Press "Enter" to skip to content

10 Things to Consider While Using Auto Pilot System on Ship

Auto pilot system is a captain’s delight because they are able to use this to navigate the ship automatically. But using this have its own risks as well as cautions. Back then, there are nothing similar to the current tech that we have right now.

There was this thing called the quarter master. The quarter master was able to take control of the ship or known as the wheel. This is just as same as the auto pilot system on ship that we have right now. The only differences is that quarter master also have errors. While the errors caused on the auto pilot system would statistical or data based errors. These quarter masters was the inspiration behind auto pilot system.

The auto pilot itself was discovered on the year 1920s. On that year, there were automated steering wheels. But it was not equipped with any advanced navigation.

Using Auto Pilot System on Ship

Nowadays, you could even use a setting. In which the ship could turn on its own as well as make minor adjustments. On top of that, there are many new advancements such as automatic GPS, bearing, as well as temperature management for the ship.

Manage Rate of Turn

The ship has a different rate of turn. This is usually highly affected by the wind as well as the weather. For example, a harsher weather would of course need more rate of turn. The rate of turn is the most important part when you are controling the auto pilot system.

You can use the automated versions but you could also calibrate it before hand. Calibrating the rate of turn would adjust it to the current weather. Sailors could input the following numbers after.

Rudder Limits of the Auto Pilot

Auto pilots also has a rudder limits. We suggest that you set the rudder limit to the angle that you want. Usually sailors will set a maximum rudder limit of 1 degree. Hence this will disable any rotation if the rudder has exceeded more than 1 degree. This is important because a ship going off the course could be time wasting.

Off the Course Alarm

An off course alarm is also an important thing to have on. This functions to usually given alarm when the ship is off course. Of course there are many situations where this might in handy for you. A ship could rotate at the wrong bearing and cause the ship to turn in a wrong direction.

But keep that in mind, you could easily turn on the alarm, and you would be given a notification. The off course alarm could be set from a hundred meters up to 1 kilometer. So if the course if too far already, it will automatically adjust or give you back manual control.

Manual Control Adjustment

The manual control is just as important as any other functioning tool. Without the manual control back up, the automatic system will not be as reliable. Even machines could be wrong sometimes and humans need to do something to correct it.

The manual control adjustment is usually offered if the off course alarm is on. And it will give you the option on whether or not if you want to control the ship using manual functions. Use this feature to quickly get your ship back on course.

Traffic density

The use of the autopilot is discouraged when navigating in areas with high traffic density, narrow passages, and other confined water and traffic separation systems. Automated aviators may not be efficient enough to spontaneously rotate a ship when navigating in areas where quick changes and maneuvers are required to avoid collisions or short-range situations. If autopilot is used in such a case, all steering gear pumps should be started for best government response.

Velocity of the Ship

The system operates ineffectively at a reduced speed. The use of the autopilot is not recommended when the boat is maneuvering or navigating at very low speed.

This system allows the user to synchronize with the Speed Log to receive feeds at boat speed. The user should keep checking the speed log as errors in the speed log will be reflected in the autopilot system.

The system also allows the user to enter the speed manually, while it is important to set a value as close as possible to the actual speed of the boat.

Bad weather and rough sea conditions have a detrimental effect on the performance of autopilots. Uncontrolled yawning can lead to excessive steering movements. Modern autopilot systems have a climate control option where the system automatically adjusts settings to suit changing weather and sea conditions. It also provides options for users to set the number of the ship with manual settings.

Gyroscopic compass

The Auto Pilot System on Ship is functionally based on the Gyro Compass. If there is an error or fluctuation in the gyro heading, there will be a similar change in the route being driven. In the worst case, when the gyro fails, the system will lose track of your direction and will not be able to steer the required route.

In the event of an emergency, power outage, or gyro failure, the system should immediately switch to Manual mode and use the steering wheel to steer the course using the magnetic compass.


The autopilot system must be such that pre-set courses cannot be changed through deliberate intervention by airborne personnel and the heading control system must change the route to pre-set courses without exceeding your position.

As we have said before, the auto pilot system on ship is undeniable advantage in modern Ship Navigation Equipment. It is the responsibility of the personnel to ensure that they are fully aware of the equipment, features, and controls in order to use it properly and efficiently.

Although the autopilot system varies in model from boat to boat, the operating principles and characteristics will be the same. It is strongly recommended that deck officers using the equipment read the manufacturer’s operation manual to fully understand the equipment.