A History of Headaches
August 26, 2004
The relentless failure of my Raymarine ST1000-Plus
Tiller-Pilot continues to baffle and confound me. Here's a history
of my bad experience with it from the beginning and what I've done over
the past months while struggling to make it work.
The first new unit kept intermittently shutting itself off every few
minutes. Finally I drove it up to Raymarine's service center in Nashua, NH where a technician, Lee Tang, took me back to his bench and
plug connector at the end of the unit's cable. He found the power and ground wires were not solidly connected with the tiny set screws inside the plug -- the power lead was actually floating loose inside! He soldered both wires to their plug connections, benchtested the unit, and pronounced it working.
This made perfect sense to me.
I put it back on the boat, took Chip Ahoy out, and again attempted to calibrate it. It still kept shutting itself off.
The following day (a Friday, the last day I could reach Raymarine before
on my extended Maine cruise the following Monday) I drove back up to Raymarine and demanded a new unit. Lee Tang took me back to his bench again and got me an entirely new unit. He made up
a complete new cable (that includes the permanent socket mounted on the cockpit coaming
and runs to the power supply). He even soldered the leads to a new
socket plug, using
two wires within the cable for each connection. (There are four wires, two for power and two for data if you are connecting to other Raymarine instruments). He told me
that if I still have the problem it could be either in my original socket or in my
wiring: replace both with his new cable/socket assembly. I left, again certain the problem was solved, or would be.
The first thing I did upon departure on my cruise was attempt to calibrate the
new unit -- and it performed the same stunt, shutting down on its own! So I dug out Lee's new
cable/socket assembly, crimped a pair of alligator clips to the two paired power wires, and attached them to Battery One
(the larger of the two, which I was using at that time to run everything).
I ran the cable out the companionway across the cockpit and attached the new
soldered socket directly
to the new unit's plug. It worked for a while, but later in the day again began
randomly shutting itself off.
Further up the coast at my next port, I replaced the alligator clips with crimped on ring connectors and connected them directly to Battery
One's posts. I also ran the new cable beneath the cockpit, fastened it
in place, and mounted
the new socket onto the cockpit coaming, replacing my original cable and
socket. This too proved to be another waste of time that made no difference.
Next I tried isolating the tiller-pilot entirely, switching over to Battery Two for everything else, dedicating Battery One
to just the tiller-pilot alone. This too produced no improvement, no difference.
I've noticed that the intermittent shutdowns seem to happen more frequently when the motor is running -- though even just under sail it
I considered the possibility that the problem has something to do with the outboard, perhaps the alternator charging system. But with the battery switch set to Battery Two and the tiller-pilot alone
using Battery One I'm baffled how this can be.
With its dedicated power source -- its own fully-charged, isolated
series 27 battery -- interference from the
outboard or any other electrical connection can be ruled out.
Besides, why does the tiller-pilot fail while strictly under
sail, without the outboard running?
Another observation: often if I just wait long enough after it shuts itself off, it turns itself back on, but off again after a while, then on again. Sometimes
the power doesn't return on its own; I have to unplug then replug
the cable to make it turn on again.
On my first visit, Lee Tang found the two power wires loose in the unit's cable plug, the tiny set screws
loose. He soldered the wires in place. The solution seemed obvious at the time, though it didn't solve the problem.
When I checked these connections
on the new unit's plug, I found the set screws very tight, the connections good.
They must have had better quality control at their manufacturing site in
Great Britain the day this one was assembled.
The Frustration Continues
September 5, 2004
Yesterday, at the direction of Lee the Raymarine technician, I eliminated both the plug and socket --
his latest theory of what's wrong -- and hardwired the unit directly
to it's dedicated and fully-charged 12V battery (see photos above).
Lee also wanted me to connect a voltmeter to the power wires. He
suspected power fluctuations or loss through the plug and socket
connection or the
wiring harness. He expected the voltmeter to demonstrate this, to show
no voltage when the tiller-pilot shut itself off.
This too made utterly no
difference. The voltmeter registered a
constant 13-plus volts throughout the afternoon without fail even while
the unit kept shutting itself off and sometimes on again. This proves -- once and
for all -- that the problem is in the Raymarine unit(s).
