7 Best Sailboat Autopilot Systems

7 Best Sailboat Autopilots | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

September 29, 2020

Sailing
Electronics

Essential in increasing efficiency, safety, and convenience, marine autopilots are a sailor's best friend when out there on the water. A properly operating sailboat autopilot will keep your sailboat on a selected course even in strong currents and winds and that why you need to go for the best sailboat autopilot.

Steering a sailboat is always fun. And even though many sailors are so good at it, some circumstances can make steering a boat on a straight line or the right course almost impossible. The tides, winds, and the complex hull-bottom designs can throw your sailboat off route and the adjustments that you have to make to return to course can be your voyage killers. Even if you have a crew that regularly sails with you, having an autopilot can help you stay on course and that's exactly why you need the best sailboat autopilot.

In the simplest term possible, an autopilot is an extra pair of hands that can help you in steering your sailboat on the right course. It is a self-steering device for powerboats or sailboats and even the most basic autopilot can help in holding your vessel on a pre-set compass course. Some advanced autopilots can even gather data from your boat and determine whether or not the boat is capable of handling the task in hand.

So whether you have a mechanically-steered boat or a tiller-steered sailboat, an autopilot is of great importance for both you and your boat. And it doesn't matter whether you want to explore your nearest lake for a day or want to sail to the Caribbean on your sailboat, it will make your job a lot easier, efficient, and safer. This is why we've put together this article to help you find the best sailboat autopilot. Read on and find which is best for you and your sailboat.

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How to Choose the Best Sailboat Autopilot for Your Vessel

When it comes to choosing the best sailboat autopilot for your vessel, the easiest thing to do would be to go for an autopilot that can steer your sailboat in calm seas. However, this is not advisable since you want an autopilot that works perfectly under very demanding sea conditions. With that in mind, here are the most important things to consider when looking at the best sailboat autopilot for you. 

Speed of Helm Adjustment

The best way to measure the speed on an autopilot that's appropriate for your boat is by looking at the number of degrees per second of helm correction. As such a 40-feet boat requires 10 degrees per second, a 25-feet boat requires 15 degrees per second, and a 70-feet boat requires 5 degrees per second. 

An above-deck or below-deck Autopilot

Do you want an autopilot that's designed to be used above the deck or below the deck? Well, the most important thing is to choose an autopilot that matches the displacement of your boat. More importantly, above-deck autopilots are ideal if you have a smaller boat while below-deck autopilot is ideal if you have a larger boat.

The Steering System

What type of steering system does your boat have? It's important to understand whether your boat has rotary drives, linear drive, or hydraulic drives. 

Control Interfaces

You should choose what's perfect for you as far as the control interface is concerned because this is one of the most crucial parts of an autopilot. The best features to consider include ease of use, waterproof, intuitive display, backlit options, and compatibility with SimNet, SeaTalk, and NMEA 2000.

7 Best Sailboat Autopilots

Here are the 7 best sailboat autopilots.

Raymarine ST1000 Plus Tiller Pilot

(Best for Tiller-steered Sailboats)

The Raymarine ST100 Plus Tiller Pilot is a classic tiller pilot that's one of the best accessories for your sailboat and your everyday sailing escapades. It's designed in such a way that it can accept NMEA data while still offering accurate navigation thanks to its incredibly intelligent software.

This autopilot is designed with a backlit LCD to help you see your navigational data, locked course, and other important information that can make your sailing safer and much better. The fact that the backlit LCD works perfectly in low-light conditions is an added plus.

That's not all; the ST1000 comes with an AutoTack feature that works like an extra hand when you're engaged in other responsibilities. For example, it can tack the sailboat for you when you adjust the sails. Better still, this autopilot is fully-fitted with everything that you need to install it on your sailboat and use it.

Pros

  • It's easy to use thanks to the simple six-button keypad
  • It's perfect when sailing in the calm sea as well as in stormy conditions
  • It is waterproof so you don't have to worry about it getting damaged
  • Its intelligent software minimizes battery usage thereby prolonging its battery life
  • Perfect for tiller-steered sailboats

Cons

  • The 2-year warranty could be improved
  • It's a bit heavier

Garmin Ghc 20 Marine Autopilot Helm Control

(Best for Night Sailing)

If you're planning to go on a voyage, chances are you'll find yourself sailing overnight. With that in mind, you should go for an autopilot that works perfectly both during the day and at night. The Garmin Ghc 20 Marine Autopilot Helm Control is your best sailboat autopilot for these types of adventure.

This amazing autopilot is designed with a 4-inch display that can improve your nighttime readability. This display is glass-bonded and comes with an anti-glare lens that is essential in preventing fog and glare in sunny conditions. This is crucial in helping you maintain control in all conditions, both during the day and at night.

This autopilot also provides a 170-degree viewing angle. This is essential in viewing the display at almost any angle. So whether you're adjusting the sails up on the deck or grabbing an extra sheet below the deck, you can be able to look at the display and see what's going on. So whether a sailing vessel or a powerboat, this autopilot is easy to use thanks to its five-button control. 

