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Thread: Auto helms.. tillerpilots. any advice out there?

  1. #1
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    Default Auto helms.. tillerpilots. any advice out there?

    I know nothing at all about them,never had one , never used one but a friend made an interesting comment about fitting one the other day and I'd like to hear from some of our experienced guys.

    He wanted to fit a tiller pilot to a 45 ft, 10 tonne boat and 'they' refused to sell him one because the displacement was too much for the unit.
    Firstly, he only actually wants the thing to hold the helm while he gets his sails set and when he shoots down to get the kettle on perhaps. He's an experieced and prudent sailor , likes to sail alone.
    I suppose the agents for the tiller pilot think they are being responsible and are covering themselves against liabilty.

    Secondly, and this is the main point he makes. This boat is particularly well balanced so what has displacement got to do with it? If the boat is easier on the helm than some heavy weather helm boat that fits their 6 or 7 ton criteria, then why shouldn't it be suitable.

    any comments ( Gareth, Chuck?)

  2. #2
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    We use a Navico tiller pilot rated for an 8,000 lb. boat and we displace 26,000 lbs. There are lots of situations where the pilot could be overwhelmed, mainly by a strong weather helm condition. In practice, we trim the sails until it is close to self-steering before turning on the pilot, and it steers just fine. We don't expect it to work in a heavy quartering sea, but all in all it handles more than you would expect. Under power it is also very handy. I know of lots of other heavy-displacement boats that have had similar experiences with undersized tillerpilots. I would expect that if it had to constantly correct, it would be overloaded and fail. In reality, it adjusts the helm a few degrees every couple of minutes, usually when the wind changes velocity. FWIW, it's been like a third crew member for about 15 years. It's particularly handy when setting sails shorthanded, aside from the use on long passages.

  3. #3
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    Default Autopilot experiences

    John:

    Kinda depends on how much use the critter is supposed to handle. A light tillerpilot sort of autopilot can do the job well, if the rig is balanced and you are not asking it to work too long or in really wet conditions. Some windvanes like the CapHorn actually provide a fitting for a tiller pilot to control the trim tab (which is connected to the paddle which drives the pulleys which controls the wheel/tiller, etc.). After a few thousand miles or prolonged damp, though, our experience has been that the wee plastic gears/parts/seals get wonky (technical yachty term, that!) and it decides to belly up just when you are counting on it.

    Well now, with that bit of objective opinion out of the way, it probably comes as a not-so-big, kinda-little surprise that we have opted for an under-deck autopilot for our voyaging, powered by a towing generator, when needed. Mighty handy safety item when cruising with just 2 or 3 aboard, in our alwaays-humble opinions.

    Got what you paid for with that, eh, my friend?

    Craig Johnsen
    (obviously ready to get out of the office!)

  4. #4
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    My experience is almost exactly as Dan describes. A small 10-year-old tiller-mounted Autopilot steers my 13,000 pound deep draft boat just fine most of the time. It's way over it's recommended limit, but certainly works well enough to set the sails or nip below for human maintenance. It's a godsend under power over any distance. I usually sail alone, so it's in constant use. If I was passage-making I'd want beefier, but for normal cruising/daysailing, it's good. It's strong enough to handle helm forces, and if you balance the helm, it doesn't have to wiggle the stick constantly like it would on a lightweight fin-keeler. I hate to admit it, but over the long haul, it steers a straighter course than I do because its attention doesn't wander.

    - Norm

  5. #5
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    Now if only they made a model which would automatically thread a course between lobster pot buoys....
    "So we beat on, paddleboats against the wake of a neighbor’s jet ski, born back ceaselessly into the past." The Great Lakes Gatsby

  6. #6
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    What everyone else said (except David). if the boat is balanced no problem.

  7. #7
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    Don't you just love it when experienced people tell you what you want to hear.
    Thanks for that guys .I just can't see that a cup of tea , setting some sails and some motoring passages/light /moderate coastal passages ( as you say Dan, pick your conditions) is an issue for it.The boat is a beautiful handling thing which can be trimmed spot on.
    Craig, yes I've seen that gimmick.. tiller auto helm onto wind vane. very cunning.
    Thanks again, I'll pass it on .. really its a confirmation for us of what we thought.

