Thank Goodness for Amazon: How to Fix an Autopilot

While in Cape May, we finally got our outboard working with some serious help from Morgan at Whale Creek Marina. We also fixed our autopilot without much help from anyone but Google and Amazon.

As I previously described, after a loud crash, our autopilot, an older Autohelm (Raymarine) type 2 linear drive unit, stopped working two or three hours into our overnight trip from Sandy Hook to Cape May. The actuator ball joint on the end of the arm of our linear drive autopilot, which connects the autopilot to the rudder – sheared off. There was no way to fix it at sea, so we hand-steered for the next eighteen hours, making our way safely into Cape May.

The sheared off actuator ball joint (the ball joint is still attached to the rudder)

The sheared off actuator ball joint (the ball joint is still attached to the rudder)

Once we got the anchor down, fixing the autopilot became a top priority. Actually, we first made sure the arm of the autopilot was not bent by fully extending it outward and then compressing it again (installed perpendicular to the rudder post, the inner arm of the autopilot articulates out and in, steering the boat). After that, we were fairly certain we would be able to fix the unit if we could just find out what the piece was called that had sheared off, figure out what size it was, and find a place to purchase a new one from.

The sad autopilot (the black thing in the back) on the bottom of the lazarette after it separated from the rudder

The sad autopilot (the black thing in the back) on the bottom of the lazarette after it separated from the rudder

With a little measuring and a ton of Google searching, I eventually figured out that the piece in question was a M10 right handed, female articulating ball joint. I also found a few options for ordering them online. First, the maker of our autopilot, Raymarine, sold a replacement part for just over a hundred dollars US. We would have gladly paid that amount to assure ourselves that we were getting the exact part and, moreover, that it was stainless steel.  However, the only place we could find to order the part was in the UK (now that I know more about the autopilot, I am fairly certain we could have found a US supplier, but at the time, the UK seemed like the only option). Not only would shipping have been costly, but it would have arrived in a week or two, after we had left Cape May on what would have been another long hand-steered trip, this time up the Delaware River. I also found a few other US suppliers, but none that would ship it out in a timely fashion. Fortunately, good old Amazon had one for sale through a third party that was eligible for Amazon Prime. We jumped at this, especially because we would be getting not one, but two of these parts for only twenty bucks. We are still not sure they are stainless steel, but at that price, we can afford to replace them occasionally.

On top of the book is the actuator ball joint, which I had surely just been re-measuring

On top of the book is the actuator ball joint, which I had surely just been re-measuring

The part in question finally came to Chip and Barbara’s house on the second Friday of our stay in Cape May. We were a bit busy having fun and taking care of other things, like changing the oil, so we did not get around to installing the new piece until late Sunday night. With our departure set for 4:30am the next morning, we would have to wait until we had cleared out of Cape May Inlet to test it all.

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