There’s a saying that an autopilot is an extra hand you don’t have to feed. But up until recently, installing one was so onerous, the equipment so large, and the installation parameters so narrow that small boats — those under 30 feet — couldn’t be bothered with it. That has all changed.
Miniature position sensors, heading sensors and accelerometers that have been hidden in smartphones for a decade are now incorporated into autopilot sensors about the size of a hockey puck. They’re smart too, learning quickly what magnetic fields in a boat to ignore and how best to adapt steering input to current, winds and seas. They’re so smart, in fact, that they don’t mind if you mount them crooked, upside down, high or low, and they don’t even need to be on the centerline.
Raymarine led this miniature march with its Evolution series (from $1,599) autopilots. Lowrance followed with its Outboard Pilot, integrated with HDS Gen2 or Gen 3 Touch MFDs (from $999). It controls both MotorGuide’s Wi-Fi Xi5 electric motor and the outboard through the MFD. Simrad has a similar system, sans the electric motor capability — at least for now. Garmin’s GHP 10 (from $1,697) system’s Shadow Drive lets you take over the helm by simply grabbing the wheel.