Self-Steering Systems – Wind Vane, Wheel/Tiller, Below Deck Pilots

Self steering keeps a boat on a course with no body at the helm. On long voyages, self steering is not a luxury but a must. It protects from boredom and corresponding fatigue. Simply put, self-steering may save you and your crews’ lives. Once setup, the system will maintain a compass course. The system adjusts to wind and wake. It comes in three variations: wind vane, above deck wheel/tiller, and below deck pilots.

Different wind vane types
Different wind vane types (Self

Wind Vane
The wind vane is a non electronic option. When sailing, freedom from electrical power can be essential. The wind vane is a green option powered by the very forces driving a boat off course: wind and water. The vane redirects the elements to maintain a compass course. When forced to port, the wind vane changes steering such that the vessel turns and squares back to starboard.

Wind is the driving force. Just like a weather cock, the wind vane rotates according to changes in wind direction. This rotation couples with a paddle in the water. The paddle rotated around a vertical axis amplifies the wind power. The, paddle rotation feeds into the rudder which changes the boat direction. The complex rotations keep the boat on course. The wind starts the process and through the paddle directs the energy to the rudder.

And the more powerful the elements, the better the wind vane performs. The stronger wind more forcefully directs the wind vane keeping the boat more closely on compass.

Models include Monitor (US), Norvane (UK), Fleming (AU). Peter Tiez at Voyager Windvanes (Ontario, CA) makes great vanes and is a knowledgeable, honest guy who I highly recommend. Prices are about $2,000 to $4,000 depending on boat size and extras.

Above Deck Pilot
Above deck pilots whether tiller or wheel need minimal installation and easily accessible. The pilot attaches to the tiller or wheel, a non moving part of the cockpit, and the compass. Then, actuated by an electrical motor or hydraulic piston, the pilot keeps a compass course. The boat will stay exactly at that degree heading. Prices are between $500 to $2,000 depending on boat size and autopilot function. Raymarine is a popular brand.

Below Deck Pilots
Below deck pilots connect directly to the rudder shaft maximizing power and function. Because the below deck option is directly connected to the rudder changing in motion are immediate and full force. Also, because of the below deck location, these autopilots come with more advanced computers that integrate GPS, course plotting. The below deck can not only stay at a compass direction but follow a course changing direction as necessary. Prices are $2,500 to $4,500 for systems depending on boat size and computer function. Raymarine (Autohelm) and Simrad are two leading manufacturers.

Three types of self steering are a wind vane, above deck, and below deck autopilots. The simplest is the above deck. The wind vane and below deck options involve more installation and upfront costs. The wind vane is independent of electricity while the below deck has more brains. Choosing one depends on your personal preferences and goals.

2 Replies to “Self-Steering Systems – Wind Vane, Wheel/Tiller, Below Deck Pilots”

  1. Nay, ye fool. Arghh, personal values? Personal values be darn. It’s all about booty and what type of ship ye have. Don’t give me that. Ye have a lack of perspective in de real world. You are a blimy blowharted landlubbin blubber. Iffin ye dis old salt ever run into ye, I’ll whip ye and make ye scrub me decks.

    Arghh, me wast on a long pillaging jolly good voyage alone. I had sacked Cape Corn. Then, I shipped off to ply the corpus waters. The cursade was a long one. From overwork, I was getting worn to a bloody fool. I had to run all watches meself maning the tiller all night. Alone and adrift with loney Mother Carey’s chickens, I started loosing me mind! I was delusional. Me victims haunted me and chiding me greed and callous pirate ways.

    I was sleep deprived from the wear without me mateys to trade watch (the excessive rum drinking didn’t help me either). One night, I started hallucinating. Big Red the Pirate me arch enemy and his ghostly lily livered swabs lay alongside and boarded me. I started let off the cannons. But, I could stop the scoundrels. They came aboard. I charged firing me pistols and took out me swashbuckling cutlass. I ran right threw the bloody phantoms and into the briny deep. If ye be pirating alone, install a self steering device. Else will have no fun and may go insane like me.

    After I lost me mind forever and jumped ov’rboard, I managed to latch onto me ship’s trailing dink. Luckily the seas were calm. I’m stealing an autopilot the next place I loot for sure. Cape Corn belongs to me and open for all ye real pirates to come. Yo ho ho! Black Fox the Pirate.

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