wind vane sailboat autopilot

Steering the dream

Hydrovane is your best crew member: an independent self-steering windvane and emergency rudder/steering system... ready to go!

wind vane sailboat autopilot

Hydrovane will fit any cruising boat!

wind vane sailboat autopilot

Off-center installations are the norm!

wind vane sailboat autopilot

Doubles as Emergency Rudder/Steering!

True Stories

wind vane sailboat autopilot

Golden Globe Update Day 113:

[GGR Leader Jean-Luc Van Den Heede sailing the Rustler 36 Matmut] was full of praise for his Hydrovane self-steering. “In a gale it has a big advantage because it is not steering the boat’s rudder, but has its own. This little rudder is far more efficient than the big rudder.”

– Jean Luc Van Den Heede on satellite phone call

“I am happy I did install the Hydrovane, especially that I saw on YouTube that at the same time 2 sailboats almost the same size as mine with the same problem. The crew had to abandon the the ships and left both boats in the middle of the Atlantic and lost everything … again thanks to the Hydrovane. It saved my boat.”

– Jacques Glaser, Amel Mango 52

“My wife and I have just completed a two month cruise with our new Hydrovane and it has performed beyond all expectations… If cruising I wouldn’t go to sea without one: strong, simple, reliable, an emergency helm and an extra crew member who never complains and doesn’t need a watch system.”

– Pete Goss, MBE, Frances 34

“So, I must tell you, and I mean this sincerely, the Hydrovane is simply a game changer for Quetzal. It’s just great and performs better than I expected… One other feature of the vane that I really appreciate is that it eases the load on the rudder and rudder bearings.”

– John Krestchmaer, Kaufman 47

“With just two of us on board, I wanted a system that was simple and effective to operate, and it has exceeded my most optimistic expectations by a considerable margin. It truly is our third crew member.”

– John Mennem, Jeanneau 45.2

“…it is still the most technically elegant solution i have ever seen for a wind vane… I was clawing off a lee shore on one side, and islands on another – winds were reported at 55 knots, and waves in the region were at least ‘boat length’ high and quite steep with the currents. This was an awful night and I was very afraid for myself, the boat and my equipment – I had new found respect, trust and comfort in the Hydrovane after that.”

– Steve De Maio, Contessa 26

In this recent Pacific crossing, the Hydrovane kept us on course (relative to the wind, of course) for several days at a time, requiring no tweaking or attention at all. If you can balance your boat and twist a dial, you can successfully operate a Hydrovane. Don’t leave home without one!

– Bill Ennis, Passport 40

“For the first time, we had to run downwind, under bare poles in gale force 8 conditions, with gusts to 50 knots – and don’t get me started on the sea conditions! Have you ever swallowed your tongue? Oh, and iVane, our wind-steering partner. What a gem! It steered 230 hard miles without even nut rations.”

– Brian Anderson, Hallberg Rassy 40

“The additional cash to purchase a windvane was almost too much… Just how good is this ‘Hydrovane’ anyway?”

After 29,000+ miles: “We’ve said to each many times that without doubt the most valuable piece of equipment on board was Casper – best purchase EVER. I will never own an offshore boat again that does not have this device.”

– Ryan Robertson, T 40

Swim Step / Sugar Scoop

External rudder, watt&sea bracket, other products.

Watt&Sea Hydrogenerator

wind vane sailboat autopilot

Echo Tec Watermaker

wind vane sailboat autopilot


Happy Halloween! This costume may have been for a different occasion but relevant nonetheless! 👻 “After seeing what Taurus [the Hydrovane] does for us [my friend] fell in love with him too. So much so that when the crew dressed up for the equator crossing, she dressed up as a Hydrovane!” - Norlin 37 owner 🙌🙌 ... See More See Less

wind vane sailboat autopilot

  • Comments: 1

1 Comment Comment on Facebook

How times change just thought I’d send you this video that somebody sent me that bought a Hydrovane ❤️x

Well that was a fun night. 🎉 Thanks @cruisersawards Young Cruisers' Association for bringing together so many inspirational sailors and story tellers! Get out there and chase the wind ⛵️ #cruiserawards #youngcruisers #internationalcruiserawards #seapeople #annapolis #usboatshow #hydrovane ... See More See Less

  • Comments: 0

0 Comments Comment on Facebook

#repost from @kirstenggr ⛵️ “Thinking back on the sailing, and missing it! Thanks to @ hydrovane for having serviced Minnehaha's hydrovane , which did about 45 000 nm before having any major overhaul - possibly more than any hydrovane has ever done before without a significant service. It saw Kirsten and Minnehaha all the way through the GGR and over the finish line! The unit is as good as new again, and it was smooth sailing all the way down to Madeira! Also, a big thanks to Eddie Arsenault, for having built such a solid mounting bracket for the hydrovane ! Without Eddie, Minnehaha would just not be the strong boat that she is today!” ... See More See Less

  • Comments: 2

2 Comments Comment on Facebook

Wow, absolutely so proud my fathers invention and so glad everybody is so still going strong with this after so many years!! It is so lovely to see !❤️

Any photos of the mount Eddie made?

Thank you Kirsten Neuschäfer ! You are an inspiration. The Hydrovane loves sailing as much as you do 😀 Kudos to Eddie for the rock solid install! Thinking back on the sailing, and missing it! Thanks to Hydrovane International Marine for having serviced Minnehaha's hydrovane, which did about 45 000 nm before having any major overhaul - possibly more than any hydrovane has ever done before without a significant service. It saw Kirsten and Minnehaha all the way through the GGR and over the finish line! The unit is as good as new again, and it was smooth sailing all the way down to Madeira! Also, a big thanks to Eddie Arsenault, for having built such a solid mounting bracket for the hydrovane! Without Eddie, Minnehaha would just not be the strong boat that she is today! ... See More See Less

Thank you Kirsten Neuschäfer! You are an inspiration. The Hydrovane loves sailing as much as you do 😀 Kudos to Eddie for the rock solid install!

Hydrovane is my most trusted crewman.

Lee Colledge Shaun Colledge see what you have built 💪 👌

Once upon a time under spinnaker between Niue and Tonga 😍 ... See More See Less

Once upon a time under spinnaker between Niue and Tonga 😍

This week we sailed from Lemvig Denmark to Vlieland Netherlands. 270nm and a tough journey for us and without the Hydrovane it really wouldn't have been possible for us. It gives us peace of mind while sailing and can no longer do without it. Boat is a Barbican 33.




Windvane pilots vs electric autopilots: all you need to know

wind vane sailboat autopilot

Related Articles

wind vane sailboat autopilot

wind vane sailboat autopilot

Autopilot vs Windvane Self-Steering (Which Is Better)

wind vane sailboat autopilot

Sailing by yourself can be a strenuous task. There are plenty of things that can go wrong and you will need to fix some of those immediately. Who is going to steer the boat when you need to fix something? Thankfully, we have multiple options these days when it comes to the boat steering itself.

This article will discuss Windvane self-steering and autopilot options for your sailboat. We will discuss how they work, the average cost, how to operate them, and which one we would recommend, so keep reading to find out more!

What Is A Self-Steering Windvane? (How it Works)

A Self-Steering Windvane is used on sailboats to maintain a chosen course of sail without constant human action on the wheel or tiller. The wind vane is locked in position after the boat has been put on course and the sails are trimmed correctly.

The self-steering windvane is a great invention that has helped sailors all over the world. It has allowed sailors to allow the boat to steer itself without any electronics needed. This is strictly a mechanical self-steering setup. There are two types of windvanes to be discussed, Servo-Pendulum and Auxillary Rudder.


The servo-pendulum setup involves using the boat’s current rudder. An enhancement if you will, of the servo-trim tab principle invented by Blondie Hasler, the servo-pendulum uses the speed of the boat going through the water to push against the servo-paddle, creating a substantial force, which is then transferred to the boat’s wheel by the control lines.

The servo paddle is not steering the boat exactly, it is controlling the boat’s wheel or tiller which then turns the main rudder. The main rudder was designed to steer the boat in all conditions and should be utilized whenever possible.

When it comes to selecting the best windvane there are a lot of options out there. One of the more popular options is the CapeHorn.

A great reason to select CapeHorn is because of its custom fittings. They can fit any sailboat out there and will custom design it to fit yours perfectly. Check out this video of a CapeHorn install by Sailing Uma! Subscribe to their channel as well, they make amazing videos.

This video showed a great install of the CapeHorn. They are quite handy and even accomplished this while floating out in the bay. They seem to make everything look easy. This is not the only option for windvanes though. Keep reading to find out about the Auxillary Rudder setup.

Auxillary Rudder

The auxiliary rudder is another very popular type of windvane system for sailboats. It does differ slightly from the servo-pendulum option in a few ways. The main difference between these two is that the auxiliary rudder setup actually steers the boat from the windvane, not like the servo that just turns the wheel. This option also has a secondary rudder or auxiliary rudder at the back of the boat attached to the windvane itself.

This is nice to have in case something were to happen to your main rudder rendering it inoperable. You could always use this as your backup. It even has an attachment so you can steer it by hand. One other great thing about this model is the off-center mounting option. Most people will have a swim ladder in the center of the transom, if that were the case, NO WORRIES, this can be mounted to the side of your transom. I think that is one of the coolest features of this setup. Check out the video below to see this Hydrovane in action.

As you can see from the video above this is a great windvane setup. It will depend on your actual situation and the boat you have to decide between a CapeHorn or a Hydrovane. Just remember to do your research. There are a lot more options out there. I just find these two to be the best.

Now that we have talked about a couple of different types of windvanes, the non-electric autopilots, let’s discuss an actual electric autopilot and see if they compare.

How Does Autopilot Work On A Sailboat?

Autopilots work with 4 components, a compass/sensor, an ACU (autopilot control unit), a control head, and a drive unit. When the control head is set to a specific heading, the drive unit will move the rudder according to the sensor, and keep the boat on the selected course.

There is a lot more detail and components to autopilot but the above description gets the point across. . There are other options that can steer the wheel or even a tiller, but the most common option is the one connected to the rudder.

Make sure to get the correct size autopilot for your specific sailboat

Yes, autopilots come in different sizes. Boats vary in size and so do autopilots. When you are out sailing and the sea starts to get rough, your autopilot motor will have to work harder to maintain the course, putting more strain on the motor. If the strain becomes too much it could fail and lose its course. You would then have to climb out of the cabin in the bad weather and take the helm. It is recommended to purchase an autopilot that is rated for 20% more than your boat’s total displacement. Remember 20% more, minimum.

This is why you need to check the manufactures rating and make sure it is sized for your vessel. I personally recommend getting one that’s a little bigger than needed to help compensate for those rough seas. If you are going to be lake sailing only, I wouldn’t worry so much about size, but for open oceans, then definitely make sure it will handle crazy waves and winds.

There are a couple of different types of autopilots, above deck and below deck. It’s pretty obvious what they mean but let me elaborate just a touch. Below deck autopilots will have the drive motor that moves the rudder accordingly. They are mounted in the hull of the boat near the steering mechanism. With this setup, you will need an autopilot controller mounted somewhere in the cockpit for setting your autopilot on the correct heading.

If you go with an above-deck type of autopilot it will be much easier to access and probably have the controller built into it. One example of this is the tiller autopilot. The tiller is mounted near the tiller and then attached to the tiller with the autopilot rod. The autopilot has the controller built in to set the course. There are also wheel autopilots that can be mounted above the deck as well.

Autopilots are great when they work. I have read a ton of articles and seen plenty of youtube videos about autopilots and it seems like they work half the time. You have to understand these are electrical devices with a motor and many different items can break. Most of the YouTubers that I follow have both a windvane and an autopilot for this very reason. I do know some people that haven’t had any problems with their autopilot so take everything I say with a grain of salt. I just prefer windvanes since they require no electricity, and are usually very easy to repair.

If you would like to watch a video about a marine autopilot and how it works check out the video below.

The video above gives a great description of how autopilot works and how to compare it to a human at the helm, which I thought was a great comparison.

If you have read this far you may be thinking which one should I get, a windvane or an autopilot. Keep reading to find out.