After Lee soldered the loose wires in
the original unit's plug it made no difference. The new wiring harness
Lee built made
no difference. The new socket and plug he provided made no difference.
The replacement tiller-pilot performed no differently.
Lee Tang has been very good about
returning my calls and e-mails, and he has done everything
professionally, step by step, trying to isolate the problem. When I
demanded a new unit he provided it and went above and beyond by building
a new cable assembly for it. But nothing he or I have done has made
difference -- both of the new tiller-pilots have this same critical
problem, both have always kept shutting themselves off and continue to.
These units are useless, even dangerous if I was foolish enough
to rely on them, and always
have been from the beginning.
The problem is Raymarine's -- the
headaches, frustrations, costs and risks have been mine.
I removed the entire unit and cable,
leaving only a hole in the cockpit coaming where the socket used to be;
a piece of duct tape now covers that hole. On Tuesday I will drive up to the
Raymarine customer support center in Nashua, NH -- for the third
time. Nothing they've done up there has been of any
consequence. I've wasted trip after trip. I couldn't use the
tiller-pilot, trust it, on my extended cruise up the
coast of Maine singlehanded -- the very purpose for which I spent
$450 and a day of my labor to install
it. If I had it to
do over again, knowing what I know now I'd instead purchase a Simrad TP10 Tiller Autopilot,
for about $100 less.
If Raymarine doesn't resolve this
situation once and for all this time -- and now -- I shall next
seek restitution through the courts. I did not spend almost a week's pay for a
piece of equipment that has never worked reliably, that I've had to
struggle so hard trying to resolve, that's wasted so much of my time, money,
spoiled my plans and put my safety and that of my boat at risk.
Sailing season 2004 is almost at its
end -- and not once since I installed the Raymarine tiller-pilot
over Memorial Day weekend in May has it worked properly. It is now
September and it still is not working. All I have to show for it
is a new hole in the cockpit covered with duct tape. I would have
been better off just throwing my $450 away and saving myself from an
entire season of grief and aggravation. I still might be better off just
tossing this worthless piece of useless ballast overboard. But I won't.
I want satisfaction and will get it. One way or the other.
I want Raymarine to send a
technician to my boat and stay there until I'm assured that their tiller-pilot
is finally working properly, consistently and reliably. Nothing less
will do. There's no alternative
now, but the courts.
Three strikes and they're out.
The latest “solution”
A $100 ST2000-Plus upgrade
September 7, 2004
I spoke with both Raymarine technician
Lee Tang and supervisor Mike Ryan the first thing this morning, updating
them on my actions and their results -- or more accurately lack thereof.
They invited me to bring the ST1000 back up for another check-up, but
they too were baffled with the problem. I was offered another -- the third
now -- new unit, but instead told them I'd prefer not to drive again for
over three hours round-trip just to keep banging my head against the
wall. I suggested that, if I'm going to make that drive again that I
wanted at least another model and preferred to pick up an ST2000 and
give that a shot. Mike agreed to upgrade my ST1000 to a ST2000 for an
additional $150. That was a start.
After checking prices on the Internet,
I called back and told him the ST2000 sells for about $100 more than the
ST1000 on a number of retail websites -- that the last thing I
expected from him was that kind of a "deal" after all
my headaches and aggravation over the past three months. He
offered to sell it to me for $100; I told him we'd negotiate when I got
up there -- and advised him to visit this page before I arrived.
Back up at Raymarine's Nashua, NH
service center, Mike met me and took me back to Lee's bench. Lee put my
tiller-pilot on his test bench and it ran perfectly. He took apart the
unit, removed the circuit board and checked the connections and the
board. The connections were good as was the board. He let it run for
about 20 minutes, during which it didn't shut down. He explained that it
was a different environment there than on a boat -- no motion or
movement. Mike banged and shook it but still it remained on. The
problem, once again, could not be replicated on the bench.
