Ask SAIL: Guests are Scrambling my Pilot


Q: When I have guests aboard for a weekend my autopilot just can’t keep a straight course. With any seas, it continuously hunts from port to starboard. When I’m sailing alone, all is fine. What gives? 

Gordon West Replies:

A: Several years ago, while trouble-shooting a case of “guest anomalies” in an autopilot system, I discovered the pilot’s solid-state heading sensor was mounted amidships in a hanging locker. Guests would come onboard and stuff the hanging locker with jackets on wire coat hangers. These metal hangers, right next to the fluxgate heading sensor, would then interrupt Mother Nature’s magnetic lines of force. Plastic coat hangers will usually solve the problem.


Gordon West is an electronics expert who specializes in radio communications


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