Is A Windvane Better Than An Autopilot? I Say Yes!

The windvane will keep your boat on the correct heading without electricity. There are no electric motors or wiring needed to operate a windvane. If the windvane were to fail, it would be much easier to diagnose the problem and fix it quickly at sea.

When it comes to deciding which option is better, I personally think windvanes are better. I like that they don’t require any electricity. This makes it great for those cloudy days at sea when you can’t charge your batteries.

They do great in rough seas and high winds. The autopilot will use more electricity when the seas are rough draining your batteries even more. If the winds get too much for the CapeHorn, they actually provide you with a stainless steel windvane to swap out. This windvane can handle those high winds with no problem.

Another thing to look at is the price!

You can expect to spend around $5000+ dollars for a winvane by CapeHorn or Hydrovane. This is definitely a lot of money to spend, but from what I have found, they can last a lifetime.

Autopilots tend to be a little cheaper. I found the Raymarine Evolution EV-200 Sailing Vessel Linear Autopilot Pack for $3699 dollars. This model is designed for a mid-size sailboat. The autopilot is definitely cheaper but if it breaks, how much will it cost to fix it?

I am not going to give you a huge list of the different types and prices because there are just too many factors that affect these two things. Just remember to do your research and shop around for the best price.

In Conclusion

This article discussed windvanes and autopilots and how they compare. Windvanes come in a couple of different options, servo-pendulum, and auxiliary rudder. The servo controls the wheel of the boat and the auxiliary controls the boat by becoming a second rudder. Both are good options, it will just depend on what you are looking for. The autopilots are usually a little cheaper but can break down more often. The price will depend on so many factors it is hard to say exactly. I recommend the windvane approach but that is my personal opinion. Do what is best for your situation always! Cheers!

Boatlifehq owner and author/editor of this article.

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Windvane pilots vs electric autopilots: all you need to know

  • Marco Nannini

wind vane sailboat autopilot

A boat’s autopilot is its most expensive electronic component. So it is important to know it well and know how to use it to get the best out of it. However, autopilots have not always been electric, their evolution has required years of refinement. At the dawn of ocean sailing there was nothing but windvane pilots. Being mechanical and not dependent on electricity, they have been the heart of offshore sailing for decades.

However, the windvane pilot has limitations that do not make it ideal in all circumstances. The world of races has therefore given impetus to the development of electric autopilots. At first they were very simple, but a modern autopilots are really very sophisticated. On modern racing boats, windvane pilots are no longer seen, however they still have a large market in the cruisers’ world. In this article we try to understand its pros and cons and evolutions over the decades.

Windvane - Pen Duick II

Mechanical windvane pilot and electric autopilot

Before electronics invaded our boats, there were only mechanical autopilots. A mechanical autopilot is called a windvane pilot. In English they are called windvanes or windpilots. Their story is very fascinating, before a commercial version was produced they were all self-built. At the first edition of the OSTAR in 1960 all competitors had one of their own engineering.

OSTAR - The founders

The windvane pilot

When Francis Chichester completed his first sailing circumnavigation in 1967 he became a hero. Sailing with a sextant and a windvane on the stern of Gipsy Moth IV he became a legend. The following year the Golden Globe started, the first non-stop round-the-world race. Robin Knox-Johnston became the first man to complete a non-stop sailing circumnavigation. Bernard Moitessier was also at the start and his photos with the sextant in hand made history. His boat was also equipped with a self-built system.

Windvane - Francis Chichester - Gipsy Moth IV

The principle of operation of the windvane pilot

The operation of a windvane pilot is more complex than you think. These systems too have evolved over time trying various solutions. There are effectively two methods, one that uses a servo-pendulum blade (e.g. Monitor) and one that drives a secondary boat rudder (e.g. Hydrovane). The sail, or blade, of the windvane rudder certainly cannot have the strength to steer a large boat of many tons and in such cases those pilots that use a secondary rudder need a twin pilot installation. On a servo-pendulum system the small oscillations of the blade are trasformed into a force sufficient to steer the boat but work best with tillers rather than wheels and their installation is not always possible.

Aries windvane pilot - Transmission of rotation

To do this, the airblade is connected to a blade immersed in the water that looks like a rudder. However, it must be immediately clarified that this blade does not act as a rudder on servo-pendulum windpilots, it is so only on winvanes like the Hydrovane. On servo-pendulum systems, the blade is mounted on a vertical tube with a fulcrum point and can swing from left to right. On a Hydrovane or auxiliary rudder system the rudder steers the boat and does not oscillate. On servo-pendulum systems what makes the blade swing is the airblade, causing it to rotate slightly, but this does not alter the course of the boat, as the pendulum is connected then to the boats rudder. On auxiliary rudder the same rotation turns the auxiliary rudder to steer the boat directly being independent of the boat’s rudder. The airblade is adjusted to a certain angle to the wind and remains vertical in the absence of other forces. When the wind instead of flowing along the axis of the blade hits it sideways, it knocks it down on one side. The airblade in the air has a counterweight, so even a little air is enough for this to happen.

Wind pilot - Construction scheme

The blade oscillating causes a rotation of the axis of the immersed blade. This is either to generate a force that will be used to move the boat’s rudder on servo-pendulum systems or to steer the boat directly on auxiliary rudder systems. On servo-pendulum systems the rotation causes the blad to swing left or right by the flow of water that hits it. On auxiliary rudder systems the blade acts as rudder and steers directly the boat. Water being much denser than air has a much higher strength, this one principle that has led to the development of servo-pendulum systems, which transform a small force into a large force by the difference of density of air vs water. On auxiliary rudder systems a very well balanced rudder blade mades it possible to steer even a large servo-rudder with little force, it is all down to the use of a properly balanced neutral rudder blade. On a servo-pendulum system the two lines tied to the tube which hold the servo blade are then led back to the tiller. On auxiliary rudders systems such as Hydrovane there are no further lines or complications. On a servo-pendulum system, the two control lines are usually tied to a chain which has coupling point on the tiller bar. The chain allows for fine adjustment if you want to keep the bar slightly off-center. On an auxiliary rudder system the main rudder is not used to steer the boat, rather it is locked in place and can be used as a trim-tab to make the boat as neutral as possible to the windvane auxiliary rudder so that it will need little forces to steer the boat.

The pros of the windvane pilots

The flow of water that hits the blade immersed in water is capable of generating an enormous force – this is very important on servo-pendulum systems that have to steer with the original boat rudder. Less important for the auxiliary rudder systems as the boat’s rudder is not used to steer the boat. With servo-pendulum systems the force of the water is transmitted to the lines led back to the cockpit thus capable of moving the tiller. The second strong point lies in the fact that these systems have no electrical component. As long as it does not break down, we have to worry only about accidents such hitting semi-submerged objects or breaking the airblade.

Windvane - sacrificial tube

The blade in the water is usually connected to the main pipe with an intentionally weaker section of pipe. In the event of a collision with an object the blade will bend the sacrificial tube section. The blade itself, tied to the boat, will not be lost, and it will be possible to replace the sacrificial tube. As for the airblade, this too can be damaged in very strong winds. Being very light just bring spares and the problem is solved.

Apparent wind and beating with a windvane

The enormous strength of the windvane pilot is to be able to steer even boats of important tonnage. The forces involved are not indifferent and it is necessary to buy a system of the appropriate size for your boat. However, it is truly impressive to observe the ability of one of these winvanes to steer a boat even in a storm.

Windvane - Apparent wind

By definition, the blade in the air responds only to the air hitting it. The windpilot can therefore lead a boat only relative to apparent wind. For traditional displacement sailboats this does not present major problems at any speed. However, it is important that the boat is well balanced and you can say that your windvane will teach you how to balance and handle your boat better. The strong point of the windpilot however remains when beating or broad beating, where it really gives its best. With a strong apparent that controls the blade precisely, the boat responds and sails very well.

Weaknesses of windpilots

The large forces involved can cause the windvane to break. Damage to the blades in the air or water are easily remedied. Any damage to the mechanical parts are difficult to solve. The structure itself is susceptible to damage in particularly harsh conditions. Some models have an aluminum body and if this breaks it will not even be possible to weld it later. For those in steel, even though you might not be able to fix them at sea, it is always possible to repair them later.

Servo-pendulum winvane - control lines led to the cockpit

The other problem is the possible absence or lightness of the wind. In a flat calm the windvane cannot work, by definition and it can struggle in light variable airs. In light airs we are forced to steer by hand, until there is enough air to re-engage the windpilot.

Windvane tricks - Attach a small electric autopilot to create a system that can steer the boat in compass mode

Sailing downwind with the windvane pilots

The ability to steer with precision of windvane systems is somewhat diminished when sailing from broad reach to downwind, when the apparent wind is less. Also because the boat is subject to accelerations, especially due to the rising and falling from the waves. As this happens the apparent wind changes. When we accelerate the apparent goes forward, when we slow down it goes aft. In other words, apparent wind swings fore and aft when sailing downwind with respect to its average angle.

Windvane pilots - Sailing downwind

This oscillation causes the boat to follow an “S” shaped course that is all the more marked the more important the accelerations. For this reason the windvane pilots are still a valid solution on displacement boats but cannot be used on modern racing and planing boats. These have accelerations that are too sudden, making it difficult for the windpilot to work accurately. The lightness of the boat also implies a lack of inertia, and speed inevitably undergoes continuous and important variations.

OSTAR - Pen Duick VI

When we add these variations in the speed of the boat to those of the wind, everything becomes more complicated. With the apparent swinging continuously relative to the boat, the windvane pilot is unable to steer accurately. Especially on a planing racing boat sailing downwind. The only way to manage with a windpilot on a planing hull is by greatly reducing mainsail and keeping canvas forward and accepting the slightly drunken couse sailed by the windvane. On the other hand, on a non planingn hull, a sailing only with a poled out jib can also be steered by windpilot in large seas.

Leading manufacturers of windvane pilots or windpilots

  • Aries (one of the most popular, but aluminum body and steel parts sometimes give problems)
  • Hydrovane (in production since 1968 – Global Solo Challenge Event Partner)
  • Windpilot (the rudder is called Pacific , and in its Pacific Light version it is also suitable for small boats)

Hydrovane Windvane in action downdwind

Electric autopilots

Electric autopilots have undergone a slow evolution over time. Modern ones are very complex electronic objects that have nothing to do with the past. The first electric autopilots introduced possibility to steer to a compass heading. The first autopilots, far from being control units, were a bit like stupid mules. They just corrected heading left or right when the compass heading deviated from the set heading.

At the beginning, however, even in their simplicity they provided a secondary system to steer the boat. Above all, they solved the age-old problem of steering in a flat calms. Electric autopilots has no problem keeping the boat on a certain heading. This may leave us to trim the sails in irregular shifty winds.

The anemometer

On board boats the first anemometers (wind sensors) appeared, which detect intensity and direction of the apparent wind. It was only a matter of time before wind sensor (the anemometer) were interfaced with the automatic pilots. This way the autopilot could steer based on the compass heading or based on the apparent wind too. This was a small revolution because on paper now a sailboat electric autopilot did everything the windvane pilot did. Plus he knew how to steer the boat on a straight line in light airs.

The South Atlantic without wind sensor

During my participation in the 2011/2012 Global Ocean Race in the middle of the first leg we found ourselves without a working wind sensor. We had two masthead wind sensors but the first was damaged by a squall in the middle of the doldrums . When we were still 3,000 miles from Cape Town, the second wind sensor tore itself off the masthead. An inspection revealed that the steel support had failed. Over time we discovered that it was a very common problem but the supplier refused to accept any responsibility. A perfect example of bad after sales .

Autopilots - Wind sensor lost in the South Atlantic

The wind sensor lay thousands of meters underwater on the bottom of the South Atlantic. The distributor asked me to ship the defective part in order to fill out the return form. The person knew where I was and that I had nothing to return – but the world is full of clever people. Not sure that’s how you ensure you have a good reputation as a supplier.

