Rant - Raymarine ST1000 Tiller Pilot

Elbows

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I've just taken my 2 year old Raymarine ST1000 Tiller Pilot apart to give it a clean and service as I noticed a spot of condensation inside the window. What a crappy piece of design it is! It had already let me down once last year off Start Point in fairly heavy weather singlehanded at night. The two screws that hold on the electric motor had worked loose as there was no thread lock on them. When I got to Plymouth I quickly got it working again without inspecting anything else as I needed to get sailing.

This time I had a good look over the rest of it and was unimpressed with the design and the quality control. It was clearly on the point of failing again and it's just a case of which bit would break first.

The roll pin which fixes the toothed-belt pulley to the main threaded rod had worked part way out and was in the process of destroying the toothed belt.

There's far too much end float of the threaded rod so the belt alignment is all over the place.

The outer end plate of the ram guide was bent and the plastic guide bush was broken. This happens because the unit has no way sensing when the ram has reached the end of it's travel so it keeps on applying full force, presumably until some time limit has been reached when it shuts off the motor and displays a message. The construction isn't strong enough to resist this force. The rapid clicking noise it makes at the end of it's travel must be one of the toothed belts slipping which can't be good for the belt or the pulleys.

The circuit board isn't given any sort of sealing after the components have been soldered on so there are bare metal terminals all over it which can corrode and short out if any salt water does get in, which is pretty much envitable over time.

There's no thread lock on any of the screws holding the mechanism together so it's just a matter of luck whether they work loose or not.

If you buy cheap things then it's likely that they're not going to be very well made and won't last long, but the recommended retail for this is £525. That's not cheap for a fairly simple and shoddily made mechanical device, and the electronics involved don't cost a lot these days.

It would be relatively straightforward to eliminate most of these problems at the design stage, in fact the existing design would need only minor modifications, a few extra components and a few lines of code in the firmware to add the ram position sensing. The unit must have paid for it's original development and tooling costs long ago so the company could easily afford to sort it out and still make a decent profit.

The impression I get is that it's designed to fail soon after the warranty runs out. It's not just the rip-off aspect that annoys me, it's the waste and environmental impact this sort of attitude results in. The management arseholes who make these decisions know perfectly well that a lot of these units are going to end up in landfill soon after the warranty runs out, but they don't give a toss because they're making a little more money than if they did it properly.

End of rant.

-----

Fortunately I caught it early enough that it's worth saving. I'll build in a couple of microswitches and diodes to shut off the motor when the ram reaches the ends of it's travel, remake the broken/bent bits, lacquer the circuit board and assemble everything properly with loctite. Liberal use of silicon grease should keep the worst of the salt water at bay. I use a plastic cover when it's likely to get wet but inevitably some moisture does get in.

Keeping the water out is tricky as hermetically sealing something like this would be very expensive to design in and I do have some sympathy for the designers on this point. As the ram moves out the volume of the internal space increases so the air pressure drops and damp air will be drawn into the unit. The motor generates heat and if the unit's been sitting in the sun the air inside can get quite hot. If it then gets a glob of cold spray over it the air inside will cool rapidly and that will also cause low pressure inside.

I've got a couple of ideas for solving this but I'm not sure how practical they are. A flexible tube could be connected between the tiller pilot and the inside of the boat so that relatively dry air is sucked in. It'd be a bit of extra faff when plugging the unit in but with a suitable connection arrangement for the tube it could work.

The other idea is to have a flexible bladder inside the unit which is connected to the outside air. As the inside air pressure drops the bladder will expand to equalise it. A small polythene bag would probably work but I'm not sure whether there's enough room inside for it to expand sufficiently.
 

jamie N

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Gosh, quite a rant! Am I right in thinking that it's a 'Cathartic' rant though. I'm with you on the general sealing and water resistance of the item, as it's fairly poor. Not being funny, but could it help (you or Raymarine) to let them in on your feelings?
I reckon that designing the mod's in the mind's eye, is better than actually having the mod's tested in real life.
 

awol

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A word of warning! I have (had) two ST2000+ tillers, the idea was to have a spare for when (definitely not "if") one failed and used alternately. I fashioned plastic covers for both to try and avoid the damp ingress and that worked quite well for nearly 2 years until this summer when first one and then the other died with obvious overheating (warped case and internals). It appears the motors should have had an internal fan but there was nothing left of that and simply running the motors no-load shows they get very hot.
So as well as microswitches I would suggest a thermal cut out.
 

TSB240

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Glad you got that of your chest?

I agree the main issue is the potential for water or moisture to be drawn in under heat cycling. I really don't think the small amount of movement in operation requires any additional design correction requiring pressure equalizing bellows.
I have been using the same model virtually every weekend in North Wales for the last seven years. It has no rain cover, It gets wet from rain(quite common here!) and the occasional big greenie in the cockpit. (Very rare on a sunny day!).

