autopilot vs. windvane

Masallah 04

Member II
Question to all....I'm considering whether to buy a windvane automatic steering aparatus, or upgrade my current Autohelm appears both will cost about the same...... I sail an E35II, and singlehand most of the time. I sail off the Oregon coast, and will likely sail up and down the west coast in the coming two or three years. My current autopilot (Raymarine Autohelm 4000), cannot maintain course in anything but calm seas and light winds (former owner cruised the San Juans, and that's all he needed). Lots of postings on the web as to the benefits of both automatic steering systems, but I thought I'd throw out the question to the group. I'm leaning towards a windvane system, especially after seeing pictures of Phil McFarlane's boat which looks to have a windvane system (Phil are you a member of this to hear your thoughts).
Appreciate any dialogue.


Sustaining Member
Ideally, if I were doing a lot of offshore single-handed sailing, I'd have redundant self-steering systems - BOTH a windvane and mechanical autopilot. (that said, I have neither, so you're well ahead of me in that regard :)).

Perhaps a good compromise would be to install windvane steering, and then buy a $300 tiller pilot, and use it to control the vane downwind, in light wind, or whenever the windvane self-steering can't do it's work. I've heard of many people doing this modification, and it sounds like a smart one to me.


Sustaining Member
OR . . . is your current electric autopilot just underpowered, or actually broken?

If it's just undersized, then I think it's a no-brainer. Keep the small autopilot, and spend your money on a windvane. Then you'll have the redundancy, for most conditions.

Masallah 04

Member II
thanks....yes, the autopilot is simply underpowered. The only means of "upgrading" the autopilot is to totally replace it. My thoughts are along yours in that I'd keep what I have and buy an windvane system.
thanks for your response.

Gord Bell

Member II
Having had a monitor wind vane on my last boat, E35-2, I would say go and get yourself the windvane. Uses no electricty, almost mantance free, and will keep you on course relative to the wind.
cheers Gord:egrin:

Masallah 04

Member II
Gord: did the windvane perform downwind with some following sea? Also, did it do well in lighter winds?


Member III
I have a Monitor on my 38 and love it. Does do some s curves downwind on a large following sea, but works in all points of sail, everything but the lightest of winds, uses no electricity, but mostly, it's quiet. That said, I also have an Autohelm 4000 which has worked for us motorsailing up the coast and in the bay when the engine is on or under sail when I need to leave the helm for a short time.

Recommendations: If you are going to be sailing all day, the monitor hands down. For a few hours out the autohelm is easier. I really like having both.

Don Wigle
Wiggle Room
E38 #8

Phil MacFarlane

Member III
(Phil are you a member of this to hear your thoughts). Appreciate any dialogue. Alan Masallah...[/QUOTE said:
Hi Alan,

Yes I'm here once and a while. I agree with everything everyone else has said. I will repeat it and add some...

My first race to Hawaii (which was single handed) I had only the Monitor Vane. I took me on a tour of the ocean wandering back and forth. Even with this I had a respectable finish, third in div. and eight over all. The Monitor could not steer with a spinnaker up on a run.
I do have a small electric tiller pilot to drive the Monitor but it is not quick enough to sail with down wind but does a fine job when motoring and is "ok" up wind but not as good as the Monitor working on it's own.

For the 2004 race I added an Alpha 3000 electric auto pilot. Very low power consumption. I won the race over all. The Monitor drove the boat a bit durring that race and most of the way home. The Alpha is old technology, expensive and bullet proof. I am very happy with it but would not buy it again because it doesn't "talk" to any other instruments. The same company (Alpha Marine Systems in Washington State) makes the Spectra Pilot that will integrate.

Another plus with the Monitor. For the SSS trans pac you must carry an emergency rudder. Scanmar, the maker of the Monitor offers the "M-RUD" which is a suitable rudder attachment that uses the Monitor frame to mount on. With this and the cheap little tiller pilot you woud still have self stering even after loosing you mane rudder. A real plus for a single hander.

I agree with the others that both is the way to go, but if I could only have one it would be the wind vane and I would choose the Monitor again. It is a great product made by a great company that is still owned by the guy who started it. Hans has the best suport of any company I have ever dealt with. Not that you need it, the thing doesn't break. But he is at the start of every SSS trans pack handing out freebies to all the racers.

What Nate said about redundant systems is probably the most important thing to take out of all this. I have the Monitor, the electric Monitor, the M-RUD Monitor, the Alpha and a tiller pilot that is strong enough to drive the boat on it's own.

By the way, my boat is a E35II like yours not a 35III as listed in the photos on this site.


Phil MacFarlane
I too am curious. I just purchased an E29 that I would like to put some kind of autopilot on, but don't want to spend several grand to get it. What would you recommend that I buy that will give us this ablility. I did buy a cheap Tiller tamer to hold the tiller in one position but will not give me true piloting. Any suggestions? Based on what I've read, I'd like to have a windvane, but they are extremely expensive.


Loren Beach

O34 - Portland, OR
Senior Moderator
Blogs Author
Lots of AP info here

Hi Bart,
There should be a good AP for your E-29 in the $600. to $1100. price range. Go to the Search function, above these messages and click on Search. Put in the words "tiller pilot" or "auto pilot" and click on the Go button. Lots (!!) of excellent commentary.

I have used both a tiller pilot on our prior boat and a wheel pilot for a decade on the present boat. We consider it absolutely essential for the pursuit of happiness on the water...

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