This left us with a huge problem, 3000 miles and only the compass mode of the electric autopilot. During the day my co-skipper steered with an incredible dedication. From dawn to dusk without complaining he managed to remain concentrated and absorbed in his eternal steering. For him it was second nature, a job he tackled with the systematicity of a truck driver who grinds miles after miles anytime and anywhere.

Global Ocean Race - Paul Peggs at the helm in the roaring 40s

The problem of the night

Unfortunately, Paul was unable to steer with the same efficiency at night. The lack of light at night did not make him see the Atlantic waves well. I tried it too but with rough seas and pushing hard under spinnaker we ended up wiping out lots of times. Moreover, the night was long and cold in the roaring forties and I was forced to devise a way out of that sticky situation. Sitting at the chart table with the remote control in my hand, I could feel the movement of the boat with my body.

Electric Autopilots - The remote control of an NKE

Every time the boat “raised its stern” I went 10 deegrees lower When she sat flat I went 10 degrees higher, I stayed like that all night, remote control in hand. The situation was so absurd that we coined the term “ Tamagotchi Sailing “. With that remote in my hand, oval shaped like a Tamagotchi , I seemed obsessed with that old Japanese game. Actually what I did was use the compass mode but adapt to the slight fluctuations of the real wind.

Electric Autopilots: the introduction of true wind mode

With the evolution of automatic pilots, in addition to the wind sensors, boat speed sensor was also interfaced. The displays in the cockpits have been showing real wind information for some time. With ever lighter and more planing racing boats, the ability to steer in real wind mode became a requirement. A displacement boat has its own inertia and maximum hull speed. For this reason, its accelerations are neither very sudden nor far from the average speed.

On a racing boat, surfing speed can be double the average speed, and decelerations are also sudden. A racing boat is much more nervous in this regard, due to its light weight. Automatic pilots that introduced the possibility of steering to the true wind angle solved many problems. Racing boats could for the first time sail safely and at high speed even downwind. This is because doing a vector calculation the autopilot brain knew both apparent and true wind angles.

Electric Autopilots - Planing hulls

The systems evolved continuously and the automatic pilots became real electronic control units. With ever more sophisticated intelligence, accelerometers were added to provide additional information to the autopilot. A modern autopilot, if well set up, manages to steer perfectly in all conditions. Anyone who thinks it’s not the case often just doesn’t know how to balance the boat well. That is, even for electric autopilots the boat must be well balanced.

Electric Autopilots: the main manufacturers

  • NKE Marine Electronics (French, the first to spread in the world of racing)
  • B&ampG (American, is progressively taking market share from NKE which no longer predominates as it once did)
  • Raymarine (Designed for the cruising market, it has reached a decent level for use among non-professional racers)
  • Garmin (Their autopilot is relatively unknown in the racing world)
  • Navman (This autopilot is also not very popular among racers)

Autopilots - Raymarine Evolution

Installation of an electric autopilot

The installation of an autopilot, given the interconnection with the sensors, also affects the instruments. For this reason, once the decision has been made on the brand, it will not be possible to easily change your mind without reinstalling everything. They are not compatible with each other (save in rare cases), we cannot take data from a system and pass it on to another autopilot.

Autopilots - NKE computer with sensors (excluding wind)

The only exception is that of the drive, i.e. the arm that controls the rudder. This is no longer in the cockpit but safe below deck and usually connected directly to the rudder shaft. The actuator proposed by NKE for example is made by other despite carrying their brand. The manufacturer Lecomble & Schmidt  which produces excellent and reliable hydraulic actuators. However, the hydraulic actuators have quite high electrical consumption. It is possible, and indeed preferable, to install a Linear Drive Type 1 or 2 (depending on the boat) from Raymarine .

Autopilots - Hydraulic actuator from Lecomble & Schmidt

These electric actuators are truly indestructible and can cover tens of thousands of miles without maintenance. Small boat actuators operate on 12v reversible current. Therefore you can always install an actuator of one brand with another autopilot. The combination of NKE brain and Raymarine actuator is the one I went around the world with. I had the same configuration on board my Mini 650 Basecamp 438 winner of the Mini Transat in 2005.

Electric Autopilots - Raymarine electric actuator

Parameter settings of an NKE autopilot

In a future article we will talk about autopilot settings. Here a brief overview of NKE. In fact, I learnt over time how to make the most of the settings, you need to learn your settings for your boat. Here is a reference table that I used in the Offshore Sailing Training Centre I used to run. For many people the table below will be gibberish others will read on with ineterest.

Mini 650 Pogo3 - Ambrogio Beccaria

Parameter settings on other boats

On the Mini 650 Prototypes the speed coefficients must be slightly higher. For example, you can start with a boat speed factor multiplied by 1.2. So at six knots with flat sea we will have it at 7/8. This is to take into account the greater reactivity of the lighter proto.

On a Class40 we multiplied boat spead by 1.5. At 10 knots the speed coefficient in relatively calm seas was at 15. The experience and knowledge of your boat will lead you to adapt the table to your needs.

Vendee Globe - GiancarloPedote - Prysmian Group

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7 Best Sailboat Autopilot Systems

7 Best Sailboat Autopilots | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

June 15, 2022

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.

Table of contents

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.

  • ‍ 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
  • ‍ 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. 

  • ‍ 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
  • ‍ 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.

  • ‍ 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
  • ‍ 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.

  • ‍ 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 
  • ‍ 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. 

  • ‍ 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
  • ‍ 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.

  • ‍ 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
  • ‍ 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. 

  • ‍ 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.
  • ‍ 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!

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I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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wind vane sailboat autopilot

Installing and using wind vane steering

Simple in theory, this classic steering system makes a perfect companion to an autopilot Few things are more enjoyable than steering a boat on a beautiful day. Until you've been doing it for hours upon hours and you've got many miles left to go. That's when a self-steering system makes that passage even better. And whether you want to admit it or not, a self-steering system will likely steer straighter than a human for long periods, shaving miles and time off your passages. The modern answer to self-steering is the autopilot. Autopilots are great but they are not without their weaknesses. Autopilots, along with refrigeration, are the largest consumer of electricity aboard, and traditionally autopilots have not been 100% reliable. Self-reliant practices state that a cruiser should carry a second autopilot in case of a problem, and some people even go to the work of installing a second redundant system so they can hot-swap to a working system should one fail. A traditional self-steering method is the transom-mounted wind vane. These systems consist of a wind sensitive vane and a steering device. As the vane senses changes in the wind it activates the steering system to return the boat to the selected point of sail. The steering system is very typically the rudder of the boat itself. If you have seen wind vanes in boat shows or in your marina, you have probably seen what looks like a little rudder. This rudder is not used to steer the boat but to generate power via water resistance to turn the wheel of the boat. The wind vane senses the wind and the movement of the vane turns the little rudder in the water, little rudder wants to straighten back out due to the water pressure on it and this straightening force, via some rope and pulleys, is transmitted to the wheel or rudder on the boat, and the boat is steered back on course. The system works well if properly engineered and installed, all without power, electronics or noise. Unlike autopilots, which do best in light-to-moderate conditions, wind vanes steer very well in heavy conditions and do not work well at all in very light winds, making the systems great complements of each other. Autopilots and wind vanes steer differently. A wind vane will steer to a constant point of sail, a relative angle to the wind. The autopilot, by default, steers to a compass course or to a GPS waypoint. In a passagemaking situation steering to a course or waypoint is important, but in heavy conditions steering to the wind has its benefits. A a hybrid solution of a quality autopilot and wind vane system may be the best option for serious passagemaking. The autopilot will work great when motoring or for short passages and the wind vane will be the workhorse on longer passages. Installing a wind vane does take a bit of planning. They work best when centered on the transom and set at the manufacturer's recommended height. The second consideration is running the steering lines to the wheel. There are two roughly quarter-inch lines that need to run cleanly from the vane to the steering wheel of the boat. You want these runs to be as short and smooth as possible. You can add blocks to deflect and turn the lines, but every turn adds friction. Remember that these lines are only deployed when the vane is in use. The actual installation should be fairly straightforward as most vanes on the market are adaptable to a variety of hull configurations, and some will even come customized to bolt right on. Standard mounting protocols apply. Through-bolt everything with proper bedding, and use backing plates or at least large fender washers on the inside. Using a wind vane is a little more complicated than just pushing "Auto" on your autopilot, but not much more. The first step is to deploy the gear. The wind paddle is typically removed for storage and the rudder folded up, but both can be deployed in just a few minutes. Next, the control lines are connected to the wheel; this is typically done with knots or a bit of hardware. With the vane deployed, set the boat on course and balance it for the desired point of sail, then adjust the vane to match and engage the wheel. At this point you'll need to evaluate how the vane is sailing, making further adjustments by sail trim. Course adjustments are made by turning the wind paddle to match the new course, and trimming to it. If you need to disengage the system to hand steer for short periods of time, simply disengage the steering wheel attachment, but leave all the other gear in place. The key to success in using any self-steering system is to balance the boat. A boat that is poorly trimmed will not sail well with a human, mechanical or electronic helmsman. Wind vanes steer better on some points of sail, a steady beat offers the best performance, the wind provides lots of steering input signal to the vane. With a self-steering system you'll sail faster, straighter, and can spend more time concentrating on the more enjoyable aspects of sailing. A hybrid system of a wind vane backed up by an autopilot will provide a robust self-steering system for most all conditions.

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Why You Need a Wind Vane for Your Sailboat

September 24, 2021 by Travis Turgeon 1 Comment

view of the sunset from a sailboat using a wind vane system to steer

Many of today’s offshore cruising sailboats utilize a type of autopilot equipment called a windvane. A sailboat wind vane is a mechanical self-steering system that requires no electricity, fuel, or manpower to operate. It’s the perfect addition to bluewater cruisers and offshore sailboats. While a mechanical self-steering wind vane can’t hold you on a compass course, they’re more accurate than human steering over long distances. By reducing the overall mileage of a passage, you’re able to save time and money on your journey. Alternatively, a windvane is essential for short-handed or single-handed sailing. It gives the skipper a much-needed break from the helm when conditions allow.

How Does a Wind Vane Work on a Sailboat?

diagram showing how a mechanical self steering system works

Mechanical wind vane systems are relatively simple in concept. Once mounted at the boat’s transom or somewhere along the stern, wind prompts the elevated vane to adjust the rudder or wheel steering system, putting your sailboat back on a wind-based course dictated by the captain. The idea is that you won’t have to make constant adjustments in variable winds. Automatic adjustments reduce boat heeling and allow your vessel to remain trim in the water. 

In other words, wind vanes use wind and water resistance to return a ship to course when wind chages direction.

Sailboat Windvane Gears Vs. Electronic Autopilot Systems

a boats sail blows in the wind on a sunny day

Two primary self-steering systems are standard for bluewater cruisers and offshore sailboats: wind vane steering gears and electronic autopilot systems. Both systems have advantages, and many sailors choose to install both systems on their boats. 

Electronic Autopilot Systems 

Electronic autopilot systems are the modern answer to self-steering. They’re easy to use, work without wind, and are an excellent option for near-shore cruising and short-term offshore sailing. Autopilots are also compatible with multi-hull vessels, unlike windvane systems. 

The downfalls to these systems can be daunting, though. Electronic systems are complex and have numerous parts: displays, wiring, plotters, motors – the list goes on. To run an electric autopilot system, you’ll also need a generator. Most even have two generators, using one as a backup for reliability. As you’d expect, they also come with a higher price tag. 

Self-Steering Wind Vane Systems

Windvane steering systems take a more traditional approach to self-steering. They rely on the wind to operate your boat on the desired course. Wind vane steering systems require no electricity, little maintenance, have few moving parts. They also come in several variations to fit your boat in the best way possible. Another massive benefit of a mechanical sailboat windvane is its robust build. This allows reliable and powerful performance in heavy weather conditions. 

There are also several downfalls to a windvane system. They do not work in the absence of wind or under power, can add weight and stress to the boat stern, can be initially expensive to purchase, and won’t work on multi-hull vessels. 

Types of Sailboat Wind Vane Systems

difference between three sailboat wind vane systems

All wind vane systems direct a boat to a wind-based course, but they each do it differently. 

