An autopilot is also known as "automatic control" and is an automatic control system in an aircraft or watercraft, such as a boat, yacht or ship. The autopilot not only facilitates automatic control in aeroplanes and water vessels but also in unmanned aircrafts, missiles and satellites.
An autopilot is a computer-controlled measuring and control system for stabilisation and scheduled navigation. Autopilots on watercrafts take over the control of a fixed course, according to a predetermined route (Waypoint List) or according to the wind (wind-vane steering) on sailing boats and sailing yachts. An autopilot is integrated into a comprehensive electronic navigation system (ECDIS) on larger vessels.
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The autopilot calculates the necessary course correction from a number of different data sources. The autopilot measures the pilot-controlled route and compares it with the predetermined course over ground. By comparing the difference between the two, the autopilot forms a control signal which operates the steering system either mechanically or hydraulically.
A modern autopilot determines the yacht's course with a gyrocompass and/or a GPS. These autopilots also make allowances for the roll that emerges from forced waves, gusts of wind or currents. Simply enter the route into the autopilot with the use of a Waypoint List or through a click of the mouse on the sea chart and the autopilot will automatically set sail on the desired course. On reaching a Waypoint the autopilot automatically continues on to the next Waypoint.
On larger vessels, theautopilot is an integrated component of a comprehensive electronic navigation system (ECDIS), which also includes sonar, radar, AIS, electronic charts and much more.