How to Install a Tiller Autopilot

I hadn’t seriously considered an autopilot for Summer Dance until I discovered the affordable Raymarine ST1000+ Tiller Pilot and that they could be had for half the cost of new on eBay. When I thought of how convenient it would be for cruising with my wife who has no desire to take the helm, I concluded that it might free me up to attend to the many other responsibilities of single-handed sailing.

The not so obvious disadvantage of buying a used Tiller Pilot is that it’s rare to find one with that comes with the mounting socket, tiller pin, wiring socket, and any of the extension rods or tiller bracket that you may need to install it properly. Some of those parts are probably still on the boat where the Tiller Pilot was originally installed and the previous owner didn’t remove them to include in the sale. It wouldn’t be so bad if the parts were inexpensive, but they are not and they’re also rare on eBay. I wound up buying them retail online from Defender but any Raymarine dealer should also be able to get them for you. If you buy the Tiller Pilot new, that’s not as much of a problem, of course. But you will still need to buy any extension rods, mounting brackets, and tiller brackets separately that are necessary to install the Tiller Pilot in your sailboat.

I’ll explain below what’s needed for a typical C-22 (pre-’86). For other years and models, you can use the same methods described here but your measurements may be different. The Raymarine manual is pretty good and easy to find and download online. I recommend that you download a copy and study it before you embark on this project yourself. Together with this post, you’ll know everything you need to do the job. This is a long post but I describe details about how to install the Tiller Pilot correctly that the manual leaves out. With most sailing gear, you can just screw it onto something and it works fine. The “something” holds it in the correct position. Not so with a Tiller Pilot. It’s suspended in the air by the mounting hardware. For it to work correctly, the location in all three dimensions needs to be pretty accurate. So take your time on this project to do it right – don’t cut any corners. It will be steering your boat, after all.

Lay out the tiller pin/bracket hole locations

The first step is to measure and mark the location on your tiller handle for either the tiller pin or one of several possible tiller brackets. The brackets also include a pin. This is where the moving end of the Tiller Pilot attaches to your tiller and pivots. Which part you need, the pin or a bracket with pin, depends on your tiller and its height relative to where you will install the mounting socket for the stationary end of the Tiller Pilot. The Tiller Pilot must be close to horizontal between both ends. I’ve seen some installations that used just a pin in the tiller handle. Those tillers either sat higher than mine or the owner didn’t install the Tiller Pilot horizontal.

At first, my tiller sat angled downward slightly when in its lowest position. This may be different from yours if you have a non-stock tiller or a kick-up rudder or yours is fastened to the rudder tighter than mine. I like the tiller handle to rotate easily up and down on the tiller pivot bolt and not so tight that the tiller will stay in any one position. However, in that lowest position, the tiller is so low relative to the top of the coaming where I chose to mount the socket that Raymarine doesn’t make a tiller bracket that can compensate for the difference. So, to raise the tiller so that it is at least horizontal at its lowest position, I screwed a small teak stop block into the rudder underneath the aft end of the tiller handle. When shape the stop block, be sure to allow clearance from the transom trim when the rudder pivots from side to side.

Tiller handle stop block screwed to rudder
Tiller handle stop block screwed to rudder

This works the same as a similar ledge that is built into the C-22 kick-up rudder casting shown below.

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Kick-up rudder casting showing built-in tiller stop

With the tiller handle now level, a Raymarine D159 tiller bracket with a 4″ rise puts the pin at the correct height to hold the Tiller Pilot level. It is also possible that, if you choose to mount the Tiller Pilot in the lazarette lid, you might need to mount a tiller bracket on the underside of the tiller handle to level the Tiller Pilot.

To mark the location for mounting the tiller bracket on the tiller handle, the Raymarine manual instructs you to measure 18″ forward of the axis of the rudder pintles. That is an imaginary line through the center of both pintle pins and extended upward. If you place a straightedge on the centers of the pintles, you should find that it aligns conveniently with the center of the aft tiller bracket bolt head.

Tiller pintle axis extended through the aft bolt head
Tiller pintle axis extended through the aft bolt head

Measuring from the bolt head is much easier. Align the pin in the tiller bracket vertically with your 18″ mark on the tiller handle and then mark the location of the tiller bracket mounting holes.