Servo-Pendulum Wind Vane 

Servo-pendulum windvane systems are the most common commercially available system, and they are a favorite among most sailors. The reliability for offshore sailing is a huge selling point. It re-affirms why these are the “classic” wind-driven autopilot systems. 

Main steering servo-pendulum systems have control lines running from the primary steering quadrant to a wheel or tiller. As the wind pushes the pendulum, it directs the boat’s steering by way of the primary rudder. Because of this, the system is solely dependent on the power of the wind. The stronger the wind blows, the more force the system provides to push the boat back on the desired course. 

Rudder steering servo-pendulum systems have the pendulum rudder connected to the primary boat rudder. It works almost the same as the “main steering system,” with a few minor differences. The wind pushes the pendulum rudder to the side, forcing water to pull the boat’s main rudder to change steering. The advantage of this system over the prior is that it involves fewer mechanical components, making it easier to check issues and fix any problems. The disadvantage is that it can be a bit trickier to set.

One of the biggest downfalls of either servo-pendulum system is that the pendulum rudder can not replace an auxiliary rudder. Unlike an auxiliary rudder, its one-dimensional operation makes it unable to run the system if the primary rudder fails. These systems can also create a cluttered cockpit due to the lines running from the steering quadrant. Lastly, servo-pendulum systems generally require more consistent maintenance and more common repairs. 

Auxiliary-Rudder Wind Vane

Unlike servo-pendulum steering systems, auxiliary-rudder wind vanes are entirely independent of all other aspects of the boat. Instead, the main rudder is locked, and the auxiliary rudder steers the vessel after setting a powerful windvane to the desired angle. The main rudder is often locked to the left of center or slightly at an angle to balance the helm. One of the most significant advantages to these systems is that if the primary boat rudder fails, the auxiliary rudder can act as a replacement to steer the boat. 

There are some important considerations to make when purchasing auxiliary-rudder wind vane steering gear. First, auxiliary-rudder windvanes put a significant amount of stress on the vane, making it vital that the model and components are well designed and made of quality materials. If you can source well-made parts, there is minimal risk while out at sea. There are very few moving parts and no critical lines attached to the system. Second, these systems are big, heavy, and bulky. Having such a massive piece of equipment at the stern of the boat isn’t always ideal in every scenario. Lastly, auxiliary rudders can be awkward to operate when the mizzen is in use on ketch-rigged vessels.

Trim-Tab Wind Vane

Trim-tab windvanes are less common than they used to be after the emergence of the steering technologies listed above. The system works by attaching a “tab” to the main rudder. The small surface of the trim tab makes it easy for the wind to move it from side to side, which then forces water over the primary rudder in the opposite direction to keep the boat on course. Those with the appropriate skills and know-how can even construct a trim-tab themselves, although we recommend that they do not rely entirely on a self-made system. 

The major drawback to trim-tabs is that the ability to fine-tune the system is somewhat limited in heavy conditions. 

How to Install a Sailboat Wind Vane System

view of the ocean from the deck of a sailboat at dusk

Installing a wind vane on your boat is relatively easy, but it still takes a bit of planning. 

Initial Considerations

All windvane models require installation at the center of the boat’s transom or as close to the center as possible. Depending on which system you choose to run, you may need to account for the steering lines that operate the system. Steering lines are approximately a quarter of an inch in diameter and need a clear path from the wind vane to the boat wheel. You may redirect the lines with steering blocks, but be aware that each block adds friction and lessens the overall efficiency of the steering system. 

Balancing the Boat

Windvane gears adjust the course of a boat using the wind force at the surface. For this to happen efficiently, you’ll first need to ensure your boat is balanced and sailing as intended. Take your time to get the weight distributed evenly. You’ll also need to reef the sails appropriately so as not to be overpowered. 

Adjusting the System for the Conditions

Regardless of the system, nearly all sailboat wind vanes have one or more adjustment features so that you can optimize performance in various conditions. When wind conditions are relatively light, you should expose the vane as much as possible so that the system receives the most force as possible. In heavy winds, however, you can lower the windvane to reduce the impact on the system. In some cases, the wind vanes have sensitivity adjustments where the vane meets the pivot, so you may not need to adjust the height as weather conditions change. 

How to Engage a Sailboat Wind Vane System

three people sitting on a white sailboat as it is driven by a self steering wind vane system

Most wind vanes are relatively adaptable and can adjust to fit a variety of hull types. Some vanes are even customizable to bolt directly onto the boat. As with any other object you bolt to your hull, plan to through-bolt everything with the appropriate bedding and backplates for maximum security.

Operating a sailboat wind vane is far less complicated than you might expect. There are four standard steps to engaging a windvane:

  • Deploy the Gear : To do this, attach the wind paddle and unfold the rudder to be placed in the water. Doing this should only take a few minutes at most. 
  • Connect the Control Lines : Control lines run from the windvane to the boat wheel and may have steering blocks included in the setup. The system may require you to make a few knots or use some hardware, but again, it’s a relatively easy process once you’ve completed it once or twice. 
  • Balance the Boat and Set a Course : With the wind vane deployed, balance your boat, set the course to the desired point of sail, and adjust the windvane to engage the steering. 
  • Evaluate the Course and Adjust as Needed : Adjust the vane to steer more accurately after evaluating your approach. Course adjustments are made by rotating and trimming the paddle to match your course.

Perfectly balancing your boat is one of the easiest ways to make your self-steering wind vane more efficient in the water. A vessel with poor balance or trim will not just sail inefficiently, but it will put unneeded stress on the wind vane system.

Have more questions about sailboat windvane systems and how you can best implement them on your boat?  Reach out to the #Boatlife community on our forum  with questions or comments!

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June 12, 2022 at 5:44 pm

Thanks for the useful information. However, you didn’t mention anything about the usefulness of wind vanes in light or downwind sailing. You mentioned the issue of a mizzen and auxiliary rudder, how do I understand that (as we sail a ketch and thinking about installing a Hydrovane.

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wind vane sailboat autopilot

Wind Vane Self Steering: The Ultimate Guide

by Emma Sullivan | Jul 20, 2023 | Sailboat Gear and Equipment

wind vane sailboat autopilot

Short answer: wind vane self steering

Wind vane self steering is a mechanical device used on sailboats to maintain a desired course without the need for continuous manual adjustment. It utilizes the force of the wind and a vertical axis to steer the boat by adjusting the position of the rudder.

How Wind Vane Self Steering Works: A Comprehensive Guide

Title: How Wind Vane Self-Steering Works: A Comprehensive Guide to Sailboat Autonomy

Introduction: Sailing is the epitome of freedom, embracing the unpredictable elements as we navigate vast oceans. However, when embarking on long journeys or overnight trips, the need for reliable self-steering systems arises. Enter wind vane self-steering! In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into this ingenious system, explaining its principles and mechanics while highlighting its benefits for seafaring enthusiasts. So hoist your sails and embark on a journey of knowledge as we unravel the inner workings of wind vane self-steering.

Chapter 1: The Basics of Wind Vane Self-Steering 1.1 Understanding Sailboats’ Balancing Act: – Explaining the importance of maintaining equilibrium between the sail and rudder configurations. – Highlighting challenges faced when manually helming during long passages.

1.2 Introduction to Wind Vanes: – Defining the wind vane as an autonomous steering mechanism driven by apparent wind direction. – Detailing their various components such as vanes, sensors, gears, and linkages.

Chapter 2: Principles Behind Wind Vanes 2.1 Apparent vs True Wind: – Unveiling the distinction between apparent and true wind direction. – Describing how wind vanes utilize apparent wind to adjust course.

2.2 Weight vs Force Systems: – Distinguishing weight-driven systems (servo pendulum) from force-driven ones (auxiliary rudder). – Discussing pros and cons of each system in different sailing conditions.

Chapter 3: Mechanics of Wind Vane Self-Steering 3.1 Servo Pendulum System: – Unveiling the engineering marvels behind servo pendulum systems. – Analyzing their interaction with changing winds and seas.

3.2 Auxiliary Rudder Systems: – Detailing the mechanism of auxiliary rudder systems, their hydrodynamics, and adjustability. – Discussing how they maintain sailboat course while minimizing yaw.

Chapter 4: Installation and Utilization Tips 4.1 Installing Wind Vanes on Different Sailboats: – Providing step-by-step instructions for mounting wind vanes. – Highlighting considerations for various boat designs and sizes.

4.2 Calibration and Fine-Tuning: – Elaborating on the importance of accurate calibration to ensure precise steering. – Offering pro tips to optimize performance under different sailing conditions.

Chapter 5: Advantages and Limitations 5.1 Benefits of Wind Vane Self-Steering: – Presenting the advantages of autonomy, reduced energy consumption, and enhanced safety during long-haul sailing trips.

5.2 Considerations in Complex Sailing Conditions: – Identifying limitations related to challenging weather patterns or narrow channels, necessitating manual intervention.

Conclusion – Navigating the Open Seas with Confidence: Wind vane self-steering systems revolutionize long-distance sailing by providing sailors with a reliable automated alternative to constant helming. Understanding the principles, mechanics, and installation tips outlined in this comprehensive guide will empower seafarers to navigate vast oceans with confidence, leaving them more time to revel in the beauty of their surroundings. Embrace the freedom that wind vane self-steering offers–the transformative companion for every true sailor!

Wind Vane Self Steering Explained: Step by Step Process

When it comes to sailing, one of the most essential tools for achieving steady and reliable course keeping is a wind vane self-steering system. This mechanism harnesses the power of the wind to effectively steer the vessel autonomously, ensuring sailors can enjoy a smoother and more hands-free sailing experience. In this blog post, we will delve into the step-by-step process of how wind vane self-steering works, unraveling its inner workings and highlighting its benefits.

Step 1: Understanding the Basics

Before we dive into the intricacies, let’s start with the fundamentals. A wind vane self-steering system consists of three main components: a wind vane, a linkage mechanism, and auxiliary steering gear. The wind vane acts as a sensory organ that detects changes in wind direction while transmitting these signals to the linkage mechanism. The linkage mechanism then translates those signals into appropriate movements, which are eventually transmitted to auxiliary steering gear responsible for adjusting sail trim or rudder angle.

Step 2: Wind Vane Sensitivity Adjustment

Once you’ve set up your wind vane self-steering system on board your yacht or sailboat, it’s crucial to fine-tune its sensitivity for optimal performance. By adjusting the weight distribution or adding counterweights to your wind vane, you can achieve precise responsiveness according to prevailing weather conditions. This careful calibration ensures that even subtle nuances in wind direction are accurately detected by the wind vane.

Step 3: Setting Course

Now that your system is finely tuned, it’s time to set your desired course manually using traditional methods such as compass bearings or GPS coordinates. Aligning your vessel towards this designated course provides initial guidance for your wind vane self-steerer.

Step 4: Autonomy Engaged

As soon as you activate your wind vane self-steering gear, you enable an autonomous sailor’s best friend. Once the wind vane starts detecting any deviations from your initial course, it sends signals to the linkage mechanism, instructing it to make corrections. This process ensures that your vessel automatically adjusts its heading to maintain the desired course against external factors such as wind shifts or gusts.

Step 5: Continuous Monitoring

While wind vane self-steering handles most course corrections independently, it does require regular monitoring to avoid any potential issues and make minor adjustments as needed. It is crucial to stay vigilant and keep an eye on how your self-steering system performs with changing wind conditions and other environmental factors.

Benefits of Wind Vane Self-Steering

Now that we’ve dived into the step-by-step process of wind vane self-steering, let’s explore its advantages:

1. Hands-free Sailing: With a properly calibrated and functioning wind vane self-steering system, sailors can free themselves from continuously holding the helm, affording a more relaxed sailing experience.

2. Increased Safety: Wind vane self-steering reduces fatigue in long ocean crossings by maintaining a steady course, minimizing human error risk at times when crew members might be physically exhausted.

3. Energy Efficiency: By utilizing the power of nature (the wind), a wind vane self-steerer requires no fuel consumption or electricity input for operation, making it an environmentally friendly and cost-effective solution for long-distance voyages.

