Managing a sailboat can be a bit of a handful! Sometimes you just want to take some time to relax and enjoy the salt spray in the air and the sun on your face. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible, especially if you don’t have many people who can help you sail while you’re out on the water.
Thankfully, technology has come a long way since tall ships ruled the waves. You no longer need a full crew to help keep your boat’s operations going smoothly. All you need is a few pieces of equipment that make up the system known as a sailboat autopilot.
Unfortunately, sailboat autopilots are complex pieces of equipment. They take quite a bit of thought on the part of the buyer to ensure that it is the correct model. In today’s guide, we’re going to take a look at eight of the best sailboat autopilots on the market.
We’ll also go over a few crucial pieces of buying advice, including discussing who could get the most out of a sailboat autopilot and why. Then we’ll take a look at some FAQs about sailboat autopilots and we’ll also cover the most important features to look for in the best model.
Without any further delay, let’s get started with a look at the Best Sailboat Autopilot, the Garmin Reactor 40.
Best Sailboat Autopilot
Our Top Pick: Garmin 010-00705-94 Reactor 40 Kicker Autopilot
Key Points at a Glance
- Comes included with a GHC 20 autopilot display
- The remote control floats in the water
- Bright remote control display for use in sunny weather
- Designed for anglers as well as cruisers
- Made for use with an outboard kicker motor
Our favorite option is the Garmin Reactor 40, which offers superior user-friendliness and build quality when compared to many of the other choices you have at your disposal. This autopilot system comes included with everything you need, and it’s designed for sailboats with small, outboard kicker motors.
This autopilot system is designed to put up with everything you can throw at it, including changing currents and waves or wind. As long as you input your course correctly, the Garmin Reactor 40 will do everything in its power to keep you on the right course, and you’ll be notified if it can’t do that at any time.
The remote that you use to control this autopilot system is designed to be compact enough to bring with you anywhere on the boat. The display is designed to be as bright as possible so you can easily see what’s going on at any time, even if you’re on the upper deck and the sun is beating directly down on you.
As an added bonus, the remote control floats, so if you end up having a moment of clumsiness, you won’t have to worry about it sinking down to the murky depths. The remote also features an easily controlled throttle system that can drop your speed to zero at a moment’s notice, making the Reactor 40 ideal for anglers.
This whole system is integrated with Garmin’s GPS units, and it comes included with a GHC 20 autopilot display. Installation is a little involved, but that’s to be expected with a comprehensive autopilot system like this one. Overall, we were highly impressed with the Reactor 20, but keep in mind that it’s pricey.
This is the Best Sailboat Autopilot for most users.
- Specially designed for boats with small gasoline...
- Helps maintain heading hold and route to keep you...
- Includes convenient floating handheld remote...
- Easily fine-tune autopilot throttle setting with...
- Easy to install and integrate with our GHC 20...
Our Runner Up: Raymarine EV-100 p70 Wheel Pilot Pack
Key Points at a Glance
- Waterproof design allows for installation anywhere on your vessel
- Hooks up directly to the wheel and is easy to install
- Automatically adjusts based on how your boat performs
- Comes included with a wheel drive, cabling kit, the p70 control head, ACU-100 interface, and the EV1 sensor
The runner up in our list is the EV-100 autopilot pack from Raymarine. This comprehensive system comes with everything you need to automatically control the tack of your vessel.
And it’s relatively easy to install compared to a more in-depth autopilot! The relative ease of installation is due to this model’s excellent instructions and its wheel-based design.
You can use this autopilot on sailboats that are up to 16,000 lbs in displacement, so it’s not designed for the largest boats. But you can still fit it on boats on the upper end of the smallest weight class.
Impressively enough, this autopilot is smart enough to learn your boat’s habits, and it doesn’t require any calibration on your part.
