Auto pilots

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    michael bennett

    Like many others I suspect I have the Neco self steering or auto pilot, which is still working most of the time.
    As it is an original installation, I am wondering how many others still have it working or if it has been replaced.
    I am looking at Hydrovane, but also still interested in an electronic replacement unit, would be interested in what others may have done or fitted electronically if at all.

    Many Thanks



    We have the Neco, the PO said that he had it rebuilt by Raytheon (nb: I formerly mistakenly said “Raymarine”, and have since corrected this posting), who are now the owners of what was originally Neco (if I understand correctly). Last year, the purchase surveyor was surprised when the PO said it still worked. The surveyor made some comment like “that would be the only one left working on the west coast (of the US) then”.

    We can tell you that our Neco works great. We don’t use it often, and rarely use it under sail because it seems to require a lot of power to run. We have the original documentation, which we could copy if that would help anyone. We don’t have any receipts from the rebuild, so cannot help in understanding which bits required work to keep it running.

    Rainshadow also came with a Monitor windvane. We’ve not installed it yet, but it seems all the bits are there and we have the documentation for it. We hope to have a reason to try it next year. The PO said the vane does get in the way of the mizzen, but he would just push the paddle down when it was time to change course, and then reset the paddle again. They used the Monitor for 3 years (in late 80’s) during a passage from PNW (US) to Australia.

    They rigged the Monitor so control lines operated the actual helm; they did not connect to the rudder post at the aft deck. So to reinstall the Monitor, we need to pull the helm wheel and reattached a fixture that allows the control lines to steer the helm. The attachment from this fixture to the helm wheel is via a pin that sticks through a hole at top dead center of the wheel near the hub – apparently the helmsman can easily disengage this pin to resume manual control of the helm. We also need to rerun the control lines through the fairleads that lead the lines from the aft deck, along the port side, into the cockpit. I’m sure it will be fiddly to get set up, but the PO said it worked great and was very pleased with it. I doubt he used it much in the last 15 years, though. At least the attachment points on the stern are still there, as are the fairleads on the stancions. We look forward to trying it.

    michael bennett

    Hello Marilyn,

    Thank you for your helpful reply, I will contact Raymarine to see if they could refurbish or rebuild mine, which does work, albeit some 30 deg. out!

    I would appreciate seing the original documentation to if you could send it to me, my e-mail address is

    Many thanks for your help.


    Chihili Q

    On the subject of autopilots, and steering, I now have a spare electric Raymarine rotary drive/ sprocket and chain for connection to the shaft steering system, having changed mine to an Hydrive hydraulic. My autopilot (Raymarine ST7000) isolates the steering wheel by means of solenoid switches in its hydraulic lines and activates a small hydraulic pump which squirts oil down to the drive cylinder attached to the rudder shaft.

    In the long term I look forward to installing a wind vane of some sort and there have been some interesting posts on this topic in the past. Have you access to them Marilyn, or do you want me to post/send them to you?

    It would be good to be able to post pictures!



    Adrian – regarding older “posts” on the subject, I assume you mean emails from the time before this website existed, and no I do not have them. If you send them to me, I make some postings out of them. Or if you have time, feel free to start new topics in this Steering and Rudder category and just paste them in.

    Regarding posting photos – alas, that is something this site doesn’t support well. You can read my suggested hacks here.


    Hi Mike,

    Just a comment about the “30 deg. out” statement you made. That might mean one or more of your compasses needs adjusting. Have you ever had a compass “swung”? I don’t know how this is done on the Neco compass, which sits under the settee just abaft the mast. It might also mean your trim control (top left) has some kind of offset.

    Our NECO about 10-20 degrees off vs the binnacle compass, but it seems to depend on the direction. That’s close enough that the error we have in setting it is probably not much less than that. In other words, we read the compass and set the Neco to the same and then switch it on, but actually both are off enough that we always have to adjust it again or use the trim control to get it right.

    I experimented a bit with using it to tack – basically, you have to set the sensitivity control (the bottom right one) to the correct speed so that it doesn’t turn too fast. Then, you just quickly rotate the dial 90 degrees in the direction you want to tack, and the autopilot will slowly turn the boat while you handle the sheets. It seems to work.

    It’s a pity it is such a power hog.