I then asked them to check the
assembly dates of the two units, thinking they could perhaps be part of
a bad batch. The second new tiller-pilot was assembled five months after
I haggled with Mike over the price --
insisting that upgrading my flawed unit at no cost was the very least
they could and should do. He offered to give me a straight refund for my
bad unit: I argued that perhaps this would have been acceptable
when the first unit failed -- but not any more, not after all I've gone
through. In the end, my choice was either a flat refund or a $100
upgrade to the ST2000. Since I've already cut the holes in my boat and
drilled the tiller to
mount the unit and pin, and the ST2000 uses the same holes and hardware,
ultimately I decided to spend the additional $100 for the upgrade and
keep my fingers crossed that I'm not tossing more good money after lots of
Lee stepped in and got Mike to agree
to refund my entire cost if this new ST2000 also has the same problem,
and advised me to just hook it up and see if it works before I
permanently install and mount the wiring harness and its hardware. If I encounter the same
problem, Lee advised, I should just box it back up and return it for my
refund -- that the problem resides somewhere aboard my boat. If that's
the situation, he recommended that I try the Simrad auto-tiller or
They've done everything they can, have
really tried to isolate and fix the problem. But, as Lee concluded,
"I can't fix it if I can't replicate it, and the units work fine
here when you bring them in." He told me he'd sold my first unit as
reconditioned to another customer soon after I returned it, and he
hadn't heard back from him in the two or three weeks since, so he assumes
it's working well for him. (I reminded him that I bought mine last
March, didn't install it until May, and he didn't first hear from me
until July -- so he still might hear from that customer!)
Over next weekend I'll bring the
ST2000 out to Chip Ahoy and wire it up, see if it works. If the problem
persists with this one -- now the third -- I intend to call in the
Boatworks electronics people down at the boatyard, an authorized
Raymarine service provider, and have them take a
look at everything. Nobody can explain it, but it sure does seem
like the problem is at my boat's end and not in the Raymarine units.
Getting my hopes up ... for the
September 11, 2004
Today I mounted the new ST2000 in its
cockpit coaming socket then ran a new cable from its plug across the
cockpit, through the companionway, and directly to Battery One. It
beeped and turned on, a good start. I let it run in standby mode for
almost three hours and it never shut off, so I then mounted the new plug
socket and routed and secured the cable beneath the deck. It's routed
the same as my original cable was, which I removed: from the back
of the tiller-pilot plug socket on the starboard side coaming aft to and
across the inner transom, then forward along the port side beneath the
seat to the battery.
I replaced my original cable
(insulated 14-gauge two-wire) with insulated 12-gauge two-wire, as the
owner's handbook has a table showing that the "minimum cable size
acceptable for the power supply" for up to 13 feet is 14-gauge and
"Correct power cable size is critical for correct autopilot
operation. If in doubt, use a heavier gauge cable than specified."
My cable route was and is 16 feet -- though that wasn't the
problem: Raymarine technician Lee Tang previously built a new
10-foot cable/socket assembly for me that I ran directly across the
cockpit and through the companionway, and later routed beneath the
cockpit's starboard side, directly to the battery, and that didn't work
either. But as long as I was starting all over new I decided on more
overkill. I also soldered the two wires to the plug socket instead of
depending on the tiny set screws. It ran in standby mode perfectly for
an additional hour-and-a-half.
Tomorrow I'll take Chip Ahoy out and
attempt to calibrate the tiller-pilot. If I succeed then I'll use it
sailing for the afternoon and see what happens. My hopes are up --
that's bad, because they've been up before only to be dashed.
Three months later, success at last!
September 12, 2004
The third Raymarine
tiller-pilot I've installed since the end of May -- an upgrade to their
ST2000 from two ST1000s -- seems to work perfectly at long last!
Today I motored almost a mile out of
my mooring area and it was still running. Once outside, I did the two
360° circles in calibration mode, and it didn't shut off -- it
calibrated to the end for the first time. Then I used it to point and
keep me into the wind as I hoisted sails, and it actually did. Next I
used it for a couple hours to keep me on course under sail, and it did
that all afternoon. Then I used it to drop sail and guide me back under
motor to my mooring, and it worked perfectly.
Next, I'll wire the fuse back inline.
When I'm sure that works I'll disconnect the power leads from Battery
One and connect them back to the buss panels, one at a time until I'm
sure the tiller-pilot continues to work.
See -- that didn't take much, right?
Hey, what's a whole wasted summer if in the end a piece of new equipment
finally works as advertised!
ST1000 units all along.
the ST2000 died . . .