In conclusion, the step-by-step process behind a wind vane self-steering system involves understanding the basics of its components, adjusting sensitivity levels, setting an initial course manually while enabling autonomy through continuous monitoring. This technology not only enhances safety but also allows sailors to enjoy hands-free sailing while embracing Mother Nature’s forces to keep their vessels on track efficiently. So why not embrace this clever innovation and sail away into effortless adventure?

Frequently Asked Questions about Wind Vane Self Steering

Frequently Asked Questions about Wind Vane Self Steering: Unlocking the Secrets to Effortless Sailing

If you’ve ever been on a sailing adventure or have spent any time around seasoned sailors, you’ve likely heard of wind vane self steering devices. These ingenious contraptions have sparked curiosity and interest among many sailing enthusiasts, but like any new concept, questions tend to arise. In this blog post, we will dive deep into the frequently asked questions surrounding wind vane self steering systems and shed light on their working principles. Get ready to unravel the science behind these mechanical marvels!

Q1: What exactly is a wind vane self-steering system?

A wind vane self-steering system is a mechanism designed to keep a sailing vessel on course without manual intervention from the helmsman. This device utilizes the power of the wind to maintain a steady heading even in challenging weather conditions. By harnessing wind pressure and utilizing specially shaped vanes, wind vane self-steering systems elegantly counterbalance forces acting on sails and rudders.

Q2: How does a wind vane self-steering system work?

The operation of a wind vane self-steering system revolves around one fundamental principle—using apparent wind angles and force to steer the boat. Typically mounted at the stern of a vessel, these systems consist of an arrow-shaped vane that reacts to changes in apparent wind direction. As the breeze shifts or fluctuates in intensity, subtle movements in the vane are transmitted via lines or linkage mechanisms to adjust the position of an auxiliary rudder at the boat’s stern.

When the boat begins deviating from its intended course due to shifting winds, turbulence, or waves, this auxiliary rudder automatically adjusts itself according to variations in apparent wind angles detected by the main vane. Consequently, as long as there is sufficient breeze available for propulsion, these systems effectively maintain precise navigation even during extended periods at sea. It’s like having an invisible helmsman tirelessly steering your vessel, allowing you to relax and enjoy the journey.

Q3: Are wind vane self-steering systems compatible with all types of boats?

Wind vane self-steering systems are highly versatile and can be installed on a wide range of sailboats. Whether you have a small, single-handed cruiser or a larger ocean-going yacht, there is likely a system that suits your vessel. The main considerations when choosing the right wind vane self-steering system for your boat include size, weight, balance, and how well it integrates with the existing rigging setup. Manufacturers provide detailed guidelines and support to ensure compatibility with various boat designs.

Q4: Can wind vane self-steering systems handle different weather conditions?

Absolutely! Wind vane self-steering systems are designed to thrive in diverse weather conditions and adapt to changing environments. Whether you’re facing calm seas or rough waters with strong winds, these remarkable devices remain stable and steadfast in their coursekeeping abilities. However, it is essential to learn about any limitations specific to the model you choose based on sailing experience and intended use.

Q5: Are wind vane self-steering systems difficult to install?

While installing a wind vane self-steering system may require some technical know-how, most reputable manufacturers provide comprehensive manuals and guidance materials tailored for DIY installations. However, if you prefer professional assistance or lack the confidence in setting it up yourself, seeking help from expert marine technicians is always an option worth considering.

In conclusion, wind vane self-steering systems offer sailors an unprecedented level of autonomy on their voyages by effortlessly maintaining course while they sit back and take in the panoramic beauty around them. Their ingenious working principles elegantly leverage wind power to navigate through uncharted waters. Embracing one of these marvels on your own sailing adventure might just be the key to unlocking new levels of sailing satisfaction. So, batten down the hatches, set your sails, and let the wind vane self-steering system be your faithful navigator on this extraordinary journey!

Mastering the Art of Wind Vane Self Steering: Tips and Techniques

For sailors navigating the vast blue oceans, wind vane self-steering systems are an invaluable tool. These impressive devices not only alleviate the stress of manual helm control but also empower sailors to sail solo or in small crews with ease. However, mastering the art of wind vane self-steering requires more than just installing the equipment – it demands practice, knowledge, and a cunning understanding of its intricacies. In this blog post, we will delve into the depths of wind vane self-steering, providing you with tips and techniques that will have you sailing like a seasoned pro.

Understanding the Basics:

To begin our journey towards mastering wind vane self-steering, let’s start by unraveling its fundamentals. A wind vane self-steering system essentially functions based on an aerodynamic principle: it utilizes changing winds to adjust your boat’s course automatically. The device consists of a wind vane mounted atop your vessel’s stern along with various lines and connections to your ship’s wheel or tiller.

1. Sail Trim is Key:

Properly adjusting your sails plays a crucial role in maximizing the efficiency of your wind vane self-steering system. Ideally, before engaging the device, ensure that your sails are appropriately trimmed for optimal performance based on existing weather conditions. Fine-tuning this aspect will allow for smoother operation and minimize any unnecessary strain on both boat and gear.

2. Get Acquainted with Your System:

Understanding how every component in your wind vane self-steering system works is vital for seamless operation. Familiarize yourself with all cables, lines, blocks, attaching points, and mechanical adjustments within your setup through careful study of instructions provided by manufacturers. Additionally, consider practicing installation and removal procedures before setting sail to save time during maintenance or repairs at sea.

3. Devise Efficient Linkages:

Connecting your wind vane to the ship’s wheel or tiller requires creating a linkage mechanism that transmits the vane’s signals accurately. Carefully select and adjust mechanical linkages, ensuring that they offer proper responsiveness and minimal play. Remember, any slack in these connections will decrease accuracy and compromise performance.

4. Experiment with Tension:

Fine-tuning the tension on your wind vane’s lines is essential for achieving optimal response. Experiment by adjusting the tension – both tightness and looseness – of these lines based on prevailing conditions such as wave heights, wind strength, course changes, or boat speeds. This flexibility allows you to adapt your wind vane self-steering system according to real-time situations and enhance its efficiency.

5. Observe Nature’s Cues:

Nature can be an exceptional teacher when it comes to utilizing wind vane self-steering systems effectively. Observing how wind shifts affect your vessel’s course during different weather patterns will help you develop a keen sense of understanding impending changes in wind direction. By balancing this observation with data from meteorological sources or barometers, you can anticipate shifts ahead of time, allowing for precise adjustments even before they happen.

6. Make Incremental Adjustments:

Once your wind vane self-steering system is activated, it is essential not to make abrupt adjustments unless absolutely necessary. Instead, opt for small incremental changes when altering course or sail trim. Gradual adaptations ensure smoother transitions without overwhelming the device with sudden demands.

7. Continuously Monitor Performance:

Constant vigilance is key while learning to master your wind vane self-steering system completely. Continuously monitor its performance by observing your boat’s behavior relative to sea conditions (weather helm, leeway). Appropriate awareness combined with timely tweaks ensures efficient operation throughout extended voyages.

8. Seek Expert Advice:

When seeking mastery over any subject matter, there is no substitute for expertise gained through experience and shared wisdom. Engage with sailing communities, forums, or seek advice from seasoned sailors who have honed their skills in wind vane self-steering. Their firsthand experiences and clever tricks will provide invaluable insights to propel your learning curve forward.

In conclusion, mastering the art of wind vane self-steering is a journey that requires practice, experimentation, and understanding. By grasping the basics, fine-tuning sail trim, learning your system inside-out, observing nature’s cues, and making incremental adjustments while monitoring performance attentively, you can unlock the true potential of this remarkable piece of sailing technology. So hoist your sails high and let the wind vane guide you towards a new realm of solo or small crew sailing prowess!

Choosing the Right Wind Vane Self Steering System for Your Boat

When it comes to sailing, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of gliding through the open waters, with the wind in your hair and the sun on your face. However, navigating a boat can be a challenging task, especially when you’re all alone out on the vast ocean. That’s where wind vane self steering systems come into play.

A wind vane self steering system is an invaluable piece of equipment that allows sailors to maintain course without having to constantly adjust their sails or helm. This automated system harnesses the power of the wind to steer the boat, freeing up valuable time and energy for sailors to focus on other important tasks.

But with so many different options available on the market, how do you choose the right wind vane self-steering system for your boat? Here are some key factors to consider:

1. Boat Size and Weight: The first thing you need to take into account is the size and weight of your boat. Wind vane self-steering systems come in various sizes designed to accommodate different vessels. It’s important to choose a system that is specifically built for boats within your size range to ensure optimal performance and stability.

2. Ease of Installation: As a sailor, you want a wind vane self-steering system that can be easily installed without requiring extensive modifications or additional support structures. Look for systems that come with clear installation instructions and minimal hardware requirements.

3. Weather Conditions: Sailors know that weather conditions can change rapidly at sea. Therefore, it’s essential to select a wind vane self-steering system that can handle a wide range of weather conditions – from light breezes to heavy winds and high seas. Look for systems that are durable and capable of maintaining control even in challenging weather scenarios.

4. Sensitivity Adjustment: Every boat handles differently based on its design and load distribution. To ensure precise control, choose a wind vane self-steering system that allows you to adjust its sensitivity to match your boat’s characteristics. This flexibility will enable you to fine-tune the system for optimal performance and responsiveness.

5. Reliability and Durability: When you’re out on the open water, you rely heavily on your equipment. Therefore, selecting a wind vane self-steering system from reputable manufacturers known for their reliability and durability is crucial. Look for systems made from high-quality materials that can withstand the harsh marine environment for years to come.

6. Cost: While cost should never be the sole determining factor, it’s still an important consideration when choosing a wind vane self-steering system for your boat. Evaluate different options and compare their features, performance, and price tags to find the best value for your money.

Now, armed with these essential considerations, you can embark on finding the perfect wind vane self-steering system that suits your boat and sailing needs. Remember to carefully research different products and consult with fellow sailors or experts if needed. With the right wind vane self-steering system onboard your boat, you’ll experience smoother sailing adventures like never before!

Troubleshooting Common Issues with Wind Vane Self Steering


Wind vane self-steering systems are a remarkable solution for sailors aiming to harness the power of the wind to navigate their vessels. By allowing the wind to guide the boat’s rudder, these systems reduce manual effort and provide a more reliable means of steering. However, like any piece of equipment, wind vane self-steering systems can sometimes encounter common issues that require troubleshooting. In this blog post, we will delve into some possible problems and provide professional, witty, and clever explanations on how to overcome them.

1. Lack of responsiveness: One frustrating issue that sailors may encounter with wind vane self-steering is a lack of responsiveness. If your system seems sluggish or fails to react promptly to changes in the wind direction, there are a few potential causes.

Explanation: Just like us humans after an indulgent Thanksgiving dinner, wind vanes can become lethargic too! The most common culprit for unresponsiveness is excessive friction within the system caused by wear or improper lubrication. To tackle this issue, start by giving your system a good inspection. Look for any signs of wear on bearings and joints while applying lubrication generously where needed (Think spa day for your wind vane). If this fails to resolve the problem, it might be worth checking if any foreign objects or debris have made their way into critical components – just imagine trying to navigate gingerly during peak pollen season!

2. Oscillations and instability: Unwanted oscillations or instability in your self-steering system can make sailing feel like riding a bucking bronco! This issue can be concerning and potentially dangerous if left unresolved.

Explanation: Imagine you are attempting to steer straight but your trusty wind vane has gained an affinity for dancing instead – quite embarrassing! The primary reason behind oscillations and instability is often an imbalance between sensitivity settings and sail trim (imagine mismatched dance partners). Adjusting both variables can help find the sweet spot. Additionally, thicker or heavier sails may contribute to excessive oscillations, so it might be time to reassess your sail wardrobe and consider adopting a lighter ensemble for smoother sailing (we all deserve a wardrobe makeover now and then!).

3. Misalignment and wandering: Has your wind vane suddenly decided to become an explorer, sailing in any direction other than the one you intended? Misalignment and wandering can occur due to various factors.

