An autopilot system relieves the skipper of the tedium of steering the boat and allows him to focus more attention on finding fish, advantages offered by autopilot systems from companies like Furuno, Garmin, Lowrance, Raymarine and Simrad.
While not a license to fall sleep at the helm, autopilot is a great navigational tool that frees skippers of the tedium of constantly manning the wheel. Autopilot also proves valuable when navigating in limited visibility conditions, such as fog or dark of night. The electronic pilot steers a course straighter than I could even hope to maintain, which allows me to focus more attention on the radar with the idea of avoiding approaching hazards my eyes can’t detect.
But whether trolling a rip for striped bass, downrigger fishing for king mackerel, slow-trolling for sailfish or high-speed trolling for wahoo, autopilots also make outstanding fishing tools. When networked with a GPS/chart plotter, a ’pilot assists with helm duties, improves fuel efficiency and allows you to focus on catching fish.
One of the greatest advancements in autopilot technology, the ability to steer the boat in preprogrammed patterns, provides a huge benefit while trolling. Furuno’s NAVpilot-711C system, for example, offers the FishHunter mode that performs figure-eight, orbit, spiral, square and zigzag patterns relative to a point you specify.
With many autopilot systems, you don’t need the traditional control pad/display. You access the system through a networked multifunction touch-screen display. In fact, the Lowrance Outboard Pilot has no control pad. Everything runs through the display and a wireless remote. Many captains, however, feel more comfortable with a dedicated ’pilot control pad at the helm as a safeguard against a malfunctioning MFD.
Here are four top-of-the-line autopilot systems available today.