The system is also designed to be fully waterproof, so it can be installed at helms that are both above- and below-deck. Like any good autopilot system, the EV-100 is constantly adjusting how your boat performs, learning how the currents and waves are impacting your course, and naturally adjusting for them.
Keep in mind that this product is designed for maximum compatibility with Evolution autopilot systems. The only reason why this was made our runner up is that it is a little less comprehensive and versatile than the Garmin system.
For example, it is purely designed for sailing and not made to support outboard motors.
- Designed for smaller wheel steered sailboats with...
- Precision monitoring of heading, pitch, roll and...
- No calibration required; The autopilot...
- Flexible installation options; Waterproof housing...
- Wheel Pilot Pack Includes: EV1 - Sensor Core,...
Best Budget: Simrad TP10 Tiller Pilot
Key Points at a Glance
- Nearly silent operation makes the TP10 a lot more comfortable on the ears
- Designed to draw less power so it doesn’t run your battery dry
- Automatically accounts for environmental changes to keep you on course
- Relatively easy to use and install
The Simrad TP10 is the most affordable model on this list, but unlike other low-cost autopilots, this one actually gets the job done. The TP10 is meant for tiller-steered sailboats. It supports smaller vessels than the autopilots that we’ve looked at so far, but that’s to be expected from such an affordable product.
The max vessel size for this system is a 32-footer, and the TP10 is meant to be as easy to install as it is to use. One of the more notable things about this tiller pilot system is that it uses significantly less power than many of the systems we’ve covered up until this point, so you won’t be starved for electrical energy.
All of the controls are clearly labeled and relatively easy to use on this autopilot, and it’s designed to steer your vessel precisely and effectively, accounting for any water and atmospheric conditions.
These autotiller systems are also fully waterproof, ensuring that your tiller doesn’t have to be protected from the elements to install it.
One of the best things about Simrad’s TP series of autopilots is that they’re designed to be as quiet as possible, so you won’t have to deal with any loud mechanical whines or annoyances.
However, since this model is limited to tiller-operated sailboats, it loses out in the versatility department when compared to more comprehensive systems.
- EASY TO USE: A simple selection of controls enable...
- PRECISION STEERING: Outstanding performance...
- BATTERY OPTIMISATION: Low power draw ensures your...
- SILENT SAILING: The TP range of autopilots have...
- WATERPROOF SEALING: Protection from the elements.
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Key Points at a Glance
- Display is equipped with a bright daytime mode and dark nighttime mode
- One-touch mode allows for simpler steering and course control
- Features several modes, including auto, advanced, NAV, and wind mode
- FishHunter setting designed for anglers
The Furuno NavPilot is specifically designed for use with outboard motors, and in that domain, it’s a little more effective than our top pick. However, we haven’t chosen this one as our top autopilot since this specialization makes it a little less versatile than the Garmin Reactor 40, which managed to steal our hearts.
Furuno has developed a range of software that controls factors that would otherwise require the installation of specialized hardware in other sailboat autopilots. For example, the Fantum Feedback system allows you to control the direction of your vessel without needing to hook up a physical feedback unit to the rudder.
Getting this system installed and set up is also a lot easier than with its competitors. It includes an on-screen wizard that will guide you through the process, much like a computer program.
The control software on this unit has been designed to learn over time, so it will only get more effective the longer you use it.
You can also opt for performance or power savings by adjusting the autopilot system between the “economy” and “precision” settings. The display on this autopilot system is designed to function easily during even the brightest days, and you can even switch the display to night mode.
Overall, this is an excellent autopilot unit for sailboats with outboard motors.
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Best No Drive Autopilot: Raymarine Pilot Ev-200 A/P with P70R No Drive
Key Points at a Glance
- Drive unit not included to cut down on costs
- Learns more about the behavior of your vessel the longer you own it
- Magnetically shielded for use at high northern and low southern latitudes
- Uses solid-state sensors for improved accuracy
If you already have a drive system for your sailboat’s autopilot but you’re looking to replace the autopilot regardless, then this system should work best for you. Raymarine’s EV-200 comes included without a drive unit.
