Windvane vs. Autopilot
Types of Selfsteering Gear
Equipment for self-steering has been around for quite a few years, but sailors are still confused about what to buy. In general, three different types of gear are used.
- Small cockpit mounted autopilot. Electric. Often owner installed. Purchase price approximately $1000.
- Large underdeck autopilot: More complicated, requiring professional installation. Heavy duty, using more electricity. Pilot plus installation often $6000-$8000. Charging equipment and extra batteries further adds to the cost.
- Mechanical windvane: Wind powered, mechanical (no electricity!) Owner installed. Proven and almost trouble free. Price around $3000-$4000.
To be a member of England's OCEAN CRUISING CLUB you must be an experienced blue water sailor. This means that you know how to sail in tough North Sea and North Atlantic conditions.
A recent survey taken among its members showed the following:
- 70% prefer windvane self-steering and 30% prefer to rely solely on autopilots. Of those preferring windvanes, 80% specified a servo-pendulum type, 13% wanted an auxiliary rudder system and 7% liked a trimtab system.
- 80% of the respondents also specified autopilots which, for boats with windvanes, are used for backup or used in light conditions and especially under power. 15% would carry a spare autopilot. We've never heard of anyone sailing with a complete second backup windvane.
This is the message that SCANMAR INTERNATIONAL has also tried to convey since we started our company in 1977, following a six-year circumnavigation by the founder of the company.
The autopilot and windvane work well as a team, they each have their strong and complementary points.
Everyone claims that their system is best, but there is no "best" vane. It all depends on what boat the vane is going to steer. Our company manufactures three vanes, each using a different principle and suitable for different boats and steering systems.