Explanation: Picture this – you want your wind vane pointing north, but instead, it decides it wants to discover hidden treasures in the opposite direction – quite the rebellious spirit! Misalignment is commonly caused by incorrect installation or loose connections between the wind vane and the boat’s rudder. Ensure that all parts are securely fastened with the precision of a complicated jigsaw puzzle (but without the frustration). When resolving misalignment issues, imagine you are showing your wind vane some tough love – tighten those nuts and bolts until they can’t even think about misbehaving!

Conclusion: While wind vane self-steering systems generally offer efficient steering solutions for sailors, encountering common issues is not uncommon. By understanding these challenges and implementing our witty troubleshooting advice, your wind vane will be back in shape in no time. Remember, a witty approach combined with professional expertise ensures smooth sailing both on water and through blog posts!

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Ocean Navigator

Twenty-five years of wind vane steering

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To the editor: Many sailors who make short-handed, offshore passages — we have a two-person crew — love the notion of electric-energy-free wind vane self-steering. We’re not purists; we appreciate what modern electrics do for sailors; no question, they make the passages safer and more enjoyable. However, if at sea somehow the autopilot quits or the battery charging system fails resulting in no power to the autopilot, the crew has no choice except to hand steer the boat.

We’ve owned a Ratcliffe wind vane self-steerer for more than 25 years. It is installed on our Tartan 34 Endeavour . We’ve learned a few things that might be helpful for those sailors who wish to make less stressful passages. We have a solar panel and a Honda 2000 generator to charge batteries for all our onboard electrics including the autopilot. Never the less, we always rely on the wind vane offshore.

A tour of most saltwater boatyards which cater to sailboats, reveals that about 5 percent of the boats have some sort of self-steering gear installed. I’ve noted only one or two Ratcliffe auxiliary rudders in the last 20 years. More common are Monitor and Aries and other brands of self-steerers. I love to talk with the owners because they usually are serious passagemakers. When under sail we all prefer using the wind vane rather than an autopilot. It uses no electricity, it’s quiet and extraordinarily reliable. And, we believe, steers the boat on all points of sail better than an autopilot. Wind vane self-steerers do require five knots or more of wind across the deck to work properly. When the wind drops below that, we resort to our autopilot. Wind vane steering attachments are available for most autopilots, but in light air they are no better than wind driven self-steering gear.

There are several types of wind vane self-steerers. They usually mount on the transom; which, of course, could interfere with transom-mounted dinghy davits. Most Aries, Monitor, Norvane, Cape Horn, Fleming, Hasler and others have paddles in the water driven by a wind vane that is adjusted to the apparent wind, sail trim and course. The output of the paddle usually drives a tiller or wheel through a series of lines and blocks. Wind vanes work best on tiller boats because there is no slack inherent in wheel-driven boats. And, I would suspect, it is more efficient to rig a self-steerer to a tiller than a drum on a wheel. Most wind vanes can, however, be rigged to drive the main helm through a series of blocks and rope coil around a drum mounted on the wheel. Control line chafe can be a problem with all self-steerers driving either a wheel or a tiller.

Wind vanes are used by many short-handed sailors for both coastal cruising and offshore passagemaking. Paddles are usually pulled up out of the water and air vanes removed when motoring or at anchor. My survey of nearly 300 mostly sailboats in Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Fla., noted that the handful of wind vane self-steerers are mounted on short-handed boats less than 40 feet. Larger boats mostly use autopilots. Two boats moored nearby have installed Monitor self-steerers: one rigged to a tiller on a Westsail 32 a second connected to a drum on the wheel of a Cape Dory 36. Both owners claimed to engage the wind vane immediately after leaving the breakwater on nearly every passage.      

Some sailors have rigged their electric autopilot to provide the course and trim instructions to a self-steering rudder instead of a wind vane. The result is much less autopilot current draw since the wind vane rudder does the tiller or wheel steering as usual. The autopilot simply provides the course corrections.    

There are also auxiliary rudder type units like Hydrovane. With this approach, the main rudder is locked off and the Hydrovane rudder steers the boat after the wind vane is set to the correct angle. At least two designs, Ratcliffe and RVG, are auxiliary rudders with trim-tabs. Only the trim-tab is moved by the wind vane. A quick review of trim-tabs shows how effective they can be. A picture of our Ratcliffe shows how small the trim-tab is relative to the self-steering rudder and the main rudder. Trim-tabs have an extraordinary mechanical advantage. Auxiliary rudders have an important feature that should be considered by anyone planning to purchase wind vane self-steering gear particularly for accident-prone spade rudder boats; an auxiliary rudder can effectively steer the boat in the event of a main rudder failure. This means that when the boat is sailing under control of the auxiliary rudder, the main rudder is locked amidships. In this configuration the keel is effectively extended by the length of the main rudder  — an extraordinary benefit in a big following sea or when pinching up. The only time we have ever had to help our Ratcliffe — we affectionately call him Wally — was in the narrow passage between Grand Canaria and Tenerife in the Canary Islands. The following seas were huge! Even then Wally steered the boat, I had only to tweak the main rudder occasionally.  

Auxiliary rudder gear is usually left in the water all the time with the vane in the locked and stowed position; the boat can be driven forward and back with no difficulty. We lose less than half a knot leaving the auxiliary rudder in the water; a price we pay for having it available for inshore sailing as well as passagemaking. Only a few of the self-steering gear I’ve seen are of the auxiliary rudder type.     

The cost of self-steering gear varies from $1,000 for used gear up to $5,000 for new equipment, not including installation. Most self-steering gear is highly reliable and lasts for years. I would purchase and install gear with a proven offshore record. Anyone considering used gear should know that it will be necessary to fit the brackets to the transom angle of the boat so that the gear is vertical with respect to the water. Sometimes this is easy, sometimes it requires changing the length and design of the brackets. The Internet is one source to obtain information about any particular manufacturer. Auxiliary rudder gear is usually more expensive because there is more equipment involved.

Possibly the most important decision short-handed passagemaking sailors can make is steering: autopilot, wind vane, or a combination of the two, given the boat’s rudder design (spade or skeg rudder) and tiller versus wheel. A steering failure at sea with a short-handed crew is perhaps the most serious problem one can have.

————— Richard de Grasse is a commodore of the Seven Seas Cruising Association and, along with his wife Kathy, owns the Tartan 34 Endeavour.

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By Ocean Navigator

Yachting Monthly

  • Digital edition

Yachting Monthly cover

Windvane steering: why it makes sense for coastal cruising

  • Will Bruton
  • October 15, 2018

No electricity needed, built for gale-force conditions and currently experiencing 
something of a renaissance amongst 
cruisers; windvane self-steering makes sense for coastal cruisers as much as 
offshore voyagers. Will Bruton took 
an in depth look at the options 
and how they work.

Self steering gear on the back of a boat

‘The distance run was 2,700 miles as the crow flies. During those 23 days I had not spent more than three hours at the helm. I just lashed the helm and let her go; whether the wind was abeam or dead aft, it was all the same: she always stayed on her course,’ wrote Joshua Slocum in 1895.

The ability of his long-keeled Spray to hold course without input from the helm was instrumental 
in making her the first yacht to circumnavigate single-handed.

Few modern boats bear these inherently balanced characteristics, so some form of autopilot is necessary to allow the skipper to rest.

Even for crewed passages, it can take an enormous strain off the crew without draining the battery. Some insurance companies even count windvane steering as an additional crew member, such is its contribution to life on board.

Self steering gear on the back of a Golden Globe Race yacht

Unlike an electronic autopilot, self-steering needs no power

One solution experiencing something of a renaissance, is windvane self-steering.

Requiring no electricity, mechanical self-steering gear was first designed in an age when autopilots were the preserve of large ships and heavy motor cruisers. The principle is relatively simple and pure physics.

What mechanical self-steering cannot do is hold your yacht on a compass course. However, as anyone that’s experienced a sudden wind shift or squall whilst away from the helm knows, steering to a wind angle is preferable most of the time as you are far less likely to crash gybe, and the sails remain correctly set.

Self-steering gear achieves this by presenting a vane directly into the wind. When the wind acts on either side of this vane, it tips, transferring this action through the mechanism below to either a rudder or a servo pendulum which acts on the main rudder, altering the boat’s course.

The two main systems


A derivative of the servo-trim tab principle invented by Blondie Hasler, servo-pendulum self steering gear uses the speed of the yacht going through the water to push against the servo-paddle, creating a substantial force, which is then transferred to the yacht’s own tiller or wheel by control lines.

The wind itself does not provide the power for the steering; rather it adjusts the angle of the paddle, relying on the hydro-mechanical energy of the boat going through the water to do the work of steering the boat.

Popular before the advent of the small craft electronic autopilot, it’s particularly well suited to yachts under 40ft in length, and can be swung out of the water when not in use.

There are now several derivatives, including some available as a self-build kit. Amongst the Golden Globe Race entrants, models included Aries, Monitor, Windpilot and Beaufort systems.

One disadvantage of the servo-pendulum gear is that it uses the yacht’s rudder, meaning it does not double up as an emergency rudder should the yacht’s steering be disabled, although some servo-pendulums can be adapted.

Direct drive systems

Wind vane steering linked to a secondary rudder is the most inherently simple of the mechanical self-steering systems, but relies on a much more powerful transmission of force between a large-surface-area wind vane and the system’s own independent rudder.

Direct drive self steering gear

Direct drive systems feature a large fully independent auxiliary rudder

This has the advantage of ensuring 
a back up steering method is already on board but also requires a heavy-duty installation to bear the load and strain that will be exerted.

One of the most popular models is the Hydrovane, which is now available in several different sizes and shapes depending on 
the boat it is being installed on.

The size 
and shape of the fabric-covered windvane is directly proportional to the size of yacht, and has been installed successfully on yachts in excess of 50ft in length, including multihulls.

When the boat veers off course, the 
wind hits the vane on one side or the other, deflecting it away from the vertical.

This then acts on a gear that converts 
this sideways movement into rotation to directly steer a relatively large rudder suspended from the boat’s transom via 
the installation framework.

Setting up windvane steering

Balancing the boat.

‘Before doing anything, you have to get the boat sailing well. It demands you take the time to get your boat properly balanced, correctly reefed and with no weather helms; so it actually makes you a better sailor!’ explains Nick Nottingham, who recently fitted a Hydrovane to his Hallberg-Rassy 42, Spellbinder . Nick is about to use the system on an Atlantic circuit.

Self steering needs a balanced boat

Self-steering relies on a well balanced boat. As the wind shifts, the mechanism corrects

Self-steering gear works by adjusting the yacht’s course in relation to the apparent wind. The first step to making this work as efficiently as possible is to balance the boat and reduce the amount of input required.

Sailing conventionally, the yacht should be easy on the helm and not overpowered.

Setting the system for the conditions

Whether servo-pendulum or direct drive, most self-steering systems have one or more methods of adjustment for the conditions. In light airs, the wind vane will be exposed as much as possible to the wind, to exert the maximum force on the system, whereas in heavier weather, the vane’s height can be lowered, reducing the force acting on the system.

Some systems, like the Hydrovane, Monitor and Beaufort have different sized vanes that can be swapped, while the Windpilot and Aries allow the vane to be raked aft, presenting a shorter level.

Engaging self steering

With the wind vane attached, you are ready to remove the locking pin and engage the steering mechanism

On some set ups, the power exerted on the steering system can also be adjusted at the point where the wind vane meets its pivot, just like changing sensitivity on an electronic autopilot. By controlling the rotation of the rudder or paddle created by the windvane, you control how aggressively the system corrects the boat’s course.

Changing the gearing at the point where the wind input creates the steering output achieve an increase or decrease of ratio.

Engaging the system

To engage the system, set the yacht on course and adjust the wind vane so that the wind is flowing over it with the least resistance, like a blade.

If you a using a system with its own rudder, centralise and lock the yacht’s main rudder, simultaneously engaging the self-steering mechanism.

Self steering gear

Once engaged, monitor how the system adjusts and double check your sails are trimmed correctly.

As the vane moves it will adjust the steering accordingly.

In heavy weather, reduce the system’s power to ensure the least amount of strain.

Self-steering systems work efficiently in strong winds but most will steer comfortably in light airs as well.

