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NMEA Boater Blog

Autopilots: troubleshooting basics

Boaters take much for granted and a working autopilot is one of them. So when the pilot breaks and you have to steer manually, you quickly learn the value of a properly functioning system. They are complex devices and have a difficult job to do.

Marine electronics dealer John Barry wrote a recent article for Marine Electronics Journal that discussed a few potential culprits to consider if an autopilot isn’t working as advertised. This week and next we’ll share that information with you—we excluded that pesky technical information tailored for installers and service teams.

By John Barry

I often warn operators that the pilot adds a level of distraction and complacency that can be dangerous. The truth is that a properly working autopilot actually increases safety because it does not get distracted, tired or drunk!

Let’s look at some of the failures that occur on autopilots. In a past article I discussed the five components of an autopilot--compass, RFU (Rudder Feedback Unit), drive, processor and controller.

Troubleshooting an autopilot starts with the basics of troubleshooting. A close visual inspection is first. Did it ever work is next. Breaking a complex system down to its simplest form follows-what does work? Making accurate and repeatable observations is essential. As I’ve said before, the technician must channel both Sherlock Holmes and Albert Einstein together. This means you must investigate the service history and understand the function. You can’t troubleshoot something if you can’t tell if it is working! Here’s a look at some marine autopilot failures.

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Volvo Penta Launches Industry’s First Fully Integrated Assisted Docking System at CES

Gothenburg, Sweden, 11 January 2021 -- Volvo Penta today announced the commercial availability of the industry’s first fully integrated Assisted Docking system against the backdrop of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The Assisted Docking system gives the captain better control when docking a boat by automating his or her intentions, compensating for some dynamic variables, such as wind and current, and helping the vessel stay on its intended course. The technology will be on display at Volvo Penta’s virtual booth at CES from 11-14 January 2021.


SEVERNA PARK, MD—Manufacturers scored big at the 2020 National Marine Electronics Association (NMEA) Business Meeting held on September 26, following the NMEA Virtual Education Week held last week. A total of 19 products received the top award, and the NMEA Manufacturer of the Year was named. "On behalf of the NMEA Board of Directors, staff, and membership, we congratulate all 2020 award winners,” said Mark Reedenauer, NMEA President & Executive Director.

"The member voting count exceeded our expectations. This certainly sends the message to the market that manufacturers have focused on producing top quality products for the boating public, even during a pandemic. NMEA members, installers, and manufacturers have surely kept their eye on the ball.”

Boaters benefit from peace of mind on land and sea with Garmin OnDeck Remote Connectivity Solution

OLATHE, Kan./Sept. 15, 2020/Business Wire – Garmin® International Inc., a unit of Garmin Ltd. (NASDAQ:GRMN), the world’s leading marine electronics manufacturer1, today announced its new OnDeck™ System, a remote monitoring and management solution that gives boaters 24/7 access to critical and timely information about their vessel2. When paired with the ActiveCaptain® app, OnDeck keeps users connected to their vessel by monitoring the boat’s battery status, bilge activity, door/hatch sensors, GPS location and more. For extra peace of mind, configurable notifications can even let the user know of changes that may threaten the boat, including if it has moved into or outside of a custom geofenced area. In addition to the GTB 10 OnDeck Hub, the system includes a door sensor, temperature sensor, shore power sensor and relay switch.