Autopilot Upgrade

Autopilot Upgrade

When we bought Red Rover two years ago, most of her navigation equipment was from the original 2005 install.  There was also some added items that previous owners had added over the years.  The equipment did a good job bringing us up the West Coast from San Diego to Seattle after closing on the boat in 2016.  But we both new that we’d like to upgrade before we took off to cruise “permanently”.  And we wanted to do it enough time before we leave so that we became comfortable with its operation as well as to work thru any bugs that could arise.  January of 2017 we decided to take the plunge and upgrade the navigation equipment minus the autopilots.  We love the new equipment and have really enjoyed learning/using it this past year.

Why did we decide to upgrade the autopilots?  They operated fine – nothing was “wrong” with them.  But there was an occasional hiccup with how the pilots dealt with the nav data coming from the navigation equipment after last years install.  We are part of the group who likes to have the routes that we’ve created on our chartplotters sent to the pilots.  The pilots take this nav data to “steer to” and make course changes when the boat reaches each plotted waypoint.  What was happening is the modern equipment was sending the data too fast and too much of it.  We then installed a different NEMA 2000 to NEMA 0183 converter that was programmable to dumb down the data and help make the pilots happier.  It worked much of the time.  But roughly every two hours, the pilot would error out and we would need to hit a button a few times to get it back on line.  So another upgrade was added to the “to do” list…

So this January at the Seattle Boat Show, we started looking at autopilots (uh oh – that’s how the electronics started last January).  Our ideal system included two pilot heads, two computers and four follow up levers, essentially how it was sent up originally.  The AccuSteer pumps were just fine and would stay put.  Simrad ended up being the only manufacturer whose system would really support four follow up levers.  Furuno had a work around way to do it, but I didn’t like how it would be done.  So, a new Spring project!

Unlike the navigation upgrade in the spring of 2017 where I did much of the demo myself and then assisted in the install (which means I pulled a lot of cables and watched how things were hooked up), I did the complete Autopilot install myself.  Between my navigation “apprenticeship” plus some electrical classes that I took this last year to fill the wholes in my knowledge, I felt very comfortable completing the install.  Plus, I had Scott with Emerald Harbor on my “phone a friend” speed dial as needed.

So back to demo’ing/pulling wires and equipment.  Most of the work surrounded cable to the wing and cockpit nav stations – removing and installing the follow up levers in those locations.  The flybridge and pilothouse access is fairly easy to work around.  The cabling/wiring was greatly reduced last year but I am still amazed at how much is in Red Rover.

Upper dash down.  This is pre-install of the two additional FI70s.
Almost empty dash…
Photos are great to assist in remembering how wiring should go back together!
Ceiling panel down running new cabling to the wing station.
Master stateroom closet and ceiling panel.
This is just below the wing station.
Starboard wing station before the original follow up lever was removed.
New follow up lever.  One hole that needs to be filled.
Original pilot computers before removal.
Updated AC70 autopilot computers
The NMEA 2000 backbone will replace much of this wad of wiring…


Once the old equipment was out of the dash, I had holes that needed to be filled and new holes to cut.  I epoxied plywood plugs in to the old holes and filled/sanded flat before adding new black laminate.  I also took this opportunity to permanently install the Xantrex battery monitor as well as to add two additional FI70 4.3″ displays in to the upper dash.

NMEA 2000 cables starting to be pulled.
A new hole was drilled for the water gauge and the battery monitor was placed by the genset panel.
The backside of the six FI70 4.3″ panels.  The two on the right are the new displays.
The two new FI70s were installed above the VHF.

The NMEA backbone initially ended in the engine room, far enough to get to the newly installed sounders last year.  So I needed to extend the backbone aft to the laz so that we could connect the cockpit station follow up unit.  As I am typing this, I now realize that I should have pulled the second (currently unused) backbone to the laz at the same time.  This second backbone will be utilized for monitoring equipment in the near future.  Another project!

Original end of our backbone.  Now extended to the laz.
New aft end of the backbone in laz.
After patching the dash, I cut in the holes for the new (or moved) pieces of equipment.
Test fit!
New laminate set after the holes were cut.  A laminate trimmer was used to finish the cutouts.
And how it looks now!
Another view of the helm.

On the flybridge, a new AP70 pilot head, follow up lever and second FI70 display panel was added.  I had a new aluminum dash panel routed and sent out to be powdercoated.

Flybridge dash.  The right side dash panel had to be remade with the updated pilot head.  I also took the opportunity to add another FI70 on the flying bridge.



After the physical install of the equipment, I started the “at dock” setup of the two computers.  When I got to the point where I had questions, I waited until Scott with Emerald Harbor Marine arrived to review/finalize the settings and then head out for a seatrial and on water setup/adjustments.

We had a beautiful day for the setup so it wasn’t to difficult to fine tune the pilots.  The one challenge boats with active fin stabilizers can have is the tuning of the pilot with the interaction of the fins.  When the fins are working to counteract the rolling of the boat, they themselves then turn the boat, which the rudder (pilots) are working to keep the boat tracking straight.  The other part of autopilot tuning is adjusting to a middle ground of the vessel stays pretty much on course with minimal wandering vs it making a lot of rudder adjustments all the time to stay on track.

