Q&A: Neco Autopilot Drive

Question: I have a Neco autopilot in my (1973) Swan 44. Last year, the pilot control head stopped working and does not seem fixable. I spoke with a Simrad representative who said it was possible to replace the ‘brain’ and leave the drive in place. My drive seems to work fine and is chain driven. Should I use the old drive with the new brain?

Answer: I would recommend against using the old Neco drive. I made exactly that mistake myself. Further:

  • Despite the fact that it works now and is a good piece of kit, your Neco drive is an absolute minimum of 10 years old, and probably closer to 20. A piece of heavily loaded gear that old is living on borrowed time.
  • If it gives trouble it will be difficult to get it fixed. I had two of these drives (one spare) and made several attempts to have them fixed when they started giving trouble. They either came back from the repair shop still non-functional, or failed in a few hours.
  • Many of these Neco rotary drives are linked into the steering cables, not attached directly to the rudder or quadrant. If yours is like that, it means that if a cable breaks, you have lost everything; whereas an hydraulic ram connected to the quadrant, or better still, to its own arm attached directly to the rudder post, will steer for you even with a broken cable or other failure in the manual steering system.

Like what you just read? Get lots more:

Please Share

Meet the Author


John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

1 comment… add one
  • Donald MacKenzie Apr 25, 2014, 2:16 pm

    I have a Neco NM692 Autopilot and have contact witha (retired) Neco engineer who can rebuild these units:
    Derek Coventry
    25 Clovelly Road,
    Southbourne, near Emsworth,
    Hampshire PO10 8PD
    Tel. +44(0)1243377 868

Only logged in members may comment: