SJ23 Tech Tip E12, (2022-07-07) Bob Schimmel.


Install a Tiller Autopilot - Lashed Tiller or Wind Vane.
INDEX - Tiller Pilot Installation, Electrical Connection, Storage.

Imagine you are sailing single handed and you have to attend an urgent "meeting" at the head!  Wearing your foul weather gear would probably make this a worst case scenario but what are you going to do, considering that you don't have automatic steering and it's pretty difficult to ignore this "meeting"!  You could hove to, which is probably the calmest motion to hold a "meeting," no pun intended.  There are other less daunting but equally important tasks like adjusting a whisker pole or retrieve that "dear child" you lashed in the pulpit.  Then there are those important trips to the galley to maintain your body and soul or to actually check the chart.  While hove to has the advantage that other boats can easily manoeuvre around you, wouldn't it be nice to stay on course while you leave the tiller?  The safety and convenience of it all is sheer decadence, especially if you are passage making when distance and time are so important.  Think of all the things you can do while "Otto" is steering.  You could actually arrive relaxed, with all your boat jobs done!  Now there's a novel thought.


  • STEER by FLUXGATE COMPASS - "I have both a Tiller Tamer and a Navico TP100 autopilot and use the Tiller Tamer all the time.  Once the boat trim is balanced I have sailed for well over a hour without having to touch the tiller.  This gives me plenty of time to get a beer or even go sit on the bow for a bit.  I find the noise from the autopilot aggravating and the tacking feature only works in perfect conditions, otherwise it's too slow to bring the bow through the wind."  Joe Brezzer

  • STEER by FLUXGATE COMPASS - "I've used a Navico TP100 autopilot for several years and am very pleased with it.  It drives the boat much truer than any steady handed skipper could.  Make sure you have fully charged battery or a good solar panel to run it for a long period of time.  I really enjoy operating the autopilot while I set the sails.  It's very relaxing to let Mellow Yellow do her own thing.  Wish I'd bought one years ago."  Paul Bailey

  • STEER by FLUXGATE COMPASS - "I have both a Tiller Tamer and a Raymarine ST2000+ Tiller Pilot.  I use the Tiller Tamer all the time, with a bit of friction set, to free me from having to pay attention to my heading all the time.  After I shifted more weight to the bow till the turn of the transom just barely kisses the surface it dramatically improved the way Panache sails.  Once the boat is trimmed out she can maintain a heading to the wind quite well.  It's best not to move around though but I can make a quick trip to the fore deck without it heading off course too much. 
    After experiencing the performance of an Autohelm 300 (now Raymarine ST1000+) on another SJ23, I bought a Raymarine ST2000+ (ST = Seatalk) for Panache.  It has a more robust drive that should relate to longer life.  The slightly higher power consumption is insignificant with two solar panels supplying power.  It also adjusts twice as quick which relates to a straighter course.  However, it is sometimes over powered by large waves.  After a 20KM delivery trip it is wonderful to arrive at the dock with all my chores done and the boat ready for haul out.  I don't mind steering, but I hate being a slave to the tiller on such a long delivery trip in near freezing weather.  So far the ST2000+ has performed well under sail in light air.  I've added direction arrows to the key pad so I push the correct switch to steer the boat since it is installed on the port side (internal steering logic reversed).  The only problem I've had is that some display segments stopped working.  That was remedied by adding some foam to the perimeter of the display to push the case down uniformly against the circuit board for complete contact.  I would love to have a wind vane equipped with NMEA output to sail by.  If you have ever experienced sailing to a vane you know how nice this can be."  Bob Schimmel

  • STEER by GPS - "A unit equipped with GPS tracking ability is a good choice.  Being able to automatically follow a track programmed in a GPS receiver, not just a course, will make life much easier for a solo sailor.  This is especially true if you experience long stretches of cross currents that will set you off sideways to a dangerous area."  Hal Mueller

  • STEER by WIND VANE - "I installed some electronic hardware onboard my SJ23 to control the autopilot by a wind vane or external GPS.  When steering by the wind the system makes smaller corrections than a person can, more often and with minimal power drain."  For details go to Tech Tip E12a. Jim Dalessandro

NOTE: One of the limitations with the original model Autohelm or the later version Tiller Pilot is that they react too slow in a rough sea state, especially downwind.  The slow adjust rate is perfectly fine when motoring but too slow when sailing in deep waves or gusty winds when larger steering angles are required to maintain a straight course.  It is extremely hard on the gears, the motor and the current draw when the control rod is pushed to the end of its travel.  I have seen a unit that stripped its gears trying to maintain a course in these conditions.  "I have it on good advice from the factory that a Tiller Pilot cannot maintain a course sailing in heavy wind.  It is beyond the limits of the hardware to do this."  For this reason several sailors I know only use their unit when motoring, changing sails or to relieve the helm for a short time while they are preoccupied with an urgent bio task.  Other than this, they secure the helm with a Tiller Tamer or steer manually.  As a result their low end unit doesn't wear out and it is available when they really need it, motoring into a harbour or for a long passage. 
NOTE - It is virtually impossible for any auto pilot to control a sail boat through the wash of a power boat.  Switch it to standby mode while cutting through the wake.

TILLER AUTOPILOT INSTALLATION - As you ponder which side to install a Tiller Pilot (within factory specs) consideration should be made for easy access to your outboard engine.  This is why I installed the Tiller Pilot on Panache's port side, away from the engine.  I want unobstructed access to the engine when motoring in tight quarters.  The Tiller Pilot can be slipped off the tiller pin and the rod end laid on the transom or seat, out of the way. 

My cockpit mounting hardware consists of the removable wood block shown here.  It may be less elegant than the factory option but it is strong enough to stand on.  The water proof screw mounting hole fits flush to the backrest to prevent injury.  The 3" SS screw through the wood block is held captive so I can't loose it.  After many years of leaving the screw mounting hole open I now keep a screw in it to keep it clean.  All of this from a spider that decided to make a nest in there.  Unfortunately for the spider, I decided that I can make better use of it!  Good riddance.

I rejected the factory cockpit mounting hardware for two reasons:

  1. the vertical mount would be too tall and therefore too weak to stand up to the steering forces.

  2. the horizontal cantilever mount would obstruct the backrest for sitting. 

The cockpit electrical connector for the Tiller pilot was installed in the foot well below the Tiller Pilot where it is easy to extend the boat wiring harness to.   It is fairly easy to line up the key pin to plug the cable in and the backrest is unobstructed, as is the port hatch when the Tiller Pilot is in place.  Replacement Bulkhead Connector - Order here

The factory direction controls on Panache's Tiller Pilot are labeled for a starboard installation and therefore backwards for a port installation.  For straightforward logic to steer by I affixed direction labels (arrows) on the case to indicate port or starboard without having to think through the + & - logic.





I fabricated a stainless steel mounting bracket for the tiller pin (shown above) so it can't snag anything.  It is also much stronger than the factory single ended arm and can't bend under load.


ELECTRICAL WIRING - The Raymarine ST1000+ or ST2000+ Tiller Pilots are capable of being controlled by an external NMEA 0183 compatible device (GPS navigation receiver, plotter, etc) to follow a programmed route over the ground.  This is superior than using the "hold this heading" switch when operating the boat through a cross current or cross wind.  To this end I installed a voice grade (Cat 3) wiring harness from the cockpit connector to the GPS.  The harness runs inside a cable tray along the top inside of the port locker, through the port cabin bulkhead (sealed with sealant), and across the cabin behind the companionway to a terminal strip below the VHF.  This where it is cross connected to the GPS to operate using NMEA sentences.  See Tech Tip E13, Instrument Interconnect for further information.  The power leads continue on to the power breaker panel on starboard.


STORAGE - For many years I stored my Tiller Pilot behind a settee back rest, wrapped in a towel & protected from the weather.  I was reluctant to store it elsewhere, the spot is that dry and secure.  But, retrieving it took too long when sailing solo and Panache was sometimes well on her way to a new heading by the time I popped my head out of the cabin.  "I hate it when the jib is back winded."  So the Tiller Pilot was moved to new storage in the cockpit locker which is in keeping with my philosophy of, "Store it where you use it." 

It's now stored inside a (22x4)" ABS tube mounted inside the port locker, against the foot well wall.  This is easier said than done, given the tight confines of the locker.  The ABS tube is mounted at a slope (aft end lower) to drain water out.  The open end just protrudes into the aft end of the locker opening where it can't interfere with removing the false floor below it (See Tech Tip D02)

The two wood spacers that support the tube are not shaped quite as shown above but you get the idea.  They required a bit of finagling to make them fit over the cable tray I previously installed (Tech Tip D02) along the top of the locker.  The spacers are coated with epoxy to seal the wood.  The oversize SS hose clamps were split in the middle, cut to length and screwed to the spacers for maximum holding power.  

The tube is long enough that the unit will slide in fully.  The bottom end of the tube is stuffed with high density foam padding with a hole in the middle to receive the Tiller Pilot actuating rod.  It is not required to have a cap or to line the tube with a soft fabric for chafe protection. 
















It took a considerable amount of planning and contortion on my part to install this storage tube on my own since I had to install it over the cable tray.  After crawling into the locker with the assembled unit, I positioned it against the wall and drew an outline of each foot print, with screw hole marks inside each.  Using a tiny bit I drilled four holes from the inside through to the cockpit.  The next part got even trickier.  While straddling the locker wall to hold the unit in place, I drilled (from cockpit side) back into the feet to create pilot holes for the 3" mounting screws.  The front top screw went in first which gave me a reference pivot point for drilling the back screw holes.  You have to get creative when you work on your own.  It helps to have a right angle electric screw driver.

The Tiller Pilot slips real easy into the holder.  I even found a spot down there to store the wood pedestal socket that the Tiller Pilot operates from.  Everything is extremely convenient to access.  I like modification this a lot.

NOTE - Use this locker for electronic storage only if it is bone dry.  If it is wet, corrosion will likely ruin the unit.


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