How does the autopilot for ships work

Electric autopilot: dimensioning, calibration, control behavior, maintenance and service

This method is reliable and has only one small catch. If there is a cross flow, the autopilot takes no notice, as the bow continues to point in the right direction, although the ship is shifted sideways and is on a different course over the ground. Occasional course corrections may then be necessary.

Autopilot mode: waypoint control

In this mode it is the other way round. The autopilot does not hold a fixed course. Instead, it keeps moving towards a goal, regardless of which course is the right one for it. The prerequisite for this is that a waypoint has been programmed that can be controlled.

This variant can be very useful, for example, in a tidal body of water or when there is another current, as the autopilot compensates for the resulting effects and independently continuously adjusts the course towards the destination. It is also possible to follow routes. If a waypoint on the route is reached, the system switches to the next waypoint either automatically or after confirmation by the crew and the autopilot changes the course to the new destination accordingly. The extent to which this takes place automatically or after confirmation depends on the manufacturer. Personally, I would prefer the variant with confirmation, as the autopilot cannot see what is happening next to the ship and a sudden change of course can have fatal consequences.

Tip: When programming the waypoints, the coordinates should never be placed exactly on a navigation mark if this is used as a waypoint - otherwise there will be a collision with the same 🙂