A to Z of manufacturers

Autopilots AUTOHELM

Founded in 1974 by British engineer Derek Fawcett, Autohelm has expanded continuously and has been worldwide market leader from day one.

The characteristic 6 button operating pad was introduced in 1984 and remains unchanged: AUTO - autopilot on; +1/+10 - add 1 degree/10 degrees to the heading; -1/-10 - subtract 1 degree/10 degrees from the heading; and STANDBY.

Autohelm merged in 1990 with Raytheon Inc., an American multinational with 70,000 employees and interests in everything from refrigerators to autopilots to rockets, and launched its own data transfer protocol (data bus) shortly afterwards. SEA TALK (ST) denotes systems which are equipped to use this data bus. A simple single cable connection links all the system components together, allowing them to exchange wind, log, GPS and nav-centre data. Autohelm still leads the field in this area, and all its systems apart from the AH 800 are ST compatible and can be linked to other modules. Autohelm systems are produced at the company's site in England which employs about 300. The company currently has about 90 % of the market for cockpit autopilots and somewhere between 50 and 60 % of the market for inboard autopilots for sailing yachts up to 60 feet.

The range includes:

• 2 course computers (Model 100 or 300)

• 6 mechanical/linear-hydraulic drive units for vessels up to 43 t

• 5 hydraulic drive pumps

Autohelm has a worldwide distribution network with service centres around the globe. BENMAR

An American manufacturer with only a limited presence in Europe. Benmar supplies autopilots for many 40+ foot motor yachts in the USA.


English company Brookes and Gatehouse (B & G) was founded only a year after the birth of the transistor and the onset of the electronics revolution. The company rose to prominence thanks to two legendary instrument ranges, HOMER and HERON, which appeared on virtually all the bigger yachts of the day. Continuous development in the field of onboard electronics for the discerning sailor has helped the company retain a sizeable share of this market. B & G competes internationally with a full range of integrated instruments. B & G's NETWORK PILOT, HYDRA 2 and HERCULES PILOT autopilot systems are available in a range of specifications and sizes and are predominantly found on larger boats.

The range includes:

• 3 linear-hydraulic drive units for boats up to approx. 30 m

• 5 hydraulic drive pumps for boats up to approx. 20 m a) B & G HYDRA 2 and HERCULES

• 3 linear-hydraulic drive units

• 2 hydraulic drive pumps

B & G systems are used in all the big races (Whitbread, Fastnet, Sydney-Hobart, America's Cup, Admiral's Cup), where the emphasis is squarely on the company's excellent transducer and tactical processing systems for wind, log, depth and navigation data. These races are all fully-crewed events so autopilots are not relevant. B & G has a worldwide distribution and service network.


The only challenger to Autohelm in some parts of the world, Navico has been producing its TILLERPILOT 100 and 300 models for years. A new offering is the OCEANPILOT series, an inboard autopilot in the same vein as the others on the market. Navico too provides a full range of integrated instruments.

The range includes:

a) TILLERPILOT 100 and 300


• 1 course computer

• 2 linear-hydraulic drive units for boats up to 22 t

• 2 hydraulic drive pumps

Navico has subsidiaries in France, Britain and the USA. CETREK

Another well-known name and one of the pioneers in the autopilot industry, this English manufacturer also fits out commercial vessels. Cetrek offers a data bus and a complete range of instrument modules for the recreational sailor.


This English company also has a background in commercial shipping. Neco expanded into the yacht autopilot sector for a few years but has now returned to its core business.


Robertson was founded in 1950 and initially concentrated on the manufacture of autopilots for commercial fishing, a market it quickly came to dominate. Norwegian Simrad Robertson AS Group is now market leader in fitting out and automation for commercial and offshore shipping. Its products range from complete steering and navigation systems for supertankers to special sonar equipment for commercial fishing boats.

The expansion into recreational sailing was a logical step since autopilot systems developed for the rigours of commercial operation were also highly suitable for sailing boats; looking at the high-tech bridge of a modern ocean going trawler the ancestry of our yacht autopilots is plain to see. Robertson's first yacht autopilot, the AP 20, was assembled from cannibalised military receivers. It was introduced in 1964. Self-adjusting autopilots were essential for commercial shipping and, once available, quickly became standard.

The capabilities of modern yacht autopilots may seem amazing but they are really just hand-me-downs from commercial shipping, where the demands placed on (and indeed met by) continuously operating autopilots are of an entirely different magnitude.

Robertson autopilots are known for great robustness and are particularly common on larger vessels. They probably enjoy the lion's share of the worldwide market for maxis and big motor yachts.

