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Windvane pilots vs electric autopilots: all you need to know

john_morris_uk

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This is a very interesting article about windvane pilots from their early days through to the modern electronic autopilot. Thought some of you might find it of interest.

Windvane pilots vs electric autopilots: all you need to know (globalsolochallenge.com)
I'll read it, but the first sentence made me think.
A boat’s autopilot is its most expensive electronic component.
On our boat the most expensive electronic item is the MFD.

The Hydrovane wind gear was more expensive (almost than both the above put together!)
 

Minerva

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16 Oct 2019
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Very interesting article. As a useful point to note; on a recent Delos episode, they upgraded their auto helm system. Their old, but still working, Raymarine electric actuator had been in service for over 100,000nm with only 2 services in that time. They covered a "service" in an earlier episode - one service was turning a cog around to distribute the wear more evenly and the other service was replacing, themselves, the same cog. The new actuator was dropped in within minutes as it retained all the same fittings / dimensions.

Quite the accolade I thought.
 

TernVI

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I'll read it, but the first sentence made me think.

On our boat the most expensive electronic item is the MFD.

The Hydrovane wind gear was more expensive (almost than both the above put together!)
I think the 'Dawn of Ocean Sailing' somewhat pre-dated the development of vane steering gear too!
 

Koeketiene

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With my boat it isn't a case of one versus the other.

Under sail in open water the Monitor steers, under power the tillerpilot steers.
Under power or coastal sailing, the Autohelm steers.
Offshore, the bungees steer (sheet to tiller). Sail trim is VERY important and it takes 5-10 minutes to set up, but once you're set it's a joy to behold. And it cost me less than €100 in bungee cords and a snap shackle.
 

dunedin

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3 Feb 2004
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Boat (now back in) the Clyde
With my boat it isn't a case of one versus the other.

Under sail in open water the Monitor steers, under power the tillerpilot steers.
But being open minded, why? In most cases modern autopilots can helm better than a wind vane, so if it is a power issue, spending the money on a Watt&Sea would be a better solution than a wind vane.
 

Kelpie

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Over the Sea on Skye
But being open minded, why? In most cases modern autopilots can helm better than a wind vane, so if it is a power issue, spending the money on a Watt&Sea would be a better solution than a wind vane.
In our case, it is to have additional layers of redundancy. We could be hit by lightning or lose our main steering and the Hydrovane* would still be there.
Silent operation is just a bonus, but a useful one when your bunk is directly on top of the autopilot ram.
 

Poignard

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But being open minded, why? In most cases modern autopilots can helm better than a wind vane, so if it is a power issue, spending the money on a Watt&Sea would be a better solution than a wind vane.
The tillerpilot makes a noise I don't like, the windvane is silent.
The tillerpilot needs battery capacity I don't possess and wouldn't otherwise need, the windvane needs none.
The tillerpilot steers a compass course, the windvane keeps the sails full.
If the tillerpilot fails I probably can't repair it, if the windvane fails (unlikely) I almost certainly can.
I like watching the windwane do its work, I don't want to watch the tillerpilot.
I can afford both, so I have both, and use both.
 
Last edited:

jamie N

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20 Dec 2012
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Fortrose
The article made no reference to a Vertical Trim Tab self steering, which is the cheapest above sheet to tiller, but was used in the 1st OSTAR which was mentioned.
Like others, I've a homemade system of the above (a few hours work and about £8) and a TP10 for when the engine is on.
However, like Poignard, I do get a kick out of watching the wind self steering do its stuff, whereas with the tiller pilot, I always think that it's about to 'do something' that'll screw the batteries, or just break. It gives me no joy.
 

Tranona

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10 Nov 2007
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But being open minded, why? In most cases modern autopilots can helm better than a wind vane, so if it is a power issue, spending the money on a Watt&Sea would be a better solution than a wind vane.
This may apply to wheel steered boats with integrated electronics, but not to simple tiller steered boats - although the latest EV system for larger tiller steered boats is better. It is also generally easier to fit vane steering to smaller tiller steered boat making them much more usable. In between there are examples (as shown in the article) of larger tiller steered boats where the primary self steering is vane and a small tiller pilot connected to the vane for use under motor.

As usual one makes a choice depending on your boat and its intended use - and of course your budget!
 

Daydream believer

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Southminster, essex
Under power or coastal sailing, the Autohelm steers.
Offshore, the bungees steer (sheet to tiller). Sail trim is VERY important and it takes 5-10 minutes to set up, but once you're set it's a joy to behold. And it cost me less than €100 in bungee cords and a snap shackle.
I really cannot imagine how one can make a set of bungees steer an AWB on a beam reach in a 2.5 metre sea in f6.
Certainly would not work on a Hanse 311
My Raymarine av100 cannot do it. My aeries does , albeit a bit wobbly; but it carries on for hours on end reliably
 

Buck Turgidson

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10 Apr 2012
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Zürich
If anyone wants a hydra auto steer I’ve got one in bits on my boat in Valencia. Collection second week of July after which it will be in a bin.
the airside works perfectly but the connection to the”trim” tab uses 2 universal joints which have too much play for it to steer.
ive gone bungee/TP22 which works for me.
 

Koeketiene

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I really cannot imagine how one can make a set of bungees steer an AWB on a beam reach in a 2.5 metre sea in f6.
Certainly would not work on a Hanse 311
My Raymarine av100 cannot do it. My aeries does , albeit a bit wobbly; but it carries on for hours on end reliably
I certainly have no complaints in conditions you describe.
I keep the boat afloat all year, and these conditions are quite common when Winter sailing in my part of the world.
Though to be fair I must say that mine's more a MAB (36' - 7.8T - 1977) rather than a modern light-displacement, wide beam AWB.
 
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