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Pains in the Autohelm

I enjoy the ease of use of the ST-50 line of instruments by Autohelm and happily there were some serious improvements that Raytheon made to that line when they purchased Autohelm.

While the ST-7000 auto-pilot has functioned well and controls the boat superbly, all ST-50 series displays habitually become water-logged due to badly sealing designs (and no, we did not over tighten the mounting screws). One night it was particularly fun to motor into a anchorage after dusk, to turn on the backlighting and to have the LCD numerals slowly disappear. I subsequently sent all four displays in for repairs.

The LCDs inside the displays were replaced at $50 a piece. Labor was extra and I had extreme difficulty communicating with the repair center. Despite some communications trouble with that technician at the repair center (unfortunately, I do not speak Mandarin), the gist was that our ST-50 wind-display was broken, and could not be repaired... we'd have to upgrade to the ST-60 line of instruments.

While I could join the chorus of people railing against the ST-50 design, I prefer to look to the positive effect that the purchase of Autohelm by Raytheon has had. Raymarine introduced a better design that enabled the ST-60 series displays to "breathe" via Gore-Tex™ membranes in the rear. Finally, a inexpensive solution for the constant condensation/leakage problem of the ST-50 series. Allegedly, Raymarine made the ST-60 series drop-in compatible with the ST-50 series... a very attractive proposition for those who only have to replace part of their system.

So while I am not convinced that the ST60 units are waterproof as stated, they are a definite improvement over the ST-50 series that Autohelm sold. In 2002 I bought a ST-60 wind display. As the other ST-50 displays fail we'll replace them also. IMHO, repair is a waste of money.

Our New Windmeter prior to installation

Here is a picture of our ST60 Windmeter replacement prior to installation on the boat. As you can see, the ST50 mounting holes are not compatible with the ST60 form factor. So much for the promise of a "drop-in replacement". Another fly in the ointment was that the daisy-chain of power and SeaTalk™ wires also changed from the ST-50 to the ST-60 series. Instead of a round connector, the ST60 series now uses a flat plug.

At least the old transducers are compatible, even if you have to modify the ends of the transducer wires to accomodate the new instrument. So, instead of the DIN-like 5-pin connector for the windvane, Autohelm now uses 0.187" push-on connectors. I consider such connectors sub-optimal, as they are hard to find. Granted, the older plugs were even more proprietary, but at least they were simple to use.

We had a difficult time making the ST-60 calibrate on startup. Since the old ST-50 wind indicator indicated wind speed, we thought the mast-head transducer unit was in good repair. So we sent the ST-60 in for repair... where it tested out A-OK. Further sleuthing then unearthed a internally broken transducer in the mast tip. My father reports it may have been somewhat vaporized 12 years ago when lightning struck near the boat in Delaware (which does not explain why the unit seemed to work fine for a number of years afterwards).

Oh well. Eventually, we'll get it to work properly!

Best Estimate of Time Required:
Remove Autohelm instruments/ship/reinstall 2 hours

Total 2 hours