I never had an autopilot before Tenacity. In fact, I almost didn’t spend the $5,000 or so bucks it cost, but man am I happy I did.

As autopilots go, I guess it’s as good as any, but what sets it apart (and makes it Cool Gear) is it’s Autoroute capability; let me explain…

Unlike a typical autopilot that simply holds the boat on a set heading, Autoroute actually steers the boat to your destination, making turns at all the right places.

Autoroute plot from my mooring in Mattapoisett and Vineyard Haven

You start by creating a Destination Waypoint. You can do this by “squeezing” and panning the Chartplotter map until you see where do want to go. Then just touch a spot in deeper water near the destination to create your Destination Waypoint (I say deeper water because if it’s shallower than your vessel parameters, Autoroute gets confused.)

As soon as the bulls eye icon shows up on the map you can edit it and put in a proper name. Then you select Navigate Too and engage the Autopilot and VOILA, just like the Starship Enterprise, your boat will start steering you to your destination!

The way it works is by “knowing” the critical parameters of your boat (vessel) and your safety parameters.

You can enter the depth you want under the Garmin Settings menu along with the clearance overhead.

You can also enter what you personally consider a safe distance from shore regardless of the depth. To me, this means folks who really trust the maps and want to see the shoreline up close go with “nearest” and those who are afraid of hitting anything go with “farthest”. I go with “normal”, but I still will override it in certain spots (like Hens and Chickens off Westport – I like to go outside of everything.)


Is It Like an Autonomous Driving Car?

Let me answer that with a few of the Q&A’s my guests frequently ask…

Q: Does it see other boats and steer around them?
A: No.

Q: Does it speed up in open ocean and slow down in the 5 MPH zone?
A: No.

Q: Does it see the Coast Guard Buoys and stay in the proper lane (Red, Right, Returning).
A: Sorta and No: It does seem to see the buoys and not plot a route that collides with them, but I’m not sure about that. When it looks like we’re getting too close, I override the Autopilot and veer off. And No, it does not follow the lanes in that if there’s a shorter route that complies with the Vessel Parameters, it will cut inside the CG Buoys.

Q: Does is see lobster pots?
A: What do you think?

Yes, someone needs to watch out ahead at all times; especially for other boats and lobster pots. That said, I think my friend Allen who use to pilot 747’s said it best – “it’s a hell of lot easier to monitor the autopilot than to fly the plane.”

A great Autopilot not only takes the stress of working the wheel out of your hands, but in the case of the Garmin Autopilot, it also steers a much better course than I can do on my own. Back Cove Yachts are all powered by a big single diesel and unlike a traditional Downeast Boat, they do not have a keel. This makes them both fuel efficient and faster than a Wilbur. It also makes it tougher to hold on course and easy to “over steer”.

Believe it or not, the Garmin Autopilot holds a nearly straight line running off the wind in 3 footers that tend to make the boat surf. I know I can’t do this myself without getting beat up.

The Foggy Ride to Sakonnet

Last year we had invited a bunch of Bay Club members to lunch at The Sakonnet Club in Rhode Island where the Bay Club has a reciprocity. The day of the trip started foggy, but the forecast called for the fog to burn off around 10:00 AM, so we kept our plans.

And as forecast, blue sky was popping out as we picked up our guests at the Mattapoisett Town Pier. Of course, that turned out to be a dreaded “head fake.”

As we rounded West Island, the fog became thick again and by the time we had New Bedford abaft a beam, you really couldn’t see the water.

The Sakonnet Club is about 30 miles and since it was a luncheon, I had to maintain 20-25 MPH or go home.

I turned on the radar and brought up the overlay on top of the chartplotter. With the Autoroute doing the driving, I could devote my full attention to the radar. Anything that wasn’t on the map was obviously another boat. The bigger boats showed up on AIS and I could then see their speed and size as well. The last issue was lobster pots. I simply went far out to sea where the water was over 75′ deep and escaped the lobster pots.

As we approached Sakonnet Rock, we popped out of the fog safe and sound. Would I do it again? Maybe not, but if I was in a pinch, I’d probably give it a whirl.

The Best $250 I Ever Spent — The Handheld Remote

The last bit of Cool Gear for he Garmin Autopilot is the handheld remote ($250). This is how I steered Tenacity and even with power steering, it’s how I steer Vigilant unless I’m coming into a mooring or dock.

The two single arrow buttons suspend the Autoroute course and steer one degree right or left.

The double arrow buttons do the same, but 10 degrees. This is the perfect adjustment to avoid a lobster pot or CG Buoy. While the 1 degree adjustment is barely noticeable, the 10 degree is fairly pronounced; enough so that another boat on a collision course can tell that you turn.

The best part is the “3” button. When you’re safely around whatever obstacle you’re avoiding, simply press it twice to reengage the autoroute course and hand control back the autopilot.

With this new cool gear, I find it far it easy to take on longer hauls like Block Island, Maine, or Long Island and the best part is, Mrs. Horne can spell me from time to time!