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.

NAPS 2018

NAPS 2018

Nordhavns Around Puget Sound 2018

We will update this page with any new information when appropriate!  And please spread the word!

We currently have 12+ sets of owners that will be joining NAPS, most by boat but some coming to stay at the Inn or just for the day on Saturday.


5 o’clock somewhere (in the PNW) Friday Night Apps and Drinks on the dock!  Please bring an appetizer to share and your favorite beverage to socialize with everyone!  5pm out by Red Rover.

Saturday Night there will be a dinner up at the tent west of the marina office.  Ribs and chicken will be provided and we just ask for everyone to bring a side or dessert.  Please let us know which one you will be bringing!  We will also have some white/rose/red wine/water for the group.  We had an unsolicited sponsor of our dinner/drinks by Dan Streech of PAE (thanks Dan!).  We will start gathering around 6pm and shooting to eat at 7pm.

As Alison and I have schedules that are keeping us close to home port for much of the summer, we thought it would be fun to organize a “casual” gathering of the Nordhavn Tribe who will be in the Puget Sound area this mid-July.   I am describing it as a “casual gathering” because Rendezvous sounds really official and busy!  We are hoping that this is an opportunity for owners to get together and socialize with just a few organized activities.  So the acronym for the cruise seems to fit the weekend style:  NAPS 2018

NAPS 2018

Dates:  Friday July 20th – Sunday July 22nd

Location:  Port Ludlow (some may recognize this is the home of the 2009 Nordhavn Rendezvous)

How to Participate:

Option 1: Stay in the Marina.  Call the Port Ludlow Marina no later than June 30th.  There is a limited block of slips under “Nordhavn Owners”.    360-437-0513  There may still be availability after June 30th but that is when the hold on slips is released.

Option 2:  Anchor in the bay and join us via the dinghy.  Enough said about this one!

Option 3:  Stay at the Port Ludlow Inn.  If you want to join the group but can’t bring your boat with you, the Inn is situated on the banks of the Port Ludlow Marina.  We’d still love to have you!  There is not a room block for the Inn, so no need to reference the event.  Reserve online:

RSVP:  Please send your name(s), boat name/hull number and email to me and I will send out updates as needed.

Weekend Activities:

There will be some limited planned activities for the weekend, most likely a Saturday evening potluck style dinner – we are working on those details and will get that out when we formalize them.  But mostly there will be time to visit with other owners, see other boats, and enjoy a few area activities or take a nap!  Some of things that can do nearby:  Play a round of golf, visit the Port Ludlow Yacht Club, run your remote control boat in the Yacht club’s RC pond, breakfast/lunch/dinner at the Fireside Restaurant, dinghy cruise the bay, kayak, walk the beach and enjoy the sunshine!

Kevin and Alison Jeffries

Red Rover N5505