I think the biggest issue is the heat generated by the motor. In normal use it pressurises the unit preventing moisture ingress until you stop using the unit.

Now on a hot sunny day I leave it in the sun and only put it away after the sun has cooled down in the driest and warmest location in our cabin in a cotton bag (close to the eber outlet)

If its a wet day and the unit is covered in water I remove it as soon as I have no use for it and wipe it down with a tea towel and put it in the same location. I believe I am slowing the rapid cooling off which reduces the chances of moisture being drawn in under a heat/cooldown cycle.

I never ever retract the unit after use.

It works for me, same unit never missed a beat all this time. It probably helps that the boat is very finely balanced and the unit is probably not getting too over worked and hot in the first place.

I have had to replace the power connection plug twice in this time!
 

Sandy

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It had already let me down once last year off Start Point in fairly heavy weather singlehanded at night.
Looks like Sod's Law of the Sea struck again.

Not an ideal place for a TP failure. Glad the dragons did not get you.

On my last boat I had a ST2000 that performed very well in anything under a F5. Over that it was hand steering. I finally managed to crack sheet to tiller steering, but the new boat has a wheel and sheet to tiller is hopeless with that.
 

Old Bumbulum

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I too was deeply disappointed with the quality of design and construction and agree with all the points you raised. To me the most astonishing omission is the lack of shutoff at the ends of ram travel. Mine simply smashed the pulley mounts. What other kind of shonky rubbish product can you name that smashes itself like that? Simply incredible they have the cheek to market it like that. Well done for fitting microswitches though, I thought of that but it was beyond my skills. You'd be a popular man if you published a "how to" for that.
Utterly inexcusable that they are't fitted as standard. God knows for the price of those things they ought to be made of gold. Utter ripoff I'm afraid, but it does say so on the label, doesn't it?
 

prv

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If the PCB isn't conformal-coated that's a remarkable bit of corner cutting for a device intended to be used outside in a maritime environment.

For the air pressure issue, you can buy pressure relief valves designed for this kind of use, to let air in but not water. I suppose they don't actually extract humidity from the air though, only actual water drops. There are also screw-in moisture absorbers that you can periodically take out and bake to regenerate - the latter generally only found in fairly high end equipment though.

Pete
 

James_Calvert

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I can just about recall when these type of items were introduced to the market. They were relatively cheap, compared to other pilots on the market at 3 or more times the price.

The ones with separate control heads and actuating arms were pricier, but more powerful and I understand generally more reliable. I've had one of those for over 30 years, not trouble free but certainly more mechanically robust.
 

Elbows

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Well done for fitting microswitches though, I thought of that but it was beyond my skills. You'd be a popular man if you published a "how to" for that.
I'm happy to post pictures when I've finished, but physically fitting things in is proving to be a challenge. I can do it because I've got a lathe and milling machine, it would be tricky without them.

Because I can't access the processor or firmware I'm having to take a "brute force" approach by wiring the micro switches into the motor supply which means they need a high current rating and are quite bulky. That complicates the actuating mechanism which needs an additional guide rail. If Raymarine were making the mods they could use small switches mounted on the underside of the PCB to tell the processor to cut the power, and in that position it would be much more straightforward to actuate them.

Basically, I'm connecting 2 diodes in series facing in opposite directions in one leg of the motor power supply. Each diode is bypassed by a microswitch so that when both switches are closed the motor works normally in forward or reverse. When one of the switches opens the current will be blocked by the diode in that direction stopping the motor, but the diode will allow current to pass in the opposite direction so that the motor can reverse. Just got to make sure I wire them up the right way round :)

Fun project, and I'm hoping I can turn it into something which will last a good few years.
 

Elbows

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If the PCB isn't conformal-coated that's a remarkable bit of corner cutting for a device intended to be used outside in a maritime environment.
I know! It would be such a small additional cost and so easy to do that they either just don't give a damn about their customers or they actively want it to fail.

For the air pressure issue, you can buy pressure relief valves designed for this kind of use, to let air in but not water. I suppose they don't actually extract humidity from the air though, only actual water drops. There are also screw-in moisture absorbers that you can periodically take out and bake to regenerate - the latter generally only found in fairly high end equipment though.

Pete
There is actually a tiny hole in the bottom of the case with a white pad glued onto the inside which looks like some sort of filter. As you say though, even if it filters liquid drops it won't help with the humidity.

I did wonder about making a removable hatch and securing a little bag of silica gel to it which could be easily removed and baked. Not sure how much you need or how often it would have to be dried to make a significant difference.
 

hpeer

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I’ve now got 3 ST2000+ units, long and sad story. I can add considerably to the list of failure modes. The first one stranded me, I bought a spare and it came with a bad gyro out of the box, then a second spare which ALSO had a bad gyro. Two have since failed, when the ram hits the limitnit squishes the o rings, which disentigrate (along with other bits) and fall into the gyro space and jam the gyro.

