Windvane vs. Autopilot

Comparison Chart

This comparison shows general differences between under deck pilots* and windvanes for boats 30-50 feet.
Cost/Economy Under deck models... Expect $8000 with professional installation. Additional cost for equipment needed to handle electrical demand. Expect $3500 - $4000.
Custom made mounting system included. Owner installed.
Power High electrical consumption requires some or all of the following; extra batteries, special alternator, generators, (wind, water, auxiliary) solar panels, extra fuel and spares. Totally mechanical, needs no electricity. Works even if entire electrical system is disabled.
Reliability Recent survey of over 300 boats showed that the best selling under deck autopilot had 800+ hours of use between breakdowns. This translates to a breakdown once every 34 days or approximately 8 times in an average circumnavigation. Extremely reliable. Two circumnavigations with only routine maintenance not unusual
Performance Performance drops as the weather deteriorates. Correction likely to be too slow and too late, high energy consumption. Radio transmissions and magnetic interference sometimes confuse the pilot The more it blows, the better it works. Has more power with higher boat speed. Many examples of the windvanes steering for days in 60 mph under bare poles.
Noise Annoying noise for sailors. Quiet and peaceful.
Repair Impossible to repair at sea unless electronic wizard on board. Service centers often far away. Expect expensive air freight, customs hassle and often 3-6 weeks turnaround. Sailors with large wallets have spare pilots. No help if electrical system is down. Can be repaired and serviced on board with regular hand tools and spare parts kit. Built in overload protection.
Autopilots are divided into A. Under deck and B. Cockpit mounted models: Cockpit pilots are not recommended for heavy work. The West Advisor in West Marine's catalog recommends them only if you have back up models, a windvane or a strong preference for hand-steering.