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Garmin Reactor autopilot needing recalibration

Old 10-19-2020, 05:36 PM
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Default Garmin Reactor autopilot needing recalibration

My reactor autopilot has been mostly great since install 4 years ago (had an earlier problem with bad ECU connection cable), but 1/2 through the summer my heading sensor was off by up to 10 degrees on some headings. I recalibrated it successfully a few times, but the next trip it would be back to being off again. This was driving me crazy, especially as I'm well aware of all the issues with ferrous metals near the CCU, electrical wires, etc, and I haven't changed ANYTHING on the boat or put anything (metal or not) near the CCU in a few years.

Anyways, I finally called Garmin tech support to see what they had to say, and the tech very quickly honed in the fact that after recalibrating, I was not shutting the autopilot down by pressing the red power button the GHC20. According to the tech, the recalibration is not saved unless you shut it down with the power button, vs. just cutting power to the unit. I did look in the online instructions on calibrating, and there's no mention of the need to power off with the button, but the tech seemed very certain on this point.

As it turns out, while I always turn off my 7612's using the power button, I never bother with the autopilot since it just powers up automatically when I flip the battery switches on.

I haven't had a chance to test this out yet, and I still have no idea why the compass decided to act up after being perfectly calibrated for 4 years, but hopefully this will fix the issue which has been driving me kinda crazy.
Old 10-20-2020, 12:48 AM
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The power button just turns off the display screen.

the pilot is still powered up.

Lots of people don’t even have a ghc and only use a plotter.

I call bs.
Old 10-20-2020, 04:50 AM
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Originally Posted by jtcwhaler View Post
My reactor autopilot has been mostly great since install 4 years ago (had an earlier problem with bad ECU connection cable), but 1/2 through the summer my heading sensor was off by up to 10 degrees on some headings. I recalibrated it successfully a few times, but the next trip it would be back to being off again. This was driving me crazy, especially as I'm well aware of all the issues with ferrous metals near the CCU, electrical wires, etc, and I haven't changed ANYTHING on the boat or put anything (metal or not) near the CCU in a few years.

Anyways, I finally called Garmin tech support to see what they had to say, and the tech very quickly honed in the fact that after recalibrating, I was not shutting the autopilot down by pressing the red power button the GHC20. According to the tech, the recalibration is not saved unless you shut it down with the power button, vs. just cutting power to the unit. I did look in the online instructions on calibrating, and there's no mention of the need to power off with the button, but the tech seemed very certain on this point.

As it turns out, while I always turn off my 7612's using the power button, I never bother with the autopilot since it just powers up automatically when I flip the battery switches on.

I haven't had a chance to test this out yet, and I still have no idea why the compass decided to act up after being perfectly calibrated for 4 years, but hopefully this will fix the issue which has been driving me kinda crazy.
I have experienced the same problem and got the same advice from Garmin tech support. Guess what, it doesn't work. It will lose calibration and become incorrect again the next time you use it. The problem as you know from experiennce is that if the heading is wrong by more than a few degrees, the "navigate to waypoint" operation of the autopilot gets screwed up and it basically does a sort of "S' curve as it corrects. That leaves you with using the steer to heading mode and having to make course corrections every so often if wind or current are affecting your course.

As noted above, the course computer module is connected to the control head on the NMEA 2000 backbone, which remains powered even when you shut down the display with its power button. There is no way to shut down the course computer other than turning off the power to the NMEA 2000 network. I tried that too. Now that I have sold off my Garmin MFDs and radar (but kept the autopilot because it would have been very expensive to replace due to the proprietary hydraulic pump Garmin uses) and installed Furuno equipment, I have a Furuno SCX-20 satellite compass, which is vastly more accurate than the heading sensor in the Garmin autopilot. Garmin got me again, however, because the Reactor will NOT allow use of an external heading source. They did add the heading source function to the Reactor 40 in a software update but did not add it to the Reactor software.

The solution I have found is to go into the "dealer" setup menu and use the "fine heading adjustment" to change the Garmin reading so it matches the heading shown from the Furuno SCX-20. Before I had the SCX-20, I did the same thing using the course over the ground from the GPS. That isn't as precise but does help the autopilot steer much better. The way you get the dealer installation menu is to go to the "system information" page and then hold down the center button for a few seconds. Then "dealer" will appear under the "user" setup menu that you usually see.

Garmin are you listening? If you are going to produce such a crappy useless autopilot heading sensor, at least you can modify the software of the Reactor to allow the choice of another source of heading data.
Old 10-20-2020, 06:25 AM
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Hmm damn. That’s disappointing. So my CCU has probably gone bad?

Unfortunately I have limited opportunities to test different options before the boat gets pulled but hopefully will get a chance this weekend. Will post what I discover.

Really sucks that the reactor 20 can’t use an external heading sensor.

Old 10-20-2020, 06:54 AM
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Originally Posted by jtcwhaler View Post
Hmm damn. That’s disappointing. So my CCU has probably gone bad?

Unfortunately I have limited opportunities to test different options before the boat gets pulled but hopefully will get a chance this weekend. Will post what I discover.

Really sucks that the reactor 20 can’t use an external heading sensor.
I have a Reactor not Reactor 20 so not sure if yours is same. But your CCU is not necessarily bad. I think it is software driven.
Old 10-20-2020, 09:24 AM
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Hmm - maybe I will try resetting the system to factory settings and redoing everything from scratch...
Old 10-25-2020, 07:08 PM
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Quick followup - I did as Garmin tech support suggested and did a recalibration followed by shutting down the AP by holding down the red power button. I ran a trip the next day (after a complete power down with battery switches off) and the new calibration held. Still not sure why it went wrong after 3 years, so not sure if it won't go wrong again, but doing the shut down after recalibration *seems* to have worked.
Old 10-25-2020, 09:55 PM
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I know that there are a lot of THT’ers who have replaced their CCUs when they had the same problem as you and me. My situation sounds identical to yours including having it 4 years with no problems. Lots or trial and error but I finally got it working again. My only issue now it getting it to be tighter in following a route, especially after a turn but it is pretty good.
Old 10-26-2020, 04:51 AM
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Originally Posted by jtcwhaler View Post
Quick followup - I did as Garmin tech support suggested and did a recalibration followed by shutting down the AP by holding down the red power button. I ran a trip the next day (after a complete power down with battery switches off) and the new calibration held. Still not sure why it went wrong after 3 years, so not sure if it won't go wrong again, but doing the shut down after recalibration *seems* to have worked.
I hope your experience is better than mine. I followed the same procedure after contacting Garmin tech support. The calibration drifted off after a while and the problem returned. As I mentioned in my earlier post, the only "fix" that works for me is to go into dealer setup and manually correct the compass heading to align with the heading given by my Furuno satellite compass. Then it steers very well. Before I had the sat compass, I would adjust the autopilot heading to match the course over the ground from the GPS, which isn't quite as good but also helps a lot. The problem with this solution is that the corrections are not the same on all headings so if you reverse course, you