Ask SAIL: Autopilot Interference
Bernard Freeman of Santa Cruz, California asks:
Every time I transmit on my marine SSB radio, my autopilot goes whacko.
The installer says my radio is fine, and I should just “live with it.”
Is it time to deep-six the radio and get a satellite phone?
Gordon West replies:
Radio is still the only communication method where a party-line of operators can at once share with all listeners the information they transmit. With a satellite phone, there is no party-line. The U.S. Coast Guard and other rescue agencies throughout the world continue to improve their Global Marine Distress Safety System (GMDSS) SSB digital and voice emergency alert capability. SSB email through SailMail continues to be a reliable way of staying connected via the Internet, no matter where in the world you cruise. So keep the radio on board!
The problem with the autopilot is common. Snapping some ferrite beads on autopilot heading sensor leads may help, but each radio band you dial in may affect the autopilot in a different way. With enough shielding and wire-lead-beading, you might be able to keep the pilot from getting hammered by your SSB backstay antenna just feet away.