Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Things That Work For Us # 6 - Raymarine Autopilot

Way way back in 1990, when Crystal Blues was first launched, the new owners installed a 12 volt electric autopilot system, the Autohelm 4000.  It was made by Nautech in the UK, a company started in 1974 by mechanical engineer Derek Fawcett, a keen sailor and talented inventor.  For more history click here.

Taken over by Raytheon USA in 1990, it quickly became the Raymarine brand.  That business has since split off from Raytheon, gone through a management buy-out, failed financially and then was eventually acquired by FLIR Systems, who now have the business running fast again, with greatly improved innovation, product quality and service.  Fortunately, many of the truly experienced engineers are still with the company.

But this story is about the autopilot side of Raymarine, and the fantastic reliability and service these systems have delivered.  Lets face it - a good autopilot is worth about three crew - it never goes off watch, you don't have to feed it and it doesn't care if the beer is warm.

Most of the original gear on Crystal Blues had been upgraded over the years, but until just weeks ago the original Autohelm Rudder Position Indicator was still in active service, working just fine with the latest series autopilot electronics.  When it failed on the way to Mozambique, we swapped it out with the onboard spare, delighted to find that the physical mounting holes and even the wire color coding were the same, 25 years later !  That sort of consistency is rare, and it sure makes for ease of upgrade and happy customers.  I'm fairly certain that the failed unit had more than 50,000 nautical miles under its belt, over 25 years - a great effort.

Jamie Leads Me Through The Ram Service Procedure
How many marine electronic items last that long ?

Another important autopilot component is the linear ram - in our case a Raymarine electric Type 2 long arm version.  We installed a new ram before we departed Australia, that has now done over 30,000 nautical miles in 10 years.  Last week (with great guidance provided by Jamie Gifford from SV Totem) I stripped it down, checked, cleaned and serviced the unit.

Frankly, it looked like new inside, no powdery deposits from brushes of moving parts, no crusty debris, everything looked pristine.  I gratefully cleaned and lubricated all the gears and thrust races, and re-assembled it with a big internal thank you to the guys that designed and engineered that part.

So credit where credit is due - to Derek Fawcett, I say a very BIG thank you.

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