Key to Relaxing Sailing: Electronic Autopilot

After launching our catamaran in 1999, we wanted to install some type of self-steering but the simple fact was that we were broke after the normal cost overruns in building own boat, prevented us.

It took two years of sailing before we got around to getting an autopilot as part of the preparation for an 800 mile – five week trip around Vancouver Island on the BC West coast in 2001. It has now been over 3 years since we made the investment and all I can say is: Wow!

There is no way to go back to pre-autopilot. We now sail / motor over 95 % of the time with time the autopilot working away.
It is so much less work as well as being far safer. I can do sail changes and work winches with one hand holding the boat and the other working the winch instead of holding tenuously to the tiller. I can now perform proper and thorough navigation free from the dangerous distraction of steering.

Why Not a Conventional Wind Vane Self Steering?

Good question. In conventional monohull sail, wind vane self-steering is a valid option especially when there are long offshore legs.
Even on a monohull wind vane self-steering cannot handle periods of motoring which are quite common when coastal; cruising in sheltered waters. Many monohull sailboats also carry an electronic autopilot for motoring and light wind downwind sailing.

On a cruising catamaran like ours, there is the difficulty of mounting a wind wane on either one of the transoms since the dual rudders
are hung on them. As well on a catamaran the apparent wind speeds generated and the apparent wind angle changes cause havoc with wind vane self-steering. On our boat we use the autopilot to maintain a certain magnetic compass heading which bypasses the apparent wind angle problems.

Autopilots Choices

In our case we choose a Raytheon Autohelm 4000 tiller pilot with a separate control head.
This works fine with our tiller bar steering. In boats with hydraulic or cable steering you would have to go with one of the Raytheon component packages.