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June 01, 2011

Autopilot Innovations

Better autopilots steer you to savings and better fishing

Improvements in autopilots continue as this once-optional gear further cements its place at the helm of a proper fishing boat. Programmed trolling patterns have become the expected norm, and an autopilot’s ability to network with the plotter has automated effectively fishing bottom contours and tracing undersea features for productive trolling. Not only do you benefit from significant fuel savings, but the job gets done better and more efficiently. Same with covering distance in tough conditions.

Tough Conditions Made Easy

Ron Meng, president of Islands Marine Center on Lopez Island, Washington, is a confirmed autopilot user in a part of the world that knows how to dish out challenging conditions. “In 10- to 12-foot following seas, an autopilot steers better than I can,” he says. “It relieves the stress and saves fuel because you are aren’t wandering all over the place.” And when the fog rolls in, says Meng, the autopilot is immune to the kind of excessive and unnecessary course correction that plagues even experienced skippers when the visibility drops.

Competitive Redesign

Over the past couple of years, the major manufacturers have made big gains in their autopilot technology.

Raymarine’s SmartPilot series added a big helping of user- and installer-friendly features to the product category. Garmin’s redesign of the classic T-1 autopilot strengthened that model’s already considerable ca-pabilities and made it easier to use for fishermen with more on their minds than reading an instruction manual. Simrad’s innovative autopilot software made the unit nearly invisible at the helm and remarkably integrated with the plotter.

Furuno Upgrade

Currently Furuno is putting the final touches on an upgrade to the NavPilot 500: the NavPilot 700. The new pilot comes bundled with a PG-700 heading sensor and is compatible with other manufacturers’ multifunction displays and compasses via NMEA 0183 and 2000, says Iker Pryszo, assistant product manager for Furuno.

Two models are sized to fit helms big and small, and half-a-dozen pumps match any fishing boat, from a small outboard to a full-size sport-fisherman.

The new release includes an ex-panded library of preprogrammed trolling patterns and a beefed-up learning capability. “The 500 had a lot of fishing features developed that were well received, and these have been transferred to the new model,” says Pryszo. “A particular strength of the new models is that this is an adaptive-learning pilot. It takes a log of the sea states and information from the first sea trial and builds on it over the course of each outing. Every time you go out and use the autopilot, it is learning, so the more you use it, the better it gets.”

Furuno’s 700 series takes advantage of some of the features of rudderless feedback systems while maintaining the reliability, accuracy and commercial-grade components that Furuno is known for.