    La Tortue


    Pour ceux qui comprennent le Francais.
    J’ai installé cet été un pilote RAYMARINE STX 30 en conservant la pompe hydraulique d’origine.
    C’est parfait. Le controle du bateau est tres bon a toutes les allures. La consommation est corecte si l’on adapte bien les réglages en fonction du temps.


    Pierre André

    Ronar M


    Ronar still has the original Neco autopilot which works faultlessly. ‘Arnold'(the autohelm) took us down to Spain and back across the bay of Biscay in 2008 and we had the fridge on full time as well. No need to run the engine much as the solar panels coped with the demands. In a F8 gale on the way back we had to had steer for one night as the wind was right behind us and ‘Arnold’ could not cope.

    I find that Ronar will steer herself a lot of the time without a hand on the wheel or the autohelm on. This is a new thing for her and I put it down to a new genoa this season which is so much more efficient than the old one and balances the main and mizzen much better. I sometimes lash the wheel with a bit of helm on to counter the slight weatherhelm but in lighter winds even this is not necessary and she just goes on happily by herself with no lashing.



    Chihili Q

    Apologies, I thought there was more in my archive than the following on steering gear but with thanks to Ollie Holden, Dave and Shelby Milner, James Parnell and Peter Sturdgess I have found the following:

    Hi Adrian, we sailed 40000 miles on Blue Spurr using an aries, it was definately the best equipment on board. Crossing the Pacific it steered us for 5 days and nights nonstop with the Spinakker up. The only problem we ever had was that the ropes to the steering drum wore out twice on our trip. If it is set up correctly the aries seems to be the best, we certainly wouldnt set sail on a long voyage again without one. Dave and Shelby Milner
    Our Website :-

    Hello all,

    I feel I haven’t provided a particularly good advertisement for the Aries so far, so please bear with me…

    I think the Aries is a good, strong system. However, on a centre-cockpit boat like the Nic, there are a great number of linkages and therefore potential points for both sloppiness and friction to creep in. It is essential therefore to do what you can to minimise these, as they can significantly limit the usefulness of any windvane steering.

    We suffered from this on our recent transat, not helped by the light winds. To make things better, I have removed a lot of sloppiness from the system by taking the hinge coupling out and simply bolting the rudder directly onto the pendulum arm. I tried it on a recent sail between St Lucia and Martinique, and it worked fine on a close reach, even with (despite?) the mizzen up, possibly affecting the windflow. The Aries also steered “Nutmeg” and her family crew dead downwind for 450 miles in 20-25kts from Portugal to Madeira absolutely fine, so I would certainly not dismiss it.

    If your steering has a lot of sloppiness/play in it, then it may be worth considering connecting up your windvane steering to the emergency tiller instead of the wheel. Just a thought.

    I’m sailing back across the Atlantic in a month, and intend to use the Aries, so will let you know how it goes.


    Ollie Holden
    “Nutmeg of Shoreham”

    james parnell wrote:

    Our boat had a Hydrovane which the previous owner reported having lots of problems with, so he took it off and sold it separately!!

    There has been some interesting articles in the press concerning taking off the wind vane and replacing it with a basic tiller pilot and hence getting the best of both worlds. Not sure if it works on all models.

    Hope all is well with you all – James Rose and Rhiannon.

    peter sturdgess wrote:

    Hi to the Nic 38 group.

    Alexina has served us very well for our cruise from UK waters to the Mediterranean. However, now we plan to go a bit further afield with a possible Atlantic crossing in 2010/11. We will set Alexina up with some new equipment and need to pick your collective brains.

    Windvane steering

    I have just been reading the blog of Ollie on Nutmeg of Shoreham (a jolly good read, well done Ollie) and was interested to read about their problems with their Aries windvane steering. Obviously, wind vane steering is essential for ocean crossings. I would welcome hearing about anyones experiences with windvane steering.

    Best regards
    Helen, Peter and Tiger
    Alexina of Shoreham


    I finally scanned the Neco auto pilot manual, you can find it on the Equipment Manuals page.

    If this external website is still active, they had some additional Neco documentation scans, including some additional electrical schematics.


    If it helps – we use a Hydrovane – chosen because it didn’t need steering lines running back to the wheel. All that’s needed is a running loop control line which we lead back to the cockpit across the aft cabin coach roof. Nice and simple.

