Moving well into the realm of autopilot as an integral part of steering system, Furuno continues to refine and develop the NavPilot 700. Since its somewhat understated release more than a year ago, the NavPilot platform has seen a steady stream of upgrades in both functions, features and compatibility — and, most welcome, a corresponding overall simplification in hardware and operation.
Most obvious of these is the recent upgrade in software that allows NavNet TZtouch touch-screen control from the MFD, which eliminates the necessity of a separate autopilot control head at the helm. Additionally, Fantum Feedback not only abandons the traditional physical rudder position indicating mechanism, but it also relies on a time-based rudder gain process in favor of an angle-based indicator, effective from trolling speed to more than 60 knots.
Two separate operating modes, Economy and Precision, allow for variable deviation from a set course. “These settings allow the boat to drift,” says Furuno’s Eric Kunz,“which is good in bigger seas.” Economy modes allow course drift of about .1 nautical miles off-course, roughly 60 feet. “This yields a gain in efficiency,” says Kunz. “There is less rudder movement, less wear on the system, and less fuel consumption.” Precision mode, on the other hand, tracks within .1 nm of the set course, about 6 feet. “In Economy mode, we’ve found gains of up to 2 and 3 percent in fuel economy,” says Kunz.
At the core of Furuno’s developing system is the FPS8, an ingenious valve manifold block that provides Safe Helm and Power Assist steering functionality for any vessel with hydraulic steering, and eliminates the need for a separate power-steering system and hydraulic pump.
Traditional power steering relies on an engine-driven hydraulic pump. “The pump sucks energy off the engine, whether you are steering or not,” says Kunz. “On a boat, that translates into a drag of 5 to 10 horsepower. You can extrapolate how much fuel you are using, even when you are not touching the steering wheel.” The whole, integrated NavPilot 700 system, says Kunz, “is really geared toward economy, efficiency and ease of operation.”
The NavPilot 700 has already proved itself on a range of fishing boats as large as 72 feet, as well as center consoles starting at 26 feet with up to four outboard engines. Recently the system was certified for compatibility with both Volvo Penta IPS and Yamaha Helm Master