How A Boat Autopilot Works And Why You Need One

Most people incorrectly believe that a boat autopilot allows you to press a few buttons, and the vessel immediately goes in a straight line. While it would be good if there were a device that did that, its not quite as simple as pressing a button and then leaving it alone. That being said, autopilots can still be an excellent device for the average boater and should be considered.

Do You Need One?

The age-old question is whether or not an experienced and sophisticated boater should use such a feature. Some people say it lessens the experience because youre not in control. Others believe that a boat autopilot is a lifesaver and is useful for many reasons.

For example, you wont have to waste all your time at the wheel and can even save fuel and time because the machine will keep you on course better than you could. Likewise, your hands will be free to get a drink, grab a bite to eat or work the electronics.

However, the device has to function properly to fight the waves, currents, and wind without getting off course. It will also have to be compatible with your steering system and possibly the electronics system, so it can help to understand the different units and systems necessary.

Drive Unit

The drive unit is like your hands and arms. It needs to be strong enough to handle the boat and steering system appropriately while still working correctly with all other units.

Control Unit

The autopilot control unit helps the muscle or drive unit and is considered the brain of the system. This is the interface youll use with your steering system and will tell the vessel where to go and how. Sometimes, it allows you to pre-program directions.

Heading Sensor

The heading sensor is the third component of your system and is considered the eyes. If your device cant see where its going, the brain cant tell the muscles how to get there. The eyes can be a rate gyro, rate compass or compass sensor. High-quality autopilots can recognize pitch, yawn, rate of turn and others including directions.

Remote Control/Feedback

Many times, the system will also include other parts, such as rudder feedback or remote controls. However, not all systems include these options, and they may be considered add-on features that can be purchased for additional cost.