Autopilots: troubleshooting basics, part 2
1/25/2021

Last week we looked at a few fundamentals including a quick dockside check of autopilot operation and then moved into rudder feedback units and compasses. This week we consider drive units, controllers and the all-important sea trial. The information is excerpted from a more technical article that marine electronics dealer John Barry wrote for Marine Electronics Journal. Our goal is to provide a basic understanding of why your autopilot may not be working as advertised and what may be involved to set it on a proper course.

Drive

Autopilot drives come in many flavors and sizes. They all have one thing in common, they steer the boat. Most do this by moving the rudder port or starboard as appropriate. Reversing hydraulic pumps are common. Other types of drives include mechanical linear, hydraulic linear, mechanical rotary, solenoid and others. Some pilots send steering commands to a digital steering system like IPS (Inboard Performance System), etc.

A common failure complaint with any autopilot is "No Drive.” User engages pilot but nothing happens, no rudder movement. This symptom can be easily duplicated at the dock using the nominal operation test described [last week]. Once a "No Drive” condition is confirmed, the drive can be tested separately by direct connection to the supply voltage.

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