I will admit that I never messed with the old autopilot settings.  I figured that if it was working, don’t mess with it.  And, we didn’t have a lot of experience with autopilots in other boats to know if what we had was “steering” well or not.  But the new AP70/AC70s work well.  Well, really well.  Since the first seatrial, we have worked to tune the pilots in different sea conditions and Red Rover’s tracking has definitely benefited from it.  And we have come to really love the upgrade, learning to use them and how much more we are enjoying being underway.

Engine Room Cooling Upgrade

Engine Room Cooling Upgrade

Once we closed on Red Rover almost two years ago, we were then able to be admitted to the wonderful world of the NOG (Nordhavn Owners Group).  The NOG is an owners only online forum that discusses all things Nordhavn.  One of the topics that first really caught my attention was about keeping engine room temp down as much as possible.   As we had just brought Red Rover up from San Diego and performed engine room checks every hour, I knew that ours came up around 110 degrees after being underway for a while.  Industry goals target a 30 degree delta above outside temps and the engine room should never get above 130 degrees (for the health of the systems inside and anyone that needs to be in the ER for any amount of time!).  As the outside temp on the Washington Coast was probably no more than 60 degrees, Red Rover was pushing an excess of 50 degrees delta – not good!  Especially once we head south in to the tropics when temps can get towards 100.  Much more air must be moved/exchanged thru the engine room to make a positive difference.  So we knew this project would be one that would be addressed at some point.

Fortunately for me, I stumbled across the blog of Peter Hayden.  He and Laurie own Tanglewood, a Nordhavn N60.  The N60 is essentially a N55 with 5′ of extra cockpit but the rest of the boat is pretty much identical to Red Rover.  Flipping thru their blog, I found Peter’s recipe to solve the same issue we had with ER cooling.  You can read all of his homework and steps he took to achieve a cooler engine room HERE.  We owe Peter and Laurie a nice dinner for breaking trail on this one.  What it seems took Peter weeks/months to work thru took me just a few days (over the course of a couple of weeks) to complete.  Thanks Peter!

Here is what I started with.  The is the aft side of the pilothouse, right where the stack comes up from the engine room.


First thing too do is remove the fiberglass splash guard.


Behind the splash guard is more fiberglass!  The top half comes off with 4 screws.  Behind it shows the one 5″ hose that vents the air out from the engine room.  Not much volume can go thru that hose!


Next thing to do was remove the fiberglass panel that divides the storage space from the stack area.


A better look at that fiberglass panel.  Behind it is a large squirrel cage fan that is supposed to draw air up from the engine room and push it out the 5″ hose.  The smaller 3″ metal hose is connected to a fan above the engine.  That fan pushes air in to the stack insulation and then out this hose.  It does get hot!


Here is the large fan that was behind that panel.  As Peter notes, it does pull some air up from the engine room but it also is pulling air from anywhere which includes down the stack, which does not help cool the engine room.


Fan gone and you can see the 5″ hole where the hose was attached.  You can also see how hot that 3″ hose gets – the fiberglass is brown from heat.  The conduit is the power for the fan – it ran down the wall next to that really hot metal hose…  keep this in mind for later in this story.


This is looking up the stack cavity.  You can see daylight shining down.  Part of the project is capping that area off, essentially creating an air dam.  We want that done so the new fans only draw air up from the engine room.



I made my “fan panel” from aluminum.  It was cut on the CNC router at the office.


3 axial fans are mounted to the aluminum panel.  These fans are specifically made for engine room venting.


I prewired up the fans.  Easier done here than in the cramped space!  The panel is made in two pieces…  The large part goes in first and the small cap will close off the bottom area.


Remember that hot metal vent hose from earlier?  It cooked the power wires for the fan.  Not good!  I moved that hose in to the middle of the aluminum panel where it can’t hurt anyone!


Fans and panel in place!  This is looking up from the bottom of the closet.


How it looks from the outside!


In place ready for the bottom panel…


Next I added conduit up and over each fan to keep water from running down in to the junction box.


Conduit runs down to the junction box.  The bottom conduit is the supply power.


Here is this part finished…  still more to do!


Here is a two part aluminum air dam to go around the exhaust stack.  This area was accessed from either side of the stack housing on the flybridge level.


The next part was probably the most difficult.  Not technically difficult but the type of difficult you run in to when you cut holes in the fiberglass of your really expensive boat!  As Peter found in his experience, once you have all the air coming in to this area, it needs help getting out!  So holes and stainless grills were added to allow that flow to leave as unrestricted as possible.


This is how Red Rover now looks.  We have not had the opportunity to run the boat with this new upgrade but we look to have similar results of cooling in the engine room as Peter found.  Peter’s engine room was down to 20 degrees delta of outside temps.  This will make engine room checks much more enjoyable!