A final approach to an anchorage demands precise steering, sometimes requiring you to stand out on the bow to navigate through a difficult passage. While Wi-Fi-based systems connected to GPS or autopilot are available to aid in this task, a stand-alone remote steering system may be simpler to install, easier on the cruising kitty and simpler to control.
Unlike most other areas of the marine electronics industry, only a small handful of manufacturers have gone through the trouble of designing a remote steering device that does not interact directly with a chartplotter via Ethernet or wireless connection. Most skippers are concerned primarily with course controls over long distances, relegating shorter, inshore passages to the tyranny of the tiller.
IntelliSteer, a leading manufacturer of remote steering systems, offers an array of wireless, handheld steering options for both sailing and motor craft. However, the two systems most applicable to offshore sailing craft are IntelliSteer’s Type A, for boats with an existing autopilot, and Type H, for vessels with hydraulic steering without an autopilot.
The core component of all IntelliSteer steering units is a wireless receiver linked to one of an array of steering linkage systems and activated by a handheld wireless pendant. The Type A steering package is designed to be wired between a chartplotter and an autopilot. When the IntelliSteer Wireless Controller is activated by the pendant, the controller disconnects the autopilot and allows wireless steering from any point on the vessel.
On the other hand, the Type H computer is linked to a hydraulic pump, which is installed into the pre-existing hydraulic system between the helm and the rudder. The hydraulic connections are standard to virtually all recreational vessel hydraulic systems.
If all you need is the IntelliSteer wireless controller, you can find one online for about $150. The controller plus the hydraulic pump will cost roughly $800 to $900, depending on the vendor.
The Simrad WR10 Wireless Autopilot Controller is a simpler steering solution for owners of Simrad/B&G and Lowrance autopilot systems who want to enable precise heading adjustments and autopilot control from a handheld pendant.
The WR10 controller uses Bluetooth technology to connect with the WR10 BT-1 Bluetooth Wireless Base Station, which transmits course adjustments to the helm. The Simrad WR10 system is compatible with Simrad NAC-1, AC12, AC42, AC70 and SG05 autopilots; the Lowrance Outboard Pilot; the B&G H5000 Pilot Computer and the Triton autopilot controller.
For less than $400, you can enjoy the WR10’s ease of installation and use, provided your vessel’s steerage is already configured with a Simrad autopilot.
You will read much about the advantages of remote steering systems activated by remote control, even cellular devices. However, such networks are intended primarily for use on open water, where slight course inaccuracies are compensated for over the long course of an ocean crossing.
The advantage of a direct Bluetooth or Wi-Fi link to steering is knowing you have precise control over the hydraulic steering system when passing through narrow passages among coral heads and other submerged obstructions. By making best use of wireless applications for both GPS-based and directly controlled steering, you will enjoy greater freedom of movement on deck when time saved can mean a vessel saved.
Circumnavigator-author Bill Morris believes the best strategy for succeeding as an offshore voyager is to keep systems simple and, if possible, manual. Key to survival are a windvane self-steering system, a basic array of electronics and an aggressive alternative energy battery charging matrix. Bill is a frequent contributor to Ocean Navigator and the author of The Windvane Self-Steering Handbook (International Marine, 2004) and The Captain’s Guide to Alternative Energy Afloat (Seaworthy Publications, 2019).