Windvane Selection

As we contemplated longer offshore passages, a wind vane became more necessary. There are articles by people who prefer to use electric autopilots over windvanes (often having a redundant autopilot ready to replace a failed unit). Maringret already has a rather comprehensive electrical system for a 9.5 meter boat but the idea of experiencing a failure in such a critical piece of equipment which has no “user serviceable” parts was not comforting. Also the autopilot will operate based on its magnetic bearing despite what the wind does where as the windvane will follow the wind. Obviously either response can be the “wrong” one depending on the circumstances but it seemed that following the wind and possibly deviating from the desired course was preferable to blindly starting to pound into cross seas.

Over the years it seems that many people have tried their hand at designing wind vanes. This seems to be one area where budding inventors still hold their own. In fact it was hard to extract any order from the field at first. As we found to be the case with refrigeration and other big ticket items, the sailing magazines seem to steer clear of reviewing things such as windvanes. Reviewing the latest in sun glasses or foul weather gear seems to be more their speed. Even Practical Sailor magazine had no article reprints to offer. Then out of the blue Cruising Worldmagazine had a two part article in the months January and February 2002. The article is more of a market survey than an evaluation however.

Initial Research

Previous boat shows had yielded very little (actually nothing) in the way of information on wind vanes. There is a book on the subject but it is quite old (from the early 1980’s) and techniques and materials have moved on since then. This left the internet search in addition to the couple of windvane owners we already knew. One owner had a Monitor on a 39 foot long keeled boat, they were very happy with it other than the welds on the stainless steel had parted. The other owner had a Navik on a Contessa 26 and was quite happy with it also. In both cases the windvane was the only one ever used.

As we searched the internet websites and news groups we started to recognize patterns:

  • any individual boat will rarely have had more than one windvane so comparative knowledge is extremely rare
  • most people are satisfied with what they have, they sometimes have opinions on what is wrong with the “other” windvane types but this is usually unsubstantiated due to the previous point
  • windvane design has basically split into two groups: those that manipulate the boats steering system and those that operate a trim rudder
  • it seems that most people seem to agree that larger boats are better off with their existing steering system being manipulated while lighter boats can take advantage of the trim rudder designs
  • very little consensus seems to exist on which material is best suited for windvane construction, there seems to be a major division between anodised aluminum and stainless steel. Owners of one type seem to be able to supply numerous reasons why the other construction is less desirable
  • the price range of the production line generated windvanes is roughly constant, custom built models seemed to have a greater variation in price

With all the above schisms involved, sifting through the topic of windvane selection was by no means clear. Most manufacturers have websites, generally the quality of these is quite good. Of course each is quite subjective and objective information is almost absent.

Windvane #1 – Sailomat

When selecting our first windvane, we decided the best way to cross the confusion of the market place was to set out our goals. We listed the following:

  • would like to be able to subsequently move any windvane we purchased for Maringret to a larger boat;
  • prefer to avoid a complex metal working project for installation;
  • prefer to be able to leave our center mounted swim ladder in place (i.e. wanted a model that could operate in an off-centre position);
  • wanted to have the windvane function through our existing steering to avoid having to fit it to our steering quadrant (which would have seriously disrupted our aft cabin sleeping area).

The first point had the implication that we would not be looking at the lighter trim tab designs, as they would not really move to a larger boat as they seem not to be receomended for boats much over 5 tonnes.

Having gone through a few major “fitting” exercises on Maringret in the past, we realised that the time and financial considerations involved in such a fitting meant that any windvane requiring extensive fabrication as part of its fitting should really be viewed as a much higher priced unit due to the extra costs.

If we had selected a center mount windvane then we would have had to remove our swim ladder and relocating it would have put us back into a major “fitting” exercise involving much metal working. Now we don’t mind having good metal working done, the problem seems to be finding good metal workers.

Obviously the list above is specific to our situation and not necessarily directly applicable to other boats. But we thought we would post these points as they might be of help, interest or use to anyone else attempting to select a windvane.

Through our selection and preference criteria above we eventually selected the Sailomat windvane:

  • moving a Sailomat to a larger boat involved (possibly) switching the removable rudder paddle for a larger one;
  • for mounting its Universal Base the Sailomat requires four M10 holes to be drilled in the transom of the boat (it doesn’t get much simpler than that);
  • it seemed that the Sailomat was the only model which allowed for off-center mounting, this allowed us to keep the center positioned swim ladder and avoid a costly and complex repositioning of the stanchions and ladder on the aft deck;
  • the Sailomat will steer via lines on a drum attached to the wheel, Spectra lines and low friction blocks are the only other material we needed to purchase and mount.