This means you to save quite a bit of cash if you already have one.
Much like the other Raymarine autopilot systems, this model is designed to learn from the behavior of your boat and the prevailing conditions. It automatically accounts for things like pitch, yaw, heading, and roll, and it will only perform better with time, as it gets used to the unique way your boat handles on the water.
This autopilot system is also waterproof, much like its fellow Raymarine autopilot systems. This means you can install it above-deck and below-deck without having to worry about the delicate electronics being damaged.
The EV-200 is even designed to account for gravitic and magnetic anomalies near the southern and northern poles.
This model comes included with an ACU-200 central processing unit, a P70R control head, EVA cable kit, and an EV-1 sensor. Overall, this is a capable system that can keep your boat under control in a wide range of situations, and though it’s relatively pricey, it’s a little more affordable than comparable units that come with a drive unit.
- Precision monitoring of heading, pitch, roll, and...
- Flexible installation options. Mount above or...
- Simple sea talk-ng connectivity to the control...
- Solid state sensor technology delivers dynamic...
- Auto-compensation for on board magnetic fields and...
Best Sailboat Autopilot Buyer’s Guide
There are many people who can benefit from using an autotiller or autopilot. And there are many reasons why you’d prefer using one to manually managing your vessel all the time.
The most pertinent reason to purchase a sailboat autopilot is simple convenience. Instead of having to deal with everything yourself when you’re out on the water, your boat can automatically keep itself trimmed and on course.
Since tiller pilots can manage your vessel’s direction as well as the speed with which it’s traveling, there isn’t much that you’ll need to worry about aside from keeping an eye out for any other vessels or weather systems.
This gives you the time to actually enjoy being out on the water instead of spending the whole time being engrossed in the nuts and bolts of sailing.
You can use a sailboat autopilot in a wide range of vessels, including those controlled by a wheel and those controlled by a tiller. The huge variety of sailboat autopilots on the market ensures that sailors of all different types can benefit from them.
Other than sheer convenience, there are a few other reasons why you may wish to install a tiller pilot on your sailboat. These include cutting down on the number of crew members that you need to bring along with you to control the boat.
For example, if you frequently sail with your friends and family, and few of them are available to head out on the water, some of the slack can be picked up by your autopilot. This is because an autopilot essentially functions as additional crewmembers, managing things that you can’t direct your attention to.
Of course, you’ll always want to ensure that you have enough people on your vessel to control it if something ends up going wrong with your autopilot. Otherwise, a malfunction in the system can end up sending your vessel out of control faster than you can compensate for it.
However, a sailboat autopilot can also make the business of piloting your vessel far safer, as one that’s functioning at peak efficiency can help you deal with prevailing currents and other environmental factors.
Anglers and fishermen can also benefit from the use of a sailboat autopilot, almost more than anyone else. Some autopilots are designed to keep your vessel in position while you’re fishing or even if you’re just out and enjoying the sun. Turn on the fishfinder and get casting!
Dealing with weather using an autopilot is almost trivial compared to the difficulties you may encounter when you’re steering the boat yourself. Things like tides, winds, and even the design of your vessel can skew how it performs based on the conditions of the wind and water.
But autopilots are unfazed by these variables. Looking to sail a long distance, like 100 miles? You’ll need some help, and an autopilot is a great helper.
Whether you’re an amateur sailor who’s looking to get a little more comfortable controlling their vessel or if you’re a serious sailboat angler, everyone can benefit from a sailboat autopilot, it’s just a matter of finding the right one for your needs. Let’s go over some of the most important factors and aspects to consider while shopping for one of them.
Important Features to Consider
Tiller- vs. Wheel-Mounted
The first thing to account for when you’re searching for the best sailboat autopilot is whether it will support your boat at all. There are two main varieties of autopilots. The first is the tiller-mounted autopilot, which is designed to control a boat’s tiller, and their simple designs make them a lot more affordable than other sailing autopilots.
