Raspberry Pi Drives Sailboat by Automating Autopilot

Raspberry Pi
(Image credit: Tommy Joad)

There are some problems in life that are just more fun to solve with a Raspberry Pi. Today we’ve got a clever project to share with our nautical fans created by a maker named Tommy Joad. Joad is the captain of a sailboat and has great familiarity with modern autopilot systems. However, he’s taken the bold step to create his own autopiloting system using none other than our favorite SBC, the Raspberry Pi.

According to Joad, there are several problems that he needed to overcome in order to design a more efficient system. Joad explains that many autopiloting systems are expensive and when they break, they can be pricey to fix — often requiring a specialist to repair. By creating his own autopiloting system with a Raspberry Pi, the price is cut significantly, and being the creator of the project means it’s much easier to troubleshoot.

The main system behind this Raspberry Pi autopilot project is called Pypilot. It’s an open-source application designed by Sean d’Epagnier. Pypilot is included in the Open Plotter package, this is a chart plotting system designed to work with ARM computers. In this case, it works great with the Raspberry Pi but it technically is compatible with other ARM devices.

Joad opted to use a Raspberry Pi 4 for this project but you could get away with using a Raspberry Pi 3 B if that’s all you had on hand. In addition to the Pi, Joad is using a Pypilot HAT designed just for integration with this sort of project. It also requires a motor controller that moves a belt attached to the steering wheel of the boat.

The software side of things relies on a custom OS image. Joad provides instructions on how to set up OpenPlotter using the Raspberry Pi imager. Once it’s installed, you can set up Pypilot. You’ll also need to familiarize with Signal K. This is an open source open data format intended for marine use. Altogether, these systems allow you to plot courses and keep yourself busy with other things while your boat safely pilots you where you want to go.

If you want to get a closer look at this Raspberry Pi project in action, check out the video Joad shared to YouTube and dig into his tutorial for a more in-depth look at its construction.

Ash Hill
Freelance News and Features Writer

Ash Hill is a Freelance News and Features Writer with a wealth of experience in the hobby electronics, 3D printing and PCs. She manages the Pi projects of the month and much of our daily Raspberry Pi reporting while also finding the best coupons and deals on all tech.