    Some issues: It’s just about impossible to fit the rudder from the boat. You either have to be stern-to a pontoon, deploy the dinghy or swim!

    We can just about remove the rudder from the boat when in sheltered waters.

    The mizzen does affect the wind flow but it is still perfectly usable.

    I take the vane down when there is likely to be of a lot shipping about so that we are ready to manoeuvre and then either hand steer or use the Autohelm.


    michael bennett

    I have now converted my Neco autopilot using Simrad AP22. I purchased a complete second hand system, AP22 control unit, j300x junction box (the brain I call it) a fluxgate compass and rudder feedback unit. These components recently removed from a boat in the US.
    A friend has the same unit on his Swan 54 and has lots of add on options for NMEA 01683 units, such as GPS etc.
    I kept the Neco drive unit, which is a powerfull series /shunt motor, the challenge was to make it obey Simrad instructions, and was fortunate to have the assistance of an electronics expert who works in the physics department of Sapienza University of Rome, he speaks fluent English, and is enthusiastic about what he does, so was very fortunate to have his technical help and support, and was able to collaberate with him in making a successful conversion of the NDU.
    I have the rest of the Neco components, cockpit control unit and directional compass which could be made available to others.
    If anyone wishes to have the full instructions, wiring diagrams, and step by step guide to the conversion i would be happy to forward it on.


    Hi Everyone,

    As many of you know we have been experiencing problems with our ancient Neco Autopilot.

    I suspect that I have found the source of the problem, it lies with the electric motor. At some point someone had replaced the brushes. The lead to the brushes is protected by short lengths of insulation. As the brushes wore (there is plenty of life left in them) the insulation snagged on the brush cavity, preventing the springs from pushing in the brushes to the correct extent and leading to erratic, gradually worsening performance. Simply slipping the ends of the insulation into the holes appears to have fixed the problem.

    Hope this little tip proves useful.

    Best Regards .. Peter

    michael bennett

    Hi Everyone,

    I as on previous blog indicated replaced my Neco electronic control unit with a Simrad AP22 controlling the retained Neco Drive Unit shunt series motor, modified to accept the Simrad digital signals.
    This was done with the very generous help and guidance of Daniel from the Physics department in a Universty in Rome, who speaks fluent English (thank god my Italian would never be up to it) I was lucky he was recommened to me, but it is something anyone can do as I have proved! if anyone wants the precise method complete with diagrams and photos it is readily available.
    Subsequent to installation Daniel has found a source of new relays to replace the existing ones, virtually identical in all respects, made by the successors who took over the manufacturer of the originals, a good design continued and improved.
    I have made Peter aware of them as like mine, his main relay contacts, though still working are seriously pitted, and time for replacement.
    Supplier details available.


    I would love to know how to connect the AP22 to my Neco drive motor I need a controller Please send the gen if poss. Regards

    Pat Sea Thrift


    Remember, that useful document that Mike (angelsson) mentions from Daniel the Physicist is already available on our About the Nic 38> Equipment Manuals page.

    Also, higher in this thread, I mention an external website that has electrical schematics, etc.


    Greetings from the Sea of Cortez where Gosling is heading to Guaymas to be hauled out for the summer season.
    I have just read the autopilot info submitted by angelsson. We have an AP22 system also but with a Raymarine type 2 drive. I am hoping that someone can provide a solution for the sensitivity to SSB/HAM radio transmission for the AP22. It seems to occur mostly at frequencies lower than 5 Mhz. Several other cruisers I have met here with AP22 have the same complaints and have been told that it is an unsolvable dilemma.
    Jean-Guy Nadeau
    Isla Coronado, Sea of Cortez


    Hi Jean-Guy,

    Are you saying that the AP22 responds to SSB transmissions, or are you saying the SSB picks up noise from the AP22? I think you are saying the former.

    Remember, fixing this kind of interference is a black art. You just have to try different tricks. Keep notes of what you tried…. It’s not clear whether what you are seeing is HF RF pickup, or surges induced in the power systems. Do any other of your electrical systems interfere with the AP22? For instance, when the fridge switches on, does your AP22 respond? Or to an inverter? Or windlass?

    To figure out if the problem is HF RF pickup:

    1) Turn down the RF transmit power on your radio and see if the problem reduces or goes away. This is not definitive evidence because this also changes the power load your radio uses.