Pros

  • The five-button control makes it easy to use
  • Comes with a bright 4-inch display
  • The display works in all conditions thanks to its glass-bonded, anti-glare lens
  • The display offers optimal view both during the day and at night
  • It's compatible with other Garmin products

Cons

  • Only good for sailboat under 40 feet in length
  • The battery life should be improved

Simrad TP10 Tillerpilot

(Best for 32-feet or less Sailboat)

For many lone sailors, going with a sailboat that measures 32-feet or less in length is always ideal. Under such scenarios, it's always best to go with a sailboat autopilot that's perfect for such types of boats, and the Simrad TP10 Tillerpilot can be a superb option for you. This autopilot is so perfect as it brings to the table a combination of advanced technological software and simplicity.

Its five-button display makes it user-friendly, easy to use, and perfect in controlling your sailboat accordingly. This autopilot has a low-power draw, which means that your battery will last longer even when used for prolonged periods. This is an excellent autopilot that's designed with the sailor in mind as it goes about its business quietly so that you can enjoy your sailing adventures without noise and interruption from a humming autopilot.

Pros

  • One of the quietest sailboat autopilots
  • The battery life is excellent
  • It's designed with one of the most advanced software
  • It's waterproof to protect it from spray and elements
  • It offers precision steering and reading in all types of weather conditions
  • It's easy to use and control

Cons

  • Not ideal for big boats

Raymarine M81131 12 Volt Type 2 Autopilot Linear Drive

(Best for Seasonal Cruising)

For those of us who love cruising during winter when other sailors are drinking hot coffee from the comfort of their abodes, the Raymarine M81131 is the right sailboat autopilot for you. Well, this autopilot can be an ideal option if your sailboat is large enough to have a full motor system.

This autopilot is one of the most powerful in the marine industry and has an incredible electromagnetic fail-safe clutch. This autopilot is also compatible with other devices such as NMEA 2000 ABD SeaTalk navigation data. In terms of precision navigation, this autopilot will never disappoint you in any weather condition.

So whether you're looking to go ice-fishing or sailing the oceans during winter, this is your go-to autopilot.

Pros

  • Offers optimal sailing experience and navigation precision
  • It's very quiet
  • It offers high performance with minimal battery usage
  • It's great for adverse winter conditions 

Cons

  • It's expensive

Furuno Navpilot 711C Autopilot System

(Best for Accuracy)

If you're looking for the best sailboat autopilot that will take your navigation to the next level in terms of accuracy, look no further than the Furuno Navpilot 711C. This is an autopilot that enhances your boat's precision as far as staying on course is concerned. This is because the autopilot is designed with a self-learning software program that offers step by step calculations of your navigation and course.

This autopilot also offers real-time dynamic adjustments so that you can steer your sailboat more accurately. Thanks to this self-learning algorithm also offers great power application that significantly reduces the manual helm effort when maneuvering various situations. Its colored graphic display is of great benefit as you can easily read the information even in low-light conditions. So it doesn't matter whether you're sailing at night or during the day, this autopilot will serve you right in any condition. 

Pros

  • It's great for power and fuel efficiency
  • The display is intuitive
  • It's easy to set up and use
  • Its power assist is essential in reducing steering system complexity
  • Great for both outboard and inboard motors

Cons

  • Quite expensive

Si-Tex SP120 Autopilot with Virtual Feedback

(The Most Affordable Autopilot)

If you're on a budget and looking for one of the most affordable yet reliable sailboat autopilots, look no further than the Si-Tex SP120 Autopilot. This is a perfect high-performance sailboat autopilot that can be great for small to medium-sized powerboats and sailboats.

One of the most important features that this autopilot brings to the table is the ability to offer virtual feedback. This is great in eliminating the manual rudder feedback and thereby enhances your sailboat's performance. Its splash-proof 4.3-inch LCD offers one of the best transflective displays in the marine industry. The 4-button operation makes it a lot easier to use and provides the information you need to steer your sailboat safely and perfectly.

This autopilot can be great for you if you have a small or medium-sized sailboat thanks to its ease of use. The fact that it's one of the most affordable sailboat autopilots makes it highly popular with sailors who are on a budget.

Pros

  • It's simple to install and use
  • The virtual feedback is great
  • The display is one of the best in the game
  • It's quite affordable

Cons

  • It's not ideal for big boats

Garmin Reactor 40 Kicker Autopilot

(Best for Outboard Motor Boats)

If you have a motorboat that has a single-engine outboard, The Garmin Reactor 40 Kicker Autopilot can be an ideal option. This is a great autopilot that mitigates heading error and unnecessary rudder movement while offering more flexible mounting, which is essential in offering a more comfortable sailing even in the roughest of weather conditions.

This autopilot can be easily fine-tuned thanks to its throttle settings with a touch of a button. Of course, this can be useful especially when the seas are rough and you're trying to remain on course. This autopilot is also waterproof to ensure that it doesn't get damaged with spray or other elements.

With this autopilot, you're guaranteed to enjoy an awesome sailing trip even when going against the wind or when sailing in rough conditions. 

Pros

  • Easy to install and use
  • It's waterproof
  • It's beautifully designed
  • It comes with a floating handheld remote control
  • It's great for maintaining heading hold and route.

Cons

  • It's only ideal for motorboats with up to 20 horsepower
  • It's relatively expensive

As you can see, there are plenty of options when it comes to choosing an ideal sailboat autopilot for you. The best thing about the above-described sailboat autopilots is that they're among the best and you can find one that perfectly suits your unique needs and boats. Of course, most of them are quite expensive but they will advance the way you sail and make your sailing adventures even more enjoyable. We hope that you'll find the perfect sailboat autopilot for you.

Until next time, happy sailing!

7 Best Sailboat Autopilot Systems

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