Boats of 18m / 60 ft at present represent the upper limit of what can reliably be steered by a windvane steering system. Bigger boats rely almost exclusively on electronic systems; the heavy equipment and availability of auxiliary generators justifies the use of the most powerful autopilots.
The corresponding lower limit seems to fall close to 5m / 18 ft, a length of boat not unheard of for extended voyages. A gear appropriate in other respects for a boat any shorter than this would, at around 20 kg / 40 lb, be too heavy.
Windpilot Pacific Light on a Crabber 24
Man overboard function
In England alone, fifty fishermen drowned after falling overboard during 1996 - which means, on average, almost one every week. The nightmare of parting company with the boat unintentionally haunts every sailor and indeed every person who takes to the sea. It is a nightmare which often becomes reality, sometimes spectacularly as in the 1996 Vendée Globe, but more often completely unnoticed by the public (although no less painful for the bereaved). Only seldom does some guardian angel appear to pluck the unfortunates from the water.
Distress detection and rescue efforts span the globe to try and ensure that emergency assistance reaches those who need it before cold and exposure take their toll. There can be no feeling as lonely or absolutely terrifying as floundering in the wake of your boat as it sails off towards the horizon. The international maritime safety industry has for years been racing to develop a way of stopping a boat under autopilot steering.
The Emergency Guard system for autopilots appeared in Germany in 1996. Each crew member wears a small command set with a button and a sensor. If the button is pressed or the sensor is submerged, the command set sends a signal to the autopilot telling it to turn into the wind. The autopilot has a dedicated clinometer which ensures that it turns into wind and never away from it. The foresail backs in this position and as soon as the clinometer registers heel to the other side the autopilot puts the rudder hard-over again, leaving the boat stationary from drift. This means in practice that the boat turns into the wind within 5 seconds of the system triggering and, depending on the speed and characteristics of the boat, the rudder is hard over and the boat speed indicator at zero within another 30 seconds.
The system can also be wired up to perform four additional tasks, namely:
1. actuating an engine cut-off switch;
2. triggering an audible alarm or the MOB function on the navigation instruments;
3. activating an automatic rescue module (explosive-launched lifebuoy and line);
4. activating an EPIRB transmitter.
EMERGENCY GUARD comprises three components:
A command set worn around the neck on a loop. The loop also serves as the antenna. The coded signal prevents accidental operation by a foreign command set and has a range of about 600 m.
A controller which receives and passes on the signal. It can also be operated manually as well as by the signal.
A sensor unit, mounted below deck, which controls manoeuvring. The clinometer is highly sensitive, so care must be taken during installation to ensure the unit is absolutely level.
The system is also suitable for multihulls since the clinometer is sensitive enough to detect even the relatively slight heel they experience in response to wind pressure and also to eliminate the motion of the boat. Self-tacking foresails must be fixed in place otherwise the foresail will not back.
A new feature of the EMERGENCY GUARD system, developed in collaboration with WINDPILOT, enables it to be used with the PACIFIC servo-pendulum gear. The signal from the command set is passed to a solenoid switch which uncouples the gear from the main rudder, leaving the boat to round up into the wind and stop.
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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.