Digital components have been creeping into electric trolling motors for years. Computer processors are now common in marine electronics and GPS receivers, and antennas are small enough to fit practically anywhere. It was only a matter of time until a company put them all together.I tested an iPilot module ($399 MSRP) on a Minn Kota Terrova motor, and I am impressed. The installation took about 15 minutes, including rounding up the Phillips screwdriver that was needed to handle the four screws involved.
The iPilot replaces the top cap on the motor’s head, and hooks up with one push-together connector. If your motor has an AutoPilot module, you unplug and remove it when you take off the original top cap, and the iPilot plugs into its connector. If your motor has CoPilot installed, it is also removed.
A 15-button wireless remote with a small, highly visible LCD screen controls the iPilot, and you can still operate the motor manually with the original foot pedal. An iPilot installation is just as easy on the Terrova’s saltwater cousin, the Riptide ST.
If you have a Minn Kota PowerDrive V2 or Riptide SP bow mount motor, you can also add iPilot, but the installation requires wiring modifications in both the motor head and the mounting bracket’s body. You also lose the use of the foot pedal, but in many fishing situations, you won’t notice it’s gone.
IPilot lets you use either the original compass-based AutoPilot feature, which automatically steers the boat on a compass heading, or the new GPS-based version, which shoots out a string of waypoints in a straight course line ahead of the boat and then follows it.
One important use for the original AutoPilot has been holding my boat off the bank while I fought and landed a fish. And it holds a course within two or three degrees, and that has been good enough for my fishing. But the new AutoPilot is a better answer when more precision is called for.
Speaking of precision, a new Record a Track feature lets you record up to three GPS tracks, each up to two miles long, and then automatically run any track forward or backward from any point on it. This feature makes repeating successful passes down a shoreline, a weed bed edge or across a stretch of open water incredibly easy.
IPilot brings cruise control to your boat. It can be used at any time, and works especially well with AutoPilot and Record a Track. Hit the Cruise Control button while at your desired speed, and the feature regulates motor RPM to maintain it within a 10th of a mile per hour. Bumping the plus or minus buttons varies your speed one-10th of a mile per hour per bump.
Having trouble holding your boat on that hot spot while trying to finesse finicky fish? The Spot Lock feature holds you in place like an electronic anchor — just point your bow upwind or upcurrent, and hit the Spot Lock button.
The wind was a steady 5 to 10 m.p.h. with gusts to 15 on one test day, and when my bow was pushed about 5 feet from the locked spot, the motor accelerated and steered as necessary to put the bow back on the spot and then shut off. Bow swing was probably less than I would have seen with a conventional anchor and rope under the same conditions.
For more information on iPilot, visit minnkotamotors.com. You’ve probably guessed that I see iPilot as a definite hit, and I can’t help wondering what’s coming next.