Below-deck Autopilot Considerations
A request for points of view on below-deck autopilots from the Message Board
Q: Has anyone installed an underdeck autopilot on their C34? I’m looking at the Navico PL8000 I have a 1989 with the original solid transom. Also has anyone had experience with a Navico 5000 wheelpilot. I’m thinking about using one of those if the below deck installation is too difficult. > I’d be using this for going down the Pacific coast to Mexico. Also I’m thinking of replacing my rudder with the new eplitical design. Has anyone done this? Is it worth the money?
The rack and pinion type autopilots are usually better for strength, torque and response. If you are looking at this autopilot because you are taking this off shore trip short handed (2 or 3 people), be sure you carry adequate spares. Also ensure that the installation can be worked on while underway in moderate sea conditions. Just passing this on from the experiences of some of my friends. One singlehands to Hawaii. He carries 10 to 12 spare autopilots! Another went to Bermuda and the underdeck autopilot failed both enroute to Bermuda and on the return trip! After 30 years of flying, I learned never to take my feet too far from the rudder pedals as the autopilot occasionally did some weird or goofy things! (Ron Hill)
I have the Navico 5000/HP5000 on my 1990 C34. I installed it in 1992 and it works well. I used the optional pedestal mounting bracket as I found it difficult to mount the motor unit on the cockpit seat due to the angle. I had considered the Autohelm unit but had used one on a Cape Dory 33 out in Anacortis, WA and it had a problem with the ring gear not mating properly with the motor unit. I felt the Navico unit was the easiest to work on and could be disconnected easier. If you already have other Autohelm products that might be the better way to go if you plan on using the Sea Talk capabilities of each. The Navico uses standard NEMA183 when used in conjunction with the HP5000. (You have to have the HP5000 for NEMA) (Gerry Misener)
We have an Autohelm ST4000 on our C34 that has worked out pretty well. The mounting / lack of clutter is nice compared to the Navico 5000, but if you believe the specs the Navico is supposed to have more torque. We have used the Autohelm on our boat a few times in Galveston Bay in Gulf of Mexico and surrounding area in docile conditions, and on Eagle Mountain Lake near Fort Worth, TX all the time now that the boat is located inland. I have used the Autohelm in all kinds of conditions on the lake, and it does reasonably well in most situations. None of them in this class seem to do very well in strong gusty conditions, however. However, as an aircraft autopilot designer, I can tell you that if the pilot/skipper has a hard time at the controls/helm, so will the autopilot.
I have also sailed a San Juan 34 with an ST 4000 in Santa Monica Bay of southern CA in what became a broad reach with 20-25 kt relative and gust above that in 4 – 6 ft seas: had to hand steer to maintain control.
I have used the ST 6000 and above on several larger boats on bareboat charters, and they are very nice: lots of power and good speed. However, I don’t know if the top of the rudder post in the C34 has enough sticking out for attachment purposes, or clearance/access off the side of the post for the actuator body. If you can get something in the class of the ST6000 installed below decks, you will probabaly be very happy with it. By the way, Autohelm makes a heavy-duty “Whitbread” option for the below-deck actuator that replaces a plastic bushing or bearing with a metal one: something to have just because…. It’s not much money for the option and well worth it if you are going to out away from the local parts store for blocks of time. (John Nixon, Hard Times #1120)