    2) Get a “dummy load” for your antenna tuner output. This is a device that screws in to your tuner in place of the antenna. Transmit into this dummy load at the max power it can handle, and see if the problem goes away. If it does not, the problem is probably power related. If it does go away, it’s probably RF pickup related. You can buy dummy loads for about $25 from Ham radio sources or on eBay. Some of them are aircooled and require a fan, typically using 120V AC. If you only use it for short periods (a few minutes), then just don’t plug the fan in.

    Some tricks to try:

    If the problem is HF RF pickup:

    Ensure that no cables run near to and parallel to any of the HF wires (especially the run from the tuner output to the antenna connection because this is unshielded, not coax). Always keep lines spaced as far apart as you can, and if they must cross keep them perpendicular.

    Add RF chokes to all of the power and control lines as close to the AP22 as you can. Check Ham shops for these, they are inexpensive a few dollars each, so get extras.

    Rewire the AP22 power cables and use twisted pair wire in which the + and – wires are wrapped around each other (sheilded if you can get it in the appropriate gauge). The wires to the compass should already have suitable RF shielding. (you may want to check the shield is properly grounded at one end).

    Consider detaching your RF system from ground by using a counterpoise instead of a ground connection at your tuner. (Radio power must use the battery ground, but the antenna output can be detached – but it still needs to be balanced, and this can be done with wires cut to the right length – a so called counterpoise. You can buy a commercial one called the KISS SSB counterpoise, which we just got so I have not had time to really test it out.)

    If the problem is power related:

    Ensure the SSB radio is wired directly to the batteries (using appropriate wire and fuses on both + and – wires). You want to avoid having the autopilot and radio share the same wires to/from the batteries. The radio will cause voltage fluctuations, potentially quite large if the wires are not thick enough. Don’t run them through a common house DC panel.

    Add large capacitors in parallel (eg across + and – power lines). Place these near to the AP22.

    Hope this helps.



    We are considering a change from the Neco 692 autopilot which is giving us intermittent service. We could replace the entire system or do as Michael Bennet did in upgrading the Neco with, in his case, a Simrad AP22 or similar adaptation. Before deciding we would like to know what other Nic owners are using for autopilots– do you like them? Have you had problems with repairs and service? Would you choose it again?. I Wanda is a Nicholson 40 Pilothouse sloop with hydraulic steering.
    Mary & Christian Verlaque
    S/V I Wanda, hull 18

    Czarina Blue

    Hi All, I am servicing my NECO 17DR8 motor here in Colombia, and wondered if anyone knows what grade of oil should go in it. The manual says Castrol Magna. The modern version of that states that “Castrol Magna lubricating oils are suitable for a variety of applications such as the lubrication of bearings, spindles and, using the heavier viscosity grades, moderately loaded gearboxes.

    Therefore the modern Magna ISO 220 (their heavier grade) would be an SAE 50 in crankcase oil, or an SAE 90 in gearbox oil terms.

    So am thinking go for any SAE 90 gearbox mineral oil?

    Any pointers from those engineers amongst you?

    Thanks so much,



    Duncan’s question above is being addressed in another topic:

    NECO 17DR8 motor: oil grade

    Any responses to this question, please reply there.

    Czarina Blue

    Overhaul of Neco 17DR8

    NECO 17DR8 gets an overhaul in Cartagena, Colombia.
    The motor’s movement was getting a bit ‘sticky’, the relays and supply all seemed fine, so we investigated the motor itself.
    In case you were wondering what goes on inside one of these motors, after 49 years….
    Changed the coil, the bearings, and the brushes, and the retainers. General clean up and repaint.
    I haven’t had the bill, yet but am assured it is many hours work. Something to do in a country like Colombia where technicians are used to repairing things (and labour costs are relatively low).

    I have more images if anyone is interested, but can’t be added here.

    Czarina Blue

    Photos 6-10 of NEco Overhaul, from [post above]

    Czarina Blue

    Photos 11-14 of Neco overhaul in post above. END

    Czarina Blue

    Forgot to mention that I am running the NECO 17DR8 motor with a Simrad AP22 control panel and and Simrad J300X brain from 2008, not  with the original Neco Control box.

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