  8. #8
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    Kitenui does most of her cruising under Tiller pilot. Sure it doesnt handle all conditions but I aint complainin'. If you set it a few degrees below close hauled it wont give you any nasty surprises. Just dont let the all weather stereo speakers get too close. The magnets do muck it up somewhat. I have had it sail a straight downwind course in about 20 kts. for an hour or so. They have adjustable gain settings so you can determine the level of feedback it is working on. A bit like a volume control on a harmonica amplifier or guitar pickup. GREAT piece of kit.

  9. #9
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    Buried in a dark back corner of my brain is a memory of a description of a small tillerpilot steering a hefty boat by means of a trim tab on the rudder - sounds viable.
    I'd much rather lay in my bunk all freakin day lookin at Youtube videos .

  10. #10
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    What model is yours Johnno?
    any particular brand beefier than the others... better reputation ?
    ( I'm talking about a unit that is 1 component ideally, not an arm and a seperate readout/controller.. .....I think)

  11. #11
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    Default

    I would guess that liability is less of a concern and warranty is more, the producer / seller being concerned that the unit may brake within the warranty period if loaded too high. Tiller pilots on charter boats (where they may see a lot of half witted use) tend to be a "topic".

    Still, a big unit on a well balanced boat in decent conditions ...

    What we tended to do quite often was to set the pilot to a course and then switch off, so it just held the tiller. Worked well when there was no change in wind stregth and the boat was trimmed well and it saves electricity and is less noisy. The noise some of the older units made was a bit unnerving, don't know about todays units.

  12. #12
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    Default


  13. #13
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    It's a Simrad / Navico TP300. Single unit. Not sure of the cost now but was about $1000 I think when purchased. Has had 2 repairs in the 8 years or so that I have owned it. A rain cover is a good idea if used a lot in rainy weather, so is a good squirt of WD40 up the vent slots occasionally.
    They are not particularly happy in heavy, gusty conditions where the balance of the boat is constantly changing. But in moderate and steady they are superb. They will even tack the boat. On Kitenui I have to watch for over correction after a tack but on Wanderlust that problem didnt occur. Can also be mounted on either port or starboard. I started with a little one (TP 100 )on my Merlin trailer sailer and wouldn't be without it now

  14. #14
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    Autohelm 4000 will hold anything that is reasonably balanced. Goes fine on my 10,000 lb Halmatic.
    The problem for manufacturers is these fat arsed tubs that cant steer in a following sea. My mate who does deliveries says that they have to hand steer these things in a following swell, no sort of autopilot can hold them.
    The difference between too big and too small a tillerpilot is excessive battery consumption if the pilot cant hold the boat.

  15. #15
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    First...what I had.....originally I set Tana Mari up (44 feet on deck, 36000 lbs with some supplies) with a wind vane.....worked reasonably well...except if the wind shifts the autopilot follows the wind...maybe when you are sleeping...and guide ya right onto the rocks. My wind vane was small and operated a trim tab purposely built and faired as part of the outboard rudder......
    I replaced it with a small electric autopilot designed for a 30 foot lightweight plastic weekend sailboat......the trimtab thinks it's the rudder....
    I don't know anything about your friends boat, outboard or inboard rudder......BUT...if he can make some changes to the rudder by adding a trim tab, and perhaps if the rudder shaft is hollow, the drive for the tab can be worked through the rudder shaft, an inexpensive autopilot may work just fine. The electronics in the big monsters and the little ones are generally the same....just the massive drive motor transistors and the linear actuator drive get to be really costly.....
    Wakan Tanka Kici Un
    ..a bad day sailing is a heckuva lot better than the best day at work.....
    Fighting Illegal immigration since 1492....
    Live your life so that whenever you lose, you're ahead."
    "If you live life right, death is a joke as far as fear is concerned."

  16. #16
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    John B. This Auto helm worked for me. It had a trim tab on the outboard rudder and not not dependent on electricity. It employed the kiss principle. Except for the sheets you could tack with it.

    JD

    Senior Ole Salt # 650

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