Course adjustments

When the wind vane is vertical, you are on course. When the vane is deflected, the system is adjusting course.

Changing the direction you want to go in is simply a matter of altering the self-steering system’s vane angle relative to the wind.

A man wearing a blue top pulls on line attached to a yacht's self steering system

On most systems this is achieved by a steering line that can be run into the safety of the cockpit, meaning you do not necessarily need to adjust the vane itself directly.

Make small adjustments until the yacht comes onto the desired course, trimming the sails appropriately.

A standalone system?

Whilst self-steering systems offer a much more resilient option than an electronic autopilot for heavy weather, when there is no sailing wind, they cease to be useful.

Self steering gear with an electronic tilletpilot

Here an electronic tillerpilot has been plugged directly into the Hydrovane auxiliary rudder

For this reason, most cruisers also have a conventional electronic autopilot on board to steer under engine.

In the case of systems incorporating a rudder, many also make it possible to easily engage a tiller pilot onto the system’s auxiliary rudder for use under engine.

Self-steering on the Golden Globe Race

If there’s one place that mechanical 
self-steering fandom bordered on the evangelical this year, it was at the start of 
the Golden Globe Race .

50 years previously, Robin Knox-Johnston’s world first single-handed circumnavigation was steered by his own self-steering gear system until it failed 
near Australia.

Restored to her former glory, 
Knox-Johnston’s Suhaili joined the parade; along with Indian competitor Abhilash Tommy’s replica yacht Thuriya , which sports a commercially made Windpilot servo-pendulum system.

self steering gear and the tiller of Suhaili

Self-steering gear on Suhaili. Credit: Nic Compton/Alamy Stock Photo

With this year’s revival competition using 1960’s technology and electronic wizardry strictly prohibited, mechanical self-steering systems are effectively the only option for competitors. Each has chosen carefully.

Competitors in the race are using a variety of systems including Hydrovane, Aries, Monitor, Windpilot and Beaufort.

Due to the nature of the boats competing being long keeled, they are ideally suited to mechanical self-steering, naturally holding course better than a modern hull. However, should systems fail and prove unrepairable, it will be hard 
for them to remain competitive in the race.

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Sailing With a Windvane

  • By Alvah Simon
  • Updated: December 9, 2019

Sailomat Windvane

Once found only in the ascetic realm of single-handed sailing, self-steering gear has become ubiquitous on cruising boats, even fully crewed ones. That’s because a self-steering unit serves as an additional hand that possesses relentless concentration at the helm; subsists on only amps or lubricants; and, if properly trained, does what’s asked of it without question or complaint.

Reliable remote control of the helm relieves the fatigue and monotony of following a compass course at night. It allows time for sail changes and adjustments; horizon sweeps for ships; attentive navigation; and that quick dip below to check the bilges and grab a hot drink. Without question, self-steering makes for a more relaxed, enjoyable and safe voyage.

But the debate over which kind of self-steering is best for a sailboat — electric or windvane — rages on. I may be an old-fashioned belt-and-suspenders kind of sailor, but I believe both systems have their different strengths and weaknesses, and therefore complement each other. In other words, any vessel that is configured in a way that can accommodate both methods should do so.

In this scenario, the more robust mechanical sailboat windvane would be employed in heavier weather, while the electric autopilot would be used in light airs and under power, where directional corrections are provided not by the wind, but by a fluxgate compass. It is important to understand that while the electric autopilot maintains a steady compass course, a windvane is set to maintain a desired angle off the apparent wind, and therefore will follow any wind shifts or changes in wind velocity. While this does keep the sails perpetually in trim, the course must be monitored closely when in confined waterways.

That said, if forced to choose, I would go with the mechanical windvane, hands down. Vanes don’t rely on the ship’s electrical power supply, which serves as the last link in a long chain of delicate electrical components and breakable mechanical parts. Across the range of types and brands, mechanical windvanes generate amazing power in rough conditions (when needed most), coupled with notable durability. Almost 30 years ago I purchased an already well-used Aries windvane. It has faithfully followed me from boat to boat, and around the world, with clear indications that it will outlast me. On the other hand, I have an overflowing box of spare parts cannibalized from the many electric tiller-pilots I have chewed through in that same period.

Aries windvane

Types of Sailboat Windvanes

Introduced by the indomitable Blondie Hasler, founder of the OSTAR solo transatlantic race in 1960, the original sailboat windvane consisted of a direct coupling of a horizontally rotating (vertical axis) vane to a trim tab on the aft edge of a transom-hung rudder. Once the vane was fixed to the desired angle off the wind (using a round base plate with notches spaced at 5-degree intervals), any course change rotated the large vane like a weathercock. This in turn twisted the tab to one side of the main rudder, driving the rudder in the opposite direction, thus bringing the vessel back on course. The advantage to this system was its ease of construction and low cost, but it was best adapted to the waning style of transom-hung rudders. Also, a large vane was required to harness sufficient wind to power the trim tab. Therefore, especially in light airs, the tall, heavy vanes often reacted more to the yaw and roll of the vessel than to the wind, resulting in erratic meandering.

However, from this early and rudimentary concept, two sophisticated yet distinct types of vanes evolved: the servo-pendulum system (SPS) and the auxiliary rudder system (ARS). Both SPS and ARS systems employ a counterweighted horizontal- or vertical-axis wind vane to activate an appendage in the water, but the similarities end there. (To confuse the issue, there is now a hybrid system called the servo-driven auxiliary rudder, or SAR. But by first addressing the two basic concepts, a clearer understanding of this marriage of ideas will emerge.)

The SPS system — best represented by brands such as Aries , Cape Horn , Fleming, Monitor and Sailomat — uses the movement of the windvane to horizontally turn an independent servo-rudder (essentially a separate oar or paddle) that is deployed into the water. As the boat moves, the laminar flow of water presses against the positive lead on the servo-rudder, generating sufficient power to aggressively swing the servo-pendulum, or windvane, in one direction or the other.

While it is the power of the wind that directs the angle the servo-rudder presents to the passing water, it is boat speed through that water that exerts the considerable pounds of pull on the lines that run from the servo-rudder and through a series of turning blocks, ultimately connecting to the tiller (or, in the case of wheel steering, a drum in the center of the wheel). More simply, the servo-rudder does not turn the boat; it pulls on the tiller or rotates the wheel, which in turn moves the main rudder.

Perhaps the main drawback to this concept is the limited throw of the lines, as the distance of arc through which the pendulum swings is limited to the width of its supporting frame, an average of approximately 10 inches. This is no issue when connected to a tiller because one can fix the lines at the optimum point on the helm: high for more power, lower for a greater turning angle. But depending on the stop-to-stop ratio of a wheel steering system, the length of pull may not be sufficient to effectively control the vessel. This problem can be exacerbated by center-cockpit designs, as longer line lengths may stretch more, further limiting the effective length of pull.

The ARS system, best represented in the market by Hydrovane , employs an altogether separate appendage to steer the vessel. The boat’s main rudder is usually fixed amidship (or angled slightly to offset a lee or weather helm) and a second, auxiliary rudder, directed by a windvane, takes control of the steering. Thus, it is not only a self-steering device, but can also serve as an emergency rudder. Considering that all four of the Mayday calls I monitored on one of my Pacific crossings related to steering failure, this redundancy has considerable value. Because of the forces placed on this rudder it must be robust in construction, well fixed to the vessel, and of sufficient design and size to handily maneuver substantial tonnage.

Monitor windvane

Pros and Cons of Sailboat Windvanes

There is a heated online debate among some of the manufacturers and distributors of the respective systems, each dismissing the supposed advantages of the other’s design concept while touting their own. I have sailed with both servo-pendulum designs and auxiliary rudders and found both to be practical and reliable; the final decision, to me, comes down to the type of vessel to which they will be attached, the steering system onboard, the conditions of sailing most likely to be experienced and the budget. In my opinion, the auxiliary rudder is more sensitive in light air, which is the average condition found in many recreational sailing areas. I’ve found the servo-pendulum model to be rock steady in conditions so rough that the average helmsperson would be exhausted within an hour.

But there are advantages and disadvantages to each approach. For example, the auxiliary rudder windvane has no provisions for being lifted out of the water to clear flotsam and seaweed; it can affect the backing characteristics of a vessel; and there’s no dedicated, engineered, breakaway “weak spot” when colliding with something like a submerged log. (In such instances, most servo-pendulum rudders simply flip up out of the way, and are popped back in place with the pull of a line.) On the other hand, auxiliary rudders don’t require lines that obstruct the decks and cockpit, a significant advantage depending on the placement of the helm.

To the latter point, perhaps too much is made of the difficulty in fixing, releasing and adjusting the tension of the lines on an SPS windvane. I corrected this problem with a $5 double jam cleat. Instead of using the typical link in a chain to connect to the tiller, I run my lines through an eye bolt on the tiller and back to the jam cleat. I can ease or tighten the lines balancing friction with precision; introduce infinite increments of bias to help balance the boat; and even when under tremendous pressure, immediately release the lines in an emergency situation.

A subtle but potentially important advantage of the SPS windvane is its natural aversion to broaching. As a steep wave slams into the quarter, the vessel can violently swing sideways. However, this same sudden sideways force pushes the servo-rudder in a direction that immediately tries to turn the boat back down the face of the wave. But even that point could be countered with the claim that by fixing the large main rudder in place, as in an ARS, substantial lateral stability is added to the vessel, thus minimizing any penchant to broach.

When mounting either system, the latest sailboat design trends — open, aft-entry cockpits and drop-down transoms — present new challenges. Hydrovane makes the unequivocal claim that its ARS windvane can be mounted off-center without affecting performance. Offsetting the vane opens access to the sugar scoop and/or the boarding and swim ladders. But as drop-down transoms, in particular, become ever beamier, there is less flat and fixed space available for robust windvane mounting. Depending on the stiffness of the vessel, one would not want to push the vane too far outboard for fear of lifting the auxiliary rudder clear out of the water on a heavy heel.

All SPS manufacturers stress the importance of meticulous centering during initial installation. Adapting to these new transoms, Monitor has introduced the SwingGate system to its windvanes. This is essentially a pivoting pushpit, much like a garden gate, with the vane attached. When the gate is open the boarding platform or swim ladder can be accessed, and when the gate is closed the vane sits firmly fixed amidship.

While completely appropriate for trimarans, windvane steering is not well suited for catamaran designs due to the dual rudders and high bridge-deck clearance.

As to pricing, there is no denying that the basic ARS units cost from 25 to 40 percent more than SPS models. Acting as the boat’s main rudder demands that the auxiliary rudder and mechanisms be constructed from heavy, high-quality materials. But if one chooses the swing-gate option, the additional cost of the gate structure must also be factored in.

Autohelm ST400 tiller pilot

Summing Up Self-Steering

When choosing a self-steering system for your sailboat, closely assess the design features of your boat and the conditions you will most often encounter. If you intend to make any kind of extended passages, consider a high-quality mechanical self-steering unit, possibly coupled with a lighter electrical system. Often, the two can be combined, offering the precision of fluxgate steering with the power and toughness of mechanical systems (see “ A Hybrid Self-Steering Solution “).

After the initial expense of purchase and installation, there will be no piece of equipment on your vessel more prized than your mechanical self-steering. I don’t know of a single long-distance sailor who has given a name to the roller-furling system, nor of one who has not named the windvane. Be it SPS or ARS, called Esther or Otto, trust me, out there on the Big Blue you will have many long and meaningful conversations with it.

But like all relationships, this one requires practice and patience. First and foremost, do not ask the windvane to make up for sloppy sailing. Balance your boat, starting with waterline trim. Keep the weight out of the ends and ensure that the sails are appropriately sized, set and trimmed to the conditions. Excessive heel is not only slow, but places the boat on lines that the designer never intended, resulting in poor tracking. Ensure that the windvane is not blanketed by superstructure or fed turbulent air via barbecues, solar panels or davits. Experiment with different settings, such as blade angle and line tension, to understand and optimize performance in various conditions.

Models that employ a mix of metals should be disassembled, cleaned and lubricated regularly to minimize electrolysis. When reassembling, use a high-grade barrier cream on all fasteners.

