Autopilots are the third largest product category at Navico leading the competition based on 40 years of heritage. Eirik Hovland, Product Manager of our Autopilots division in Egersund, Norway, sees growth in the recreational market for boaters to experience more and do more, whilst their boat is being safely self-steered …

What is your role at Navico?

I’ve worked in R&D in Egersund for most of my career. In 2006, I started out as a Software Developer and then moved into System Engineering. Now, I’m a Product Manager for Autopilots with a stronger commercial focus than ever before.

I work closely with the Sales Team attending shows, gathering insight from the market and working closely with Product Experts on the technical side. 2019 has been a challenging year, but I’m very positive about the future.

How important are autopilots to Navico?

Autopilots are the third largest product category at Navico, so they are certainly important! They are particularly significant in commercial where they make up around 30% of our revenue.

In the marine industry, our autopilots lead the competition, which I’m extremely proud of. We have a 30-40 year heritage that is founded in our commercial experience (as we originally manufactured the Robertson autopilots.) We currently have the ability to equip any size ship – from a three thousand tonne bulk carrier, to a 10 metre fishing vessel.

Our recreational offering is built on top of our commercial offering, using the same steering algorithms. Our commercial legacy means that we don’t compromise on performance and safety. We’ve dealt with demanding customers from the Pro market and our products have stood up to harsh conditions with strong engineering.

What’s the setup for Autopilots in Egersund – the ‘spiritual home’ of autopilots?

In Egersund, we have an excellent, dedicated Autopilots team including Software Leads, Product Experts, Customer Service, Project Managers, Quality Assurance and Compliance Engineers.

It’s great having all these various functions under the same roof, which allows us to make decisions quickly and work efficiently without time-zone, language barriers, calendar constraints and so on. We meet as a team on a daily basis and discuss feedback from customers; what’s going on in the market; fixing problems; software issues and we also make product lifetime decisions.

Are there any opportunities for growth?

I think there is great opportunity in the recreational sector, which has already embraced MFDs and sonar. Autopilots don’t yet have the same popularity, perhaps because boat owners enjoy navigating the boats themselves. There is also the perception that autopilots are costly and complex to install, requiring hydraulics, wiring and tuning etc.

Whilst some of this is true, it’s neither as expensive nor complex as you’d think. For instance, our most basic autopilot offer starts at around 1,500 Euros. The benefits are strong too: you can spend more time admiring the scenery, socialising with friends, or planning routes through your MFD.

An autopilot basically frees you up, giving you more time to do what you want to do, which is a great selling point for us.

How does an autopilot work?

An autopilot is essentially made up of four components: a control head, a compass, an autopilot computer (black box) and a hydraulic pump. The Autopilot control head is where the user operates the autopilot system. He/she can select a steering mode and select the heading to steer to. Our state-of-the art compass detects which direction the bow is pointing – the actual heading. The autopilot computer contains the steering algorithm, which determines how much rudder to apply to bring the boat onto the desired heading. The hydraulic pump moves the rudder to the demanded steering angle.

We have autopilot packs for each Navico brand. For Lowrance (fishing) we have affordable autopilot packs at a “good” performance. For Simrad (powerboating and commercial) we have packs for “good”, “better” and “best” performance. For B&G (sailing) we have packs for “better” and “best” performance. Any autopilot pack can be expanded with a variety of optional devices, such as wireless remotes, MFD integration, multiple redundant control heads. The sky is the limit.

Where will be when we speak in 15 years’ time?

At the moment with an autopilot, you click a button and the boat will go straight for you, removing the effect of the current or wind by sticking closely to a mapped route.

In the future perhaps we will be able to integrate more data from radars, engines and other sensors to provide additional services such as collision avoidance and smart route planning. Whatever the next innovation is, it’s my job to ensure that Navico is at the forefront of it.