Installation #1

We actually did have two pieces of fitting which involved metal working. When we went to fit the Sailomat to Maringret, the base wanted to stradle the rubbing strip, we had a piece of 5mm aluminum sheet bent to span across the rubbing strip. We chose to use aluminum for this mounting as the Sailomat base is cast aluminum which should minimise corrosion between the two. The second fitting we had was for a frame to move the turning blocks for the control lines coming off the Sailomat pendulum about 20 cm aft of the pushpit. This allowed the blocks to take the control lines close to the plane of the pendulum. The control ines then turned around these blocks and ran forward into the cockpit area. The frame was necessary because of the small dimensions of the Maxi 95, a larger boat would probably not need such a fitting.

In the cockpit we fitted two padeyes on the coamings on each side to hold the blocks that turned the lines onto the plane of the drum fitted to the wheel. We initially were going to have both control lines coming from the starboard side (which is where the frame with the turning blocks was mounted) but decided that to have both lines on the same side with the tension they would put on the wheel was not wise in a 25 year old boat. When we thought about 3 weeks at see with that pressure on the wheel 24 hours a day we felt it was better to bring them in from opposite sides in order to reduce the net force on the wheel mounting. Once again a newer and larger boat would probably not have to worry about this. By bring in the control lines to the wheel from both sides we caused both sides of the cockpit to be crossed with lines, thereby decreasing the living space for the crew on watch but we felt that we had to take thbis step in order to ensure we didn’t induce problems in the steering system.

We ran our first few sails with normal lines as we played with various arrangements of the control lines. We used a mixture of old 12 mm lines to move around block positions and knots in the lines before cutting our Spectra line to fit the job. This seemed to work out quite well. We were able to sail under the control of the SAilomat using the old lines and observe where conflicts and chafe affected the system. Optimising the control lines is a real exercise in 3 dimensions as the lines seem to be able to find an opportunity for chafe in the most unlikely places.

We finally found a location with predictable winds of about force 3 to 4 and spent a number of days configuring the Sailomat. There was a rudimentary chandlery in the harbour so we could get the small little pieces (like padeyes) that were needed. Luckily our cruising route then had about 4 crossings of 2 days each which suited the purpose of settling in the wind vane.

Usage #1

We have just installed our unit. Once we have had some extended use of it we will complete this page giving our impressions.

Windvane #2 – Hydrovane

After the learning curve on windvane installation, we felt that it was just too much effort to mar the deck and coaming of the HR41 with all the tensioned lines and padeyes that the control lines of the Sailomat would require. Additionally they would make a portion of the cockpit “out of bounds” as crew would not be able to sit or even move through the area the control lines ran through.

We had met and spoken with the Hydromat crew at boat shows. Their claims about ease of installation and reliability were backed up both on the internet and through owners we spoke with.

One point we had concern over was the claim from the “servo-pendulum” windvane manufacturers that there is a mechanical advantage that amplifies the wind’s effects and more properly steers the boat. Conversations with satisfied owners indicated that they had not experiences any such issues.

Usage #2

The only concern we had with the Hydrovane was the absence of the mechanical advantage claimed by the “servo-pendulum” manufacturers. After some years of usage, we have no idea what the claimed advantage was. The Hydrovane helms our 16 tonne boat with ease and utmost reliability.


Both of our windvanes performed excellently. Both helmed more efficiently than we could. We could not complain about either of them operationally.

If we were to pick out one factor as shaping our selection, it was the installation. The installation of the Sailomat on the Maxi 95 was very complex. We luckily were in a marina where one of the boat owners operated a metal working business. If he had not been a neighbour we don’t know how we would have completed the installation.

When it came to migrating the Sailomat to the HR41, we just couldn’t imagine doing it all again. And the spider’s web of control lines we would have had to run across the aft deck, up and over a rather high coaming,

In fairness we should point out that both of our boats have been centre cockpit and for an aft cockpit boat, the installation is that much easier. Had we been in an aft cockpit boat, we probably would not have replaced our Sailomat when changing boats.

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