Don't mistake the term "autopilot" to mean "no human input necessary." No matter how many electronics you wire to your boat, there are universal safety measures everyone must take:
1. Never leave the helm of a boat under way.
2. Always keep a paper chart on board, even though your GPS may have an extremely detailed chart built in. Paper charts are the final legal authority on navigation, and without them you could bear a greater liability for damages in the case of a grounding or other accident.
3. Always operate at a safe speed for the conditions. Courses with shorter legs -- like our dinner cruise -- are best done at speeds below planing levels. Save planing speeds for long straightaways on the Intracoastal Waterway or the open water of big bays, the Great Lakes or coastal waters.
4. In heavy traffic, narrow channels or wildly winding rivers, leave the autopilot in idle and take the controls yourself. Autopilots are best when navigating courses with legs longer than a mile.
5. When setting routes (a series of waypoints linked together) on your GPS, avoid 90-degree turns. Setting two or three 30- to 45-degree turns will make for smoother autonavigation.