Tiller pin distance from the rudder pintle axis
Tiller pin distance from the rudder pintle axis

Carefully drill the mounting holes in the tiller handle as straight and plumb as possible using a 1/4″ bit. Place a piece of scrap under the handle when you drill so that you don’t get tear-out where the bit exits the tiller. I shortened two 1/4″ x 3″ stainless steel pan head bolts by about 1/2″ to attach the bracket to my tiller with flat washers, lock washers, and acorn nuts. I used acorn nuts to not snag any lines or knees in the cockpit. The Raymarine manual instructs you to bond the screws to the tiller handle with epoxy but I skipped that step so that I could easily remove the bracket to refinish or replace the handle.

Lay out the mounting socket hole location

Every Tiller Pilot that I’ve seen on a C-22 was mounted on top of the starboard coaming and that’s where I mounted mine too. You can mount it on the port coaming but you will need to reverse the Tiller Pilot’s operating sense as described in the manual. There just isn’t a more convenient location with respect to passengers or the lazarette lids. You can mount it to the side of the coaming using a cantilever post from Raymarine but it would be in the way of the lazarette lid and anyone ever wanting to sit that far aft. You could mount it in the lazarette lid itself and possibly not need a tiller bracket at all but again, that would make the lazarette lid unusable when the Tiller Pilot is in use. Mounting it on the coaming leaves the lazarette area clear. It also lets you swivel the Tiller Pilot forward when it’s not in use and secure it to the pushpit stanchion if you have one.

The next step is to mark the location of the mounting socket on the top of the coaming. This point should be at 90 degrees from the tiller pin when the tiller is aligned to the center line of the boat.

To find and hold the tiller on the center line, tie a light line to one coaming, such as to a pushpit stanchion that is close to perpendicular to the end of the tiller. Loop it once around the tiller, and then lead it in a straight line to the opposite coaming and either tie it off at the opposite stanchion or you can do like I did and turn it around the stanchion, around the winch, and into the cam cleat. Then, you can loosen the line, center the tiller, and retighten the line. It should be about 30-3/4″ from the inside edge of each coaming to the center line of the tiller handle.

Mounting socket distance from tiller pin
Mounting socket distance from tiller pin

Now you can measure from the tiller pin to the centerline of the top of the starboard coaming. It should be about 32-1/4″.

The Raymarine manual states that the distance between the tiller pin and the center of the mounting socket must be exactly 23.2″ assuming no rod extensions. By subtracting that distance from your measurement, you will get about 9″. That is the length of rod extensions that you need for the Tiller Pilot to be able to hold the rudder centered when the Tiller Pilot is in the middle of its working range. Anything more or less than that and your Tiller Pilot will turn farther in one direction than the other because the rod is either too long or too short. For 9″ of extension, buy one Raymarine D007 5″ extension and one Raymarine D006 4″ extension. Unscrew the tiller pin socket from the end of the Tiller Pilot rod, screw on both extensions, and then replace the tiller pin socket on the end of the last extension.

Next, use a framing square or similar tool held along the tiller shaft to find the point on the starboard coaming that is exactly at a right angle from the tiller pin. This is where you will install the mounting socket for the stationary end of the Tiller Pilot. You might have to extend your framing square by clamping a straightedge to it. Place masking tape on the coaming at this spot and make a small mark on the tape to show the point fore and aft. You will find the side to side location of the point next.

Mounting socket longitudinal location 90 degrees from the tiller pin
Mounting socket longitudinal location 90 degrees from the tiller pin

With the tiller still held on the hull centerline, temporarily attach the Tiller Pilot rod onto the pin in the tiller bracket and hold the other end of the Tiller Pilot over your mark on the coaming with the mounting pin aligned vertically. Make sure the Tiller Pilot is level with a bubble level on the rod. Draw a circle around the mounting pin with it touching the coaming. You might need a helper for this step. The center of this circle is where you will drill a hole for the mounting socket.