The more complex alternative to a tiller-mounted autopilot is the mechanical, wheel-mounted variety. These systems will connect directly to your vessel’s wheel, but they feature an elaborate design that will make them pricier as more mechanically complex, so this will result in a bit of a more challenging installation.
How you control your sailboat’s autopilot is another thing to account for when you’re looking for the best one. You want your autopilot to be capable enough to keep your boat facing the right direction, but it also needs to be easy enough to use so that you don’t dread the thought of programming a course into it.
Most autopilots will come with a control unit that you can use to set variables like your course and heading. Other models will even come with a remote control that you can use to adjust your autopilot’s parameters when you aren’t near it, as long as you’re within a certain distance of it.
The display is a crucial aspect of the user interface on any autopilot, and if you often sail in bright, sunny areas, you’ll want a display that’s bright enough to see where you’re going. Some displays will feature multiple brightness levels, and some will even have a night mode that will make it easier to retain your night vision.
How you calibrate your autopilot and keep it performing accurately is another crucial aspect, and some of the cheapest models will have to be calibrated manually so that they can maintain a precise course. This can take time out of your day and take some of the “auto” out of the word autopilot.
More modern examples of sailing autopilots are designed to calibrate themselves using machine learning algorithms. This means that your autopilot will use its readings to automatically compensate for your boat’s performance and the weather over time, cutting back on the amount of work that you have to do.
Whether or not your sailboat’s autopilot is ruggedized and designed for harsh weather will affect where you can position it on your vessel and how long it will last. As with any piece of marine equipment, the best autopilots will be fully waterproof, and we wouldn’t recommend opting for a model that isn’t.
Non-waterproof sailboat autopilots will have to be located in an enclosed cabin, reducing their versatility and cutting down on the number of boats that they’ll be compatible with. On the other hand, a waterproof model can be installed on an open-helmed boat without any issues.
Installation and Assembly
The final thing to account for before buying your sailboat autopilot is how easy it will be to install it.
If you don’t want to pay extra to have someone install your new autopilot on your vessel, then you’ll want to get your hands on a simpler model with a more straightforward installation process. Typically, tiller-mounted autopilots are a lot easier to install than their more in-depth mechanical wheel counterparts.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are sailboat autopilots difficult to install?
If you aren’t too proficient at technical tasks and aren’t used to DIY work, you may have some trouble getting your sailboat autopilot set up in the first place. In these cases, we’d recommend opting for a qualified technician who can get everything set up for you without any issues.
Can I control my autopilot through a smart device?
Depending on the model of autopilot that you have installed, you may be able to connect with it through Bluetooth and control it using an app designed for that specific model. Some models are also compatible with NMEA networks, so pay close attention to your sailboat autopilot’s specs before you make your purchase if you want to control it from a phone or tablet.
If you’ve got one capable of being used with a smart device, you may want to consider a Marine WiFi Extender to improve your overall signal.
Do wheel-mounted autopilots require a specific number of spokes?
Most wheel-mounted sailboat autopilots don’t require too specific of a wheel design, as long as it’s within the range of dimensions that their control units support. The number of spokes on your wheel typically doesn’t factor into whether or not you can firmly mount the control unit in the first place.
Can sailboat autopilots handle any weather conditions?
In the most challenging conditions, your sailboat autopilot may have trouble keeping up with the weather and the forces acting upon your vessel. In these cases, you’ll probably have to take manual control of the boat, and (for your safety) you should already be at the helm if you’re dealing with such intense conditions.
Other Products We Looked At:
Simrad’s TP22 is yet another tiller autopilot manufactured by Simrad, and if it wasn’t beaten in price by the earlier TP10, we would have considered this model our top budget pick. As it stands, this is still a highly capable autopilot system for tiller-controlled boats that you should get your hands on if you don’t mind spending a little extra.