All models benefit from an occasional bath of scalding-hot fresh water to dissolve any buildup of salt, minerals and solidified grease.

And finally, for those concerned that these protruding, industrial-looking structures may ruin the lines of an otherwise lovely vessel, remember: “The rougher it gets, the better they look.”

Windvane on sugar scoop

Windvane Manufacturers

Aries Vane Gear and Cape Horn Marine Products Fleming Marine Hydrovane International Sailomat USA Scanmar International Voyager Self Steering Inc. Windpilot

Two-time circumnavigator Alvah Simon is a CW contributing editor. This article first appeared in the July 2014 issue of Cruising World as “A Vane to Steer Her By.”

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We built a trim tab on our aft hung rudder and have sailed well over 15,000 miles using it.

wind vane sailboat autopilot

A good Self-steering system can be homemade and it can turn an ordeal on a rough sea into an adventure. How you go about building the system depends on your boat. Our boat is what is known as a double-ended sailboat. This means that it has a similar shape whether we are coming or going. We also have an rudder that hangs on the back of the boat. In sail-speak that's known as an aft hung rudder. Most of the equipment available today are servo-pendulum types of self-steering gear. These require a support structure so they can hang off the back of the boat. For our boat this added a lot of weight and cost. So we started looking for a better solution.

wind vane sailboat autopilot

Also we use an electrical autopilot to steer the boat using the trim tab. It works amazingly well in all the conditions we've encountered, even surfing down 12 foot seas.

The cost of the overall system has been about $550. This includes metal, wood, welders, bearings and clamps, but not my time.

GET PART 1 FOR FREE Learn the following:

  • Why use a trim tab
  • How big should it be made
  • Detailed calculations for constructing the NACA 0010 foil
  • Detailed photos and descriptions for building the trim tab
  • How to mount the trim tab and the details of each strut, including bearings.

GET PART 2! Written over a period of 18 months and 5,000 miles of sailing, Part 2 contains the following information some of which is not available anywhere else:

  • The relative motions of the wind vane system
  • Our unique method for testing system stability (without even leaving the slip)
  • See 5 different designs using the autopilot and a trim tab with detailed photos, drawings and an analysis of each design tested at sea
  • Understand how to make your design flexible and how to steer a big boat using a tiny autopilot by taking advantage of the trim tab's mechanical strength
  • Learn about the pitfalls and how to avoid them in your design
  • Over 40 pictures and drawings showing real systems at work
  • See several wind vane systems at work and learn about the ways to make them flexible in both gain and feedback so they can be adopted to your boat.

FREE PREVIEW: To preview Part 2's Table of Contents, List of Figures and Tables for free here , before you decide to buy a copy.

Part 2 is pretty big (60+ pages), and everyone and their dog downloaded Part 1 for free which drove up our bandwidth. So to help offset these costs, Part 2 requires a $5 fee from Pay Pal (you can use your credit card) and a link will be emailed to you.

Click on the PAY PAL icon to go directly to Pay Pal and make your payment. Then select RETURN TO MERCHANT after paying to get your document.

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Meet the best crewmember that never tires, in any seastate.

The aries vane gear has proven itself in countless circumnavigations and hundreds of storms..

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Order a new Aries Windvane and have it shipped to you, or come by in Amsterdam.

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Mark Slats | Golden Globe Race 2018

About Aries

Born out of need, designed to last..

The origins of the Aries Vane Gear date back to 1964. Englishman Nick Franklin wanted to create a wind-generated autopilot, suitable for a large variety of sailboats, with different transoms and rudder layouts, operated by both tillers and wheels.

The Servo-Pendulum System was a winning formula. The boat is steered by its own rudder, which is the most efficient way to steer a boat. The force needed to steer is generated by the speed in the water and is more than sufficient to get even the heaviest cruising sailboats back on course.

Since the 60’ies, the Aries has been available in multiple models. Now we’re back to one model, suitable for all boats, like the Aries was intended by Nick Franklin. It has a proven track record with many circumnavigations and ocean crossings in bad weather. 

Lean Nelis has taken over Aries in 2015. He brought the company’s workshop to Amsterdam where he is still building and rebuilding every sailor’s favourite crewmember.

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Read the Salty Stories...

...about us and sailors who have pushed their aries to the limit..

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Got a question? Feel free to send us a message!

We’ll be in touch as soon as possible.

Kind regards,

Get in touch


Lean Nelis Aries Vane Gear Zamenhofstraat 118 1022AG Amsterdam The Netherlands KVK 51595362

E-mail: [email protected]

Georg Seifert Schulz-Hohenstein Söhne Nachf. Geibelstr. 9-11 47057 Duisburg Germany

E-mail: [email protected] Website:

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Captain Stefan moved to Florida in 2014 however his sailing career began in his youth in Nova Scotia, racing sailing dinghies and keel boats until the North West Arm would freeze up.  Later Stefan sailed out of the Sidney North Saanich Yacht Club in Victoria, British Columbia and participated in sailing races throughout the Pacific Northwest.  Today Stefan offers charters out of St. Petersburg Florida to destinations in and around South Florida, the Bahamas and the Caribbean.

In addition to holding a  U.S. Coast Guard Master Captain’s License, Stefan teaches various sailing and power boating courses through approved American Sailing Association (ASA) and Recreational Power Boating Association (RPBA) schools.  


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  1. Hydrovane Self Steering Windvane

    Golden Globe Update Day 113: [GGR Leader Jean-Luc Van Den Heede sailing the Rustler 36 Matmut] was full of praise for his Hydrovane self-steering. "In a gale it has a big advantage because it is not steering the boat's rudder, but has its own. This little rudder is far more efficient than the big rudder.". - Jean Luc Van Den Heede on ...

  2. Windvane pilots vs electric autopilots: all you need to know

    Windvane have made the history of single-handed offshore sailing, electric pilots have evolved and are now the only system on racing boats. A boat's autopilot is its most expensive electronic component. So it is important to know it well and know how to use it to get the best out of it. However, autopilots have not always been electric, their ...

  3. Autopilot vs Windvane Self-Steering (Which Is Better)

    The wind vane is locked in position after the boat has been put on course and the sails are trimmed correctly. ... How Does Autopilot Work On A Sailboat? Autopilots work with 4 components, a compass/sensor, an ACU (autopilot control unit), a control head, and a drive unit. When the control head is set to a specific heading, the drive unit will ...

  4. Windvane pilots vs electric autopilots: all you need to know

    09/05/2021. A boat's autopilot is its most expensive electronic component. So it is important to know it well and know how to use it to get the best out of it. However, autopilots have not always been electric, their evolution has required years of refinement. At the dawn of ocean sailing there was nothing but windvane pilots.

  5. Sailboat Autopilot Wind Vane: A Comprehensive Guide

    Short answer: Sailboat autopilot wind vane A sailboat autopilot wind vane is a mechanism used to steer a sailboat by using the force of the wind. It consists of a windvane connected to an autopilot, which adjusts the boat's rudder based on the wind direction. This device allows for hands-free sailing and improved efficiency in

  6. 7 Best Sailboat Autopilot Systems

    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.

  7. Installing and using wind vane steering

    Autopilots and wind vanes steer differently. A wind vane will steer to a constant point of sail, a relative angle to the wind. The autopilot, by default, steers to a compass course or to a GPS waypoint. In a passagemaking situation steering to a course or waypoint is important, but in heavy conditions steering to the wind has its benefits.

  8. Wind Vane self steering systems

    This video explains, in simple terms, how wind vane self-steering systems work on yachts and sailboats. The video follows an easy flow from auxiliary rudder ...

  9. Why You Need a Wind Vane for Your Sailboat

    Many of today's offshore cruising sailboats utilize a type of autopilot equipment called a windvane. A sailboat wind vane is a mechanical self-steering system that requires no electricity, fuel, or manpower to operate. It's the perfect addition to bluewater cruisers and offshore sailboats. While a mechanical self-steering wind vane can't hold you on a compass

  10. Know-how: Adding Windvane Steering and a Hydrogenerator

    When the wind is both powering and steering the boat, a satisfying synergy of motion is achieved. ... and we fly the red vane sail as a badge of honor marking our sailboat's arrival into a higher state of being. Attaining balance with the sea is cool. But banking amp-hours is cool too. Shutting off the electric autopilot and steering by vane ...

  11. Wind Vane Self Steering: The Ultimate Guide

    Short answer: wind vane self steering Wind vane self steering is a mechanical device used on sailboats to maintain a desired course without the need for continuous manual adjustment. It utilizes the force of the wind and a vertical axis to steer the boat by adjusting the position of the rudder. How Wind Vane Self.

  12. Twenty-five years of wind vane steering

    When under sail we all prefer using the wind vane rather than an autopilot. It uses no electricity, it's quiet and extraordinarily reliable. And, we believe, steers the boat on all points of sail better than an autopilot. Wind vane self-steerers do require five knots or more of wind across the deck to work properly.

  13. Windvane steering: why it makes sense for coastal cruising

    On some set ups, the power exerted on the steering system can also be adjusted at the point where the wind vane meets its pivot, just like changing sensitivity on an electronic autopilot. By controlling the rotation of the rudder or paddle created by the windvane, you control how aggressively the system corrects the boat's course.

  14. Sailing With a Windvane

    In this scenario, the more robust mechanical sailboat windvane would be employed in heavier weather, while the electric autopilot would be used in light airs and under power, where directional corrections are provided not by the wind, but by a fluxgate compass. It is important to understand that while the electric autopilot maintains a steady compass course, a windvane is set to maintain a ...

  15. WINDPILOT: selfsteering under sail

    The reference resource for mechanical windvane steering for yachtsmen and worldwide bluewater cruising sailors.

  16. Self-Steering Gear -- Build a trim-tab based wind vane or autopilot

    See several wind vane systems at work and learn about the ways to make them flexible in both gain and feedback so they can be adopted to your boat. FREE PREVIEW: To preview Part 2's Table of Contents, List of Figures and Tables for free here , before you decide to buy a copy.

  17. Aries Vanegear

    Born out of need, designed to last. The origins of the Aries Vane Gear date back to 1964. Englishman Nick Franklin wanted to create a wind-generated autopilot, suitable for a large variety of sailboats, with different transoms and rudder layouts, operated by both tillers and wheels. The Servo-Pendulum System was a winning formula.

  18. Self-steering gear

    Even in sailboats running under engine, the self steering gear can be used to keep the boat heading into the wind to easily set or change sails (exception: sheet-to-tiller principle). As wind direction sensors are used. a) a wind vane mounted on an axis being tilted more or less towards the horizon (wind vane self-steering)

  19. 1980 Ta Shing Baba 40, Saint Petersburg Florida

    Wind vane is a Cape Horn, the model is a Joshua this to also has an electric linear auto pilot which connects to the quadrant below deck (emergency back up) Fuel cap. Is 60 gal. Cast iron tank has been removed and a fiberglass tank replaced it . An additional 40 stored on deck. Water Is 75 gal. Old tanks have been removed and 2 x 35 gal poly

  20. Wiley Pixie Catamaran Charters

    Spend your nights under the stars on our 3BR/3BA catamaran, with all the amenities you need to enjoy a comfortable charter experience. From secluded anchorages to stunning sunsets and sunrises, discover the beauty of the sea and the freedom of sailing, as you explore a range of destinations from St. Petersburg to Clearwater, all the way down to ...

  21. 2006 Beneteau 393, Saint Petersburg United States

    Like this boat? Find out more. Preferred Yachts The Harborage Marina . 1110 3rd Street South - Floating office . St. Petersburg, FL, 33701 United States 727-205-0952. View Seller Inventory Call Now 727-205-0952 Send Email Request Information. Contact Seller X

  22. Captain Stefan Yacht Charters AND ASA SAILING School

    For longer cruises she is equipped with a water maker, generator, and a Victron 3K inverter and charger. Raymarine sailing instruments include chart plotters at the helm and navigation station, radar, AIS and autopilot. L'Ardeur is ready to provide enjoyment and performance! Boat Specs. LOA: 37 ft 3 in. LWL: 32 ft 10. Beam: 12 ft 4 in