Reinforce the coaming

Before you can drill the mounting socket hole, you need to reinforce the underside of the coaming at that location with a block of wood or similar material to hold the mounting socket firmly in place. I used some teak plywood scraps and bonded two pieces together with epoxy to form a 1″ thick block. I bonded that to the underside of the coaming fiberglass with thickened epoxy and held with a spring stick until it cured.

Bonding the reinforcement block with epoxy and a spring stick
Bonding the reinforcement block with thickened epoxy and a spring stick

After the epoxy has fully cured, you can drill a 1/2″ hole through the coaming and at least 1″ into the block. The hole does not need to go all the way through the reinforcement block. Glue the mounting socket (Raymarine D002, Defender special order part #SPD002, 5 pack) in the hole with unthickened epoxy. Now, you should be able to mount the Tiller Pilot between the mounting socket and the tiller pin and it should be level and hold the rudder centered. You’re finished with the mechanical installation. All that remains is to wire power to the Tiller Pilot and, optionally, connect it to your GPS or chart plotter.

Mount the cable socket

If you purchased your Tiller Pilot used, chances are that it did not come with the bulkhead socket into which you plug the cable that is attached to the Tiller Pilot itself. The socket is probably still on the boat that the Tiller Pilot came from. You can buy the socket from a Raymarine dealer at the MSRP of $47 but you’ll be paying too much. The female socket and its male plug on the end of the Tiller Pilot cable are high quality but they are not proprietary Raymarine parts. They are manufactured by Bulgin in the U.K. and can be purchased from any electrical supply company that carries the Buccaneer series connectors. Ask for part number PX0767/S. I purchased mine from digikey.com for $20.85 including the sealing cap.

Your options for where to install the socket are anywhere that:

  • The cord will reach when the Tiller Pilot is mounted in place
  • The cord and plug won’t be in the way of the crew or of opening and closing the lazarette lids
  • The plug and socket will remain as dry as possible

Common locations are in the lower rear corner of the coaming, in the transom, or in the cockpit sole wall. I chose to install the socket inside the starboard lazarette in the teak trim along the cockpit sole. This places the socket within easy reach yet it isn’t in the way of using the lazarette and the connection stays dry. The cord rests in a small gap in the lid seal.

Electrical socket mounted inside the starboard lazarette
Electrical socket mounted inside the starboard lazarette. Notice the bracket nearby for storing the Tiller Pilot when not in use. A vertical, hook shaped bracket holds the other end.

Make the electrical connections

You can connect the socket to any open circuit breaker in your electrical panel. The Raymarine manual shows the pinout of the socket for all its connections. If you don’t intend to connect the Tiller Pilot to a GPS or chart plotter, you will only need two wires for power and ground. Since the NMEA signal and the power circuit can use the same ground connections, adding only one more wire gives you the option so it makes sense to run it at the same time. Taking the Tiller Pilot’s maximum current draw (1.5 A), round trip distance from the breaker panel, and 3% voltage drop into consideration, I selected 14 AWG triplex cable to make the connections. This is also the maximum size wire that the socket will accept. The Tiller Pilot should be on its own circuit so that other devices don’t draw too much current when the Tiller Pilot needs it and vice versa. I routed the wires to my circuit breaker in flame retardant split loom attached to the underside of the cockpit sole.

My hope was that I would be able to connect my Garmin eTrex to the Tiller Pilot to supply navigation waypoints. I connected the third wire of the triplex cable to a DB9 connector in an accessory panel that I fabricated and installed next to the companionway. That location is convenient for the GPS that I temporarily mount nearby on the cockpit bulkhead with a suction cup mount. I can use the GPS’s PC cable to connect it to the DB9  jack for data and to a 12V outlet for power that is also in the accessory panel. The panel has rear channel speaker jacks for the music system and switches for the lazarette LED strips.

Custom accessory panel easily accessible next to the companionway
Custom accessory panel easily accessible next to the companionway

Both devices can communicate using the NMEA 0183 protocol. I found useful information about connecting them online at these links:

I experimented with several different combinations of connections but the Tiller Pilot did not detect any data coming from the GPS. I know that the GPS output works because I often use it with a PC. If you have had success connecting a similar GPS to your Tiller Pilot, I’d like to get in contact with you and compare notes. If I ever get the connection working, I’ll update this post with the solution. Practically speaking, though, I don’t expect that navigating to GPS waypoints or with a track will be very useful on the inland lakes where I sail. However, if you often sail offshore out of sight of land, at night, or long distances, it could be more useful to you.