Much like the TP10, the maximum size of boat that this system can handle is only a little over 30 feet. Once again, this model is designed to draw as little power as possible to keep your battery in good shape.
Like every other TP-series tiller pilot, this model also features impressively low sound output that will allow you to enjoy the peaceful sounds of the ocean.
The main thing that sets apart the TP22 from the TP10 is that it is compatible with SimNet, and setting up the SimNet functionality is relatively simple, even by yourself.
Overall, this a simple and functional tiller autopilot that combines a reasonable price point with excellent performance compared to other models in its price range.
Key Points at a Glance
- Learns to precisely steer your boat based on its learning algorithms
- Waterproof sealing ensures that it can be used with interior and exterior tillers
- Compatible with the Simrad SimNet
Yet another tiller autopilot, the Raymarine St1000+ is a relatively affordable choice that couldn’t quite make the cut as the best budget sailboat autopilot. Despite not attaining the top spot, this model has a few features that make it one of the best tiller autopilots available, especially when it comes to user-friendliness.
The St1000+ supports vessels of up to 6,600 pounds, so it’s not designed for the largest sailboats, but you can use it on a wide enough range of boats to make it worth the money. The controls are all laid out logically on the unit itself, but it also comes included with a convenient remote that allows you to control it wherever you are.
There are three lighting levels that you can swap between, based on how sunny the day is. The reversible design also ensures that the St1000+ can be used in either a port or starboard layout.
Overall, this model isn’t the single most impressive tiller autopilot, but it gets the job done well enough to be worth a mention.
Key Points at a Glance
- Reversible design for either port or starboard mounting
- Handles vessels up to 6,600 lbs
- 45mm LCD screen with three brightness levels
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This model from Raymarine is a no-drive autopilot that couldn’t quite make it into our top five. The EV-150 is like the EV-200’s younger sibling, so it offers fewer features compared to the other model. Aside from this, the EV-150 is still built to Raymarine’s exacting standards, making it one of the better no-drive options in its price range.
This model comes included with everything you need except for a hydraulic drive, including the ACU-150 autopilot. This model works with the SeaTalking network, and it also works with an optional rudder reference unit.
Along with this, you also get the EV-1 sensor core, which sends its information to the ACU-150 for optimal performance.
The p70Rs autopilot control unit features all of the buttons and knobs that allow you to adjust your heading, speed, and more. To make everything easier to set up, the p70Rs features a straightforward installation wizard that guides you through the process of getting it running.
The only downside is that this model is pricey.
Key Points at a Glance
- Wide viewing angles on the control unit allow you to keep it in sight wherever you are
- Comes included with Raymarine’s evolution cabling kit
- Compatible with the SeaTalk network
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Let’s sum up our top choices. The Garmin Reactor 40 is one of the best sailboat autopilots you’ll find on the market, though it’s an incredibly expensive piece of gear that is mainly optimized for use with sailboats equipped with kicker motors. If this isn’t the right fit for you, there are plenty of other models that can nearly match the Reactor 40’s performance.
Chief amongst these is the Raymarine EV-100 p70 Wheel Pack. This comes included with everything you need to get started using your sailboat autopilot, and it features a more traditional design than the Reactor 40. Along with its precise performance, the EV-100 pack is fully weather-resistant to ensure that it lasts you a long time.
The best budget option at your disposal is the Simrad TP10, which is an extremely affordable sailboat autopilot that will manage your course on tiller sailboats. While it’s a little less versatile than the other two choices, Simrad’s TP10 is so affordably priced and so well-made that it’s hard to find anything that can even compete with it.
Sailboat autopilots are complicated pieces of equipment, and they can be challenging to decide between if you don’t know all of the details about them. We hope that this review guide has provided you with all of the necessary info so you can pick out the best one for you and your boat. Good luck on the high seas!