The range includes:

• 7 autopilot systems

• 5 linear-hydraulic drive units

• 4 hydraulic drive pumps

• 8 hydraulic steering systems

Distribution is via the company's own worldwide network of subsidiaries and service centres.


This small volume high quality German manufacturer has been in existence for some 28 years now. The company and its five employees build a small number of premium autopilots every year, predominantly for use on maxis, including Jongert yachts. Segatron systems naturally incorporate an NMEA interfaces to allow integration into an onboard data network.


This Swedish manufacturer recently introduced a data bus compatible inboard autopilot with several drive unit options.

VDO is a German company and a subsidiary of Mannesman AG. Originally built up as an instrument manufacturer for the automotive industry, it has been active in the marine sector for some time. VDO launched its VDO LOGIC line, another integrated instrument system, in 1993.

The VDO LOGIC PILOT range includes:

• 1 course computer

• 3 hydraulic drive pumps

• 1 linear-hydraulic drive unit

VDO systems are distributed through branches in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. VETUS

A big name in the watersports industry, this Dutch manufacturer has for some years been marketing a range of British-built autopilots under the name VETUS AUTOPILOT. These systems are also data bus compatible. The range includes a large selection of mechanical and hydraulic drive units.

Windvane steering systems

ARIES (System type 11)

Nick Franklin started building the Aries servo-pendulum system in Cowes, Isle of Wight, in 1968. Bronze was originally used for the bevel gears but was replaced by aluminium fairly early on. The Aries gears in production shortly before Franklin closed up the business in the late 1980s were still almost identical in appearance to the very first units. Characteristic of Aries systems is the toothed wheel course setting mechanism with increments of 6 degrees.

One story suggests that this component was never modified because a giant milling machine, so big the roof of the workshop had to be raised to accommodate it, had initially been installed to machine it, and a subsequent change in the toothed wheel design would have negated all the work.

The Aries gear was carried on a number of legendary voyages and came to epitomise for sailors the robustness and indestructibility of mechanical servo-pendulum systems - even though it had some glaring weaknesses in practice. The push rod connecting the windvane to the bevel gear, a solid casting, was overbuilt and the system suffered in lighter winds as a consequence. The push rod never experiences high loads as its only function is to transmit the force from the windvane which rotates the pendulum rudder. The 6 degree increments of the course setting mechanism are not always sufficiently fine going to weather: 6 degrees can be the difference between sailing too deep and backing the sails.

The ARIES STANDARD pendulum rudder is complicated to connect and disconnect and, since it cannot normally by raised up out of the water, requires great care when reversing. These drawbacks meant that the systems were not particularly suitable for everyday use on shorter voyages and led later to the development of the ARIES LIFT-UP. Once the whole windvane support had been disassembled, the body of this modified gear could be released and then pivoted up and forwards. Although undoubtedly an improvement, the solution was still not ideal since the gear was completely unsecured on the mounting during the pivoting up procedure, a potentially dangerous situation in a sea.

Nick Franklin, designer of the Aries servo-pendulum system

Wind Steering Systems

Aries Lift-Up

Nick Franklin, designer of the Aries servo-pendulum system

Aries Lift-Up

The ARIES CIRCUMNAVIGATOR, basically an ARIES STANDARD with a better mounting and a removable pendulum rudder, was introduced in the mid-1980s. Its wheel adaptor uses a finely toothed wheel, allowing good adjustment and setting.

Despite its disadvantages, the Aries system has often been the subject of imitation by manufacturers happy to forgo the trials of innovation and shelter in the lee of the excellent reputation of the original.

A considerable part of the success of Aries must be put down to the highly personable nature of Nick Franklin himself. Set in the beautiful Isle of Wight countryside he and his company were always a competent business partner for sailors of all nationalities. Franklin eventually closed up shop as a result of rising material costs and an increasingly difficult market and because he had finally finished building his own boat and was ready, after twenty years of the stress of a full time job, to head for more peaceful waters.

Spare parts for all Aries systems are available from Franklin's daughter Helen, either directly from England or via the original German distributor Windpilot.

The ARIES STANDARD has recently been resurrected by Dane Peter Nordborg. Nordborg uses aluminium parts made in England and machines them in metric sizes. The one available system is specified for boats of up to 60 feet and can be obtained directly from the manufacturer.

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How To Have A Perfect Boating Experience

How To Have A Perfect Boating Experience

Lets start by identifying what exactly certain boats are. Sometimes the terminology can get lost on beginners, so well look at some of the most common boats and what theyre called. These boats are exactly what the name implies. They are meant to be used for fishing. Most fishing boats are powered by outboard motors, and many also have a trolling motor mounted on the bow. Bass boats can be made of aluminium or fibreglass.

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