Dial it in

After the Tiller Pilot is installed, don’t expect it to work perfectly right out of the box. You will first need to calibrate its compass against another compass or a known bearing as described in the manual. It took several attempts at this to get mine calibrated. The rudder gain setting may also need to be adjusted for the way that your boat handles. This is described in the manual along with the other settings like the average cruising speed (4 knots/hr. min.), North/South turning error correction, latitude, and magnetic variation. I found that the Tiller Pilot worked noticeably better after setting those from the defaults.

Have realistic expectations

The Tiller Pilot does its job well but it’s no replacement for a person at the helm. It will hold a set course and free your hands up to do other things or to just relax on a leisurely cruise. It works a lot better than a tiller lock except for very short periods of time. But in strong or gusty winds, it doesn’t know how much the boat is heeling or if the sails are being overpowered. If you’re sailing on a precise trim setting, the Tiller Pilot’s “hunting” for the correct heading can be frustrating. Likewise, in very light winds, the Tiller Pilot can give up when trying to correct course with little to no forward movement. You need to pay attention to these things and be ready to adjust the heading or trim accordingly. Fortunately, its easy to engage and disengage the Tiller Pilot as necessary. The AutoTack feature is particularly nice when single-handing. You can start the maneuver on the Tiller Pilot and then work both sheets while the Tiller Pilot makes a smooth, slow (8 seconds max.) 100 degree change of heading.

The Bottom Line

Suggested price: $521.96
$tingy Sailor cost: $337.99
Savings: $183.97

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. Alejandro Bori, says:

    Have you figured out how to make the tiller pilot detect data from the GPS ?
    Im struggling with the same issue.

    Thanks!

    1. Not yet but I haven’t been working on it either. Now that I know somebody else is trying too, I’ll put it back on my to-do list. Where we normally sail, it wouldn’t be very useful. But we’re planning a cruise in the San Juan Islands for this summer and I think it would be much more useful then, especially if we run into fog like is common there.

      Thanks for asking. I hope this article was helpful!

  2. Vin says:

    Q: What did you do to keep water out of the tiller-socket hole that was drilled into the boat? Thought about just using a cork, but figured there’d be more elegant ways.

    1. Hi, Vin

      The brass socket is closed on the bottom and doesn’t penetrate through the backing block I epoxied to the underside of the coaming, so all I had to do was seal the top flange against the top of the coaming with butyl tape. A tiny bit of water sometimes collects inside the socket but it doesn’t go anywhere else and evaporates.

      1. Vin says:

        Yes, of course. Thank you for the additional information. I was confused when I saw the pkg of 5 brass-sockets from WestMarine and thought that they were an open cylinder on both sides. Thanks for clarifying, great blog!

  3. @thinkwritesail says:

    Great article. I needed to find a replacement sealing cap and finding the generic parts name on this post was helpful. Nice blog!

  4. Walter Rynkiewicz says:

    I bought my Pearson 30 last august, and your website has been an inspiration to me. I’m presently working on my tiller – Pearson 30 with auto helm and I intend to install a tiller tamer (28$ new). EVERY hole in the tiller was elongated – so I put bushings in the brass Pintle cap – but I’m thinking of using inserts to remount the wood tiller in the aluminum casting (3/16-24 inserts into the wood, and machine screws through the casting. Likewise, 1/4-20 inserts to hold the auto helm bracket and tiller tamer on the tiller. Do you think this arrangement would be strong enough?

    1. Hello, Walter

      The inserts would probably be strong enough provided that they don’t work loose. They can be subjected to considerable repetitive lateral forces, which is how they got elongated in the first place. Inserts are typically designed to provide in-line strength. If it were my tiller, I would bore out the elongated holes oversize, fill them with thickened epoxy, redrill the correct size holes through the cured epoxy, and attach the hardware with through bolts and lock nuts. The tiller will break before the hardware will loosen and you can have complete confidence in it.

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