7 Important Safety Tips when using a Marine Autopilot
Marine autopilots are a great bit of tech. There are many advantages to fitting your boat with an autopilot system.
However, there are right and wrong ways to use an autopilot. You always need to remember that the system is not a replacement for seamanship.
Used in the correct way, an autopilot is a great asset to your boating setup. Used incorrectly and it can be a recipe for disaster.
In these following tips, we look at how you can get the best out of your autopilot system while keeping those onboard safe.
1. Use your Autopilot to be more effective at the helm
Having the autopilot switched on while you are at the helm, allows you greater freedom to be more effective on watch.
Instead of concentrating hard on the actual steering of the vessel, you can leave this to autopilot while you pay attention to what is going on around you in the water.
This can mean looking at the full 350 degrees and even picking up the binoculars to see what might lay far ahead.
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2. Don’t rely on autopilot to take a nap
It is wrong to assume that the autopilot can take care of things so you can get some shuteye.
You should turn over the watch to someone that has an idea of what they are doing.
The autopilot can steer and keep you on course, by all means, however, if you intend to sleep, a competent human needs to be aware of what’s happening.
If they can’t pilot themselves, they should at least know when you should be woken up to deal with a change in circumstances.
3. Resting when it is just you and the autopilot
If you do not have the luxury of having another person on board that you can entrust to keep watch when you need rest, you should set an alarm that will wake you in case you fall asleep.
Even then, you should only relax enough to nod-off to a set alarm if you know there are no obstructions ahead that you might have to react to.
4. Use the autopilot to take a short break and stretch
A preferred way of reducing the danger of becoming fatigued while at the helm is to use the autopilot while you stretch your muscles, pace up and down to get the blood pumping again, and maybe even knock back a strong coffee.
You are never far from the helm while you do this, and to a certain degree, you are still on watch. However, using this break to refresh will do wonders.
5. Set proximity alarms
When using the autopilot while on the watch or not, it is a good idea to set proximity alarms so that you are alerted if the vessel gets too close to land or another vessel.
This is especially important if you are tired and there is a risk of concentration lapse as described in some of the points above.
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6. Switch off the autopilot when passing large steel objects
It is advised that you switch off the autopilot whenever you close to a large steel object. Passing beneath a bridge or large ship can interfere with the fluxgate compass that controls the course that the autopilot takes.
It could be extremely hazardous if you are not paying attention, and the device begins to malfunction in such circumstances.
7. Do not place metal objects beside the unit
Likewise, placing metal objects right beside the unit compass could lead to misreadings and the autopilot sending you off course.
Read the user manual to see if there are any known issues with the fluxgate compass on a particular model autopilot.
For peace of mind, just keep the area clear of metal objects.