode to maintain a constant apparent wind angle on the starboard tack it is reasonable. On the port tack it keeps a consistent rudder deflection into the wind even when the AWA is up to 10 degrees less than the desired setting. On a catamaran I need every degree of pointing I can get, and not have to pad the angle so pointing too high doesn't reduce speed below steerage limits.
6) They do have a configurable course change alarm which works fine.
7) I thought their lay lines and other sail oriented features would be good, but they're overshadowed by sloppy data, and I don't race which seems to be their orientation.
8) Maybe unavoidable, but the DST800 speed sensor can only be calibrated at one speed. If set to agree with SOG at 4kt, then it is off at 5 or more knots, with the consequent error in true wind values.

So, I'm pretty disappointed with my 2011 Raymarinne and 2017 B&G and looking for suggestions with particular emphasis on accurate alarms and operation in a hands-off, unattended mode. I would like accurate wind high, low, change, angle, course under wind mode, boat speed, and the other values one commonly monitors on watch. And, if any values monotored are inherently jittery, then the option to have them smoothed so a whale or pelagic passing underneath the boat won't set off a depth alarm in deep mid-ocean.

I don't have much experience with Garmin marine products. I've had overall good experience with their aviation ones, and a long string of disappointments with their outdoor and fitness products.

Please tell me there's something out there that can really help sail a boat in the real world.
wackerb is offline   Reply With Quote

autopilot, cruising

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