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Using the criteria presented in this book you should be in a position to choose a windvane steering system for yourself, and the same goes for a cockpit autopilot. If you are looking at an inboard autopilot, on the other hand, you will need the help of an expert for the calculations with regard to rudder area, pressure or load that are normally part of the ordering process with the major manufacturers. These help to determine the drive unit required.

It will quickly become apparent on reading the market summary that follows that the whole self-steering market has undergone considerable concentration in recent years. Few companies are now capable of the international marketing, with its multilingual brochures and constant presence at the international boat shows, which catches the eye and wins the confidence of the potential customer. Autohelm, B & G, Robertson, Hydrovane, Monitor and Windpilot are the manufacturers who visit all the European shows and offer good and prompt customer service. They are also the companies whose systems are sufficiently well known and regarded to guarantee the continuity of the business

The number of companies that have shut down over the years illustrates how discerning the customer is in this market. A good product alone is not enough. Reliable advice and good personal service are the basis of this delicate business in which honesty and realistic promises are more important than big words which disappear on the breeze as soon as you leave harbour. Written warranties may work well as an advertising technique, but they are very little use when something actually does go wrong if the sailor suddenly finds, for example, that he or she must first prove that negligence on board was not the cause. What counts in such a situation is quick and unbureaucratic assistance so that the voyage can continue; a broken windvane gear can very easily rubbish an itinerary. A delay while the manufacturer requests document after document to try and save some money does the customer no good at all. Good word of mouth publicity amongst sailors is what every manufacturer strives for, and building up the necessary base of satisfied customers takes years of good service and support. Once there however, the systems all but sell themselves!

The start of the 1996 ARC from Las Palmas

The point to remember in this respect is that even one unsatisfied customer can, in the course of a trip, express his or her dissatisfaction often enough to trigger a flood of adverse publicity which even the glossiest full-page adverts could not mop up. the only way to ensure continued good business is to cultivate a 'fan club' in the sailing community: the sea does not tolerate poor advice, and the results are impossible to overlook, for example when manual steering becomes essential because the automatic system has failed.

It is curious that sailors seem to have a split personality when it comes to warranties. Faults in an autopilot are accepted more or less silently and it is often impossible to assess the accuracy of manufacturers' promises regarding modifications, improved quality and hence better durability until after the warranty has expired. The demands on a windvane steering system are normally somewhat greater: owners often expect the gear to be virtually perfect for the whole of its life. The tiny number of used systems available on the market (excepting those smaller systems shed as an owner moves on to a bigger boat) suggests how satisfied customers are even over the longer term.

The major companies in the market have earned their success through endurance, regular presence at the shows and good references from demanding customers. The table below showing the prevalence of the different windvane steering systems in the ARC fleet over the last two races gives a fairly accurate idea of which systems are currently popular.

Windvane steering systems in the ARC

System

1994

1995

Aries

5

7

Atoms

-

2

Hydrovane

7

7

Monitor

5

5

Mustafa

1

-

Navik

1

2

Sailomat

-

3

Windpilot

13

1B

The autor (left) and Hans Bernwall of Monitor at the 1996 London Boat Show

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How To Have A Perfect Boating Experience

How To Have A Perfect Boating Experience

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