I’ve just purchased a Pelagic tiller pilot. I’ve not used it yet and won’t for a while because it will drive an Aries wind vane and I won’t be fitting the vane paddle for a bit.

https://pelagicautopilot.com

That said...just to pick it up and hold it is to know it is a FAR superiour piece of craftsmanship. The direction unit and motor controller are separate boxes, waterproof. And it’s pretty much a drop in replacement for the RM. The ram is made of METAL! It even has a pocket fob kind of remote control.

It’s slightly more expensive than one RM. A wise investment in my opinion.
 
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Concerto

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Elbows

Can I ask what yacht you have the ST1000 fitted to and how well balanaced is your yacht? Many people buy their tiller pilot by price and ignore the guide maximum yacht weight. If a ST1000 was fitted to either a yacht that is badly balanced or too heavy, it will work harder to control the direction because the ram is too small. This is not an excuse for the poorly designed internals, but factors that have not been disclosed to the forum.

When I bought my Westerly Fulmar, it came with an Autohelm 2000 (pre Raymarine). This was designed for a 4000kg displacement, however the designed displacement was 4490kg. That does not allow anything for sails, liquids, equipment, or people. It weighs loaded about 5500kg. So this autopilot was under specified. Countering this the Fulmar is one of the most balanced boats I have ever sailed and has a balanced rudder that reduces the amount of travel the tiller needs to make, reducing the ram activity. It was still not powerful enough, so I fitted an Evolution 100. The new ram is so much larger and powerful.
 

Old Bumbulum

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The weight of the boat surely has little to do with the autohelm's ablity to steer it - what matters is how well the boat's helm is balanced.
A badly set up Wayfarer would punish an autohelm more than a well trimmed 35ft Moody.
I can see why the manufacturers suggest suitable boat size for marketing purposes but it relates little to practicality.
And practicality is all is sailing, isn't it?
 

Elbows

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Elbows

Can I ask what yacht you have the ST1000 fitted to and how well balanaced is your yacht? Many people buy their tiller pilot by price and ignore the guide maximum yacht weight
It's just a little Westerly Pageant weighing about 2 tons. The force on the tiller is quite light as the rudder is a balanced spade design (some of the rudder area is forward of the pivot axis).
 

Concerto

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It's just a little Westerly Pageant weighing about 2 tons. The force on the tiller is quite light as the rudder is a balanced spade design (some of the rudder area is forward of the pivot axis).
Well the ST1000 should be handling the loads. How well do you balance the rig? The straighter you can keep your tiller by setting the sails correctly, you will need less autopilot control and you will sail a lot faster.

My thoughts now would be to talk to Raymarine technical about the poor internal design. Be clear what is wrong and you may be surprised by their reaction. In the past my late father's yacht became a test bed for an electronics company. Raymarine must have test bed yachts in different countries as conditions do vary widely around the world. So worth chatting with them.
 

Elbows

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Well the ST1000 should be handling the loads. How well do you balance the rig? The straighter you can keep your tiller by setting the sails correctly, you will need less autopilot control and you will sail a lot faster.
Thanks for the advice but I am well aware of all that.

My thoughts now would be to talk to Raymarine technical about the poor internal design. Be clear what is wrong and you may be surprised by their reaction. In the past my late father's yacht became a test bed for an electronics company. Raymarine must have test bed yachts in different countries as conditions do vary widely around the world. So worth chatting with them.
I don't mean to be rude but I think you're being rather naive. These units have been manufactured for years and Raymarine are well aware of all these the design issues, it would be impossible for them not to be! I'm sure they have a large stack of broken ones out the back and they know exactly what the points of failure are. It's a business decision not to do anything about it and it says a lot about the company ethos.
 

LadyInBed

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These units have been manufactured for years and Raymarine are well aware of all these the design issues, it would be impossible for them not to be! I'm sure they have a large stack of broken ones out the back and they know exactly what the points of failure are. It's a business decision not to do anything about it and it says a lot about the company ethos.
and a very lucrative decision it has been :(
In contrast, their Type 1 linear drive is an excellent bit of kit, but that is a bit like comparing an Allegro with a Jensen!
 

Topcat47

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and a very lucrative decision it has been :(
In contrast, their Type 1 linear drive is an excellent bit of kit, but that is a bit like comparing an Allegro with a Jensen!
I feel blessed. My original Autohelm ST2000 is still working after 40 years or so. Admittedly I've had to have the linear drive motor re-wound (Raymarine didn't carry spares) but it's a godsend when mortoring or motor-sailing. I will use it for short periods when single-handing but I only have a limited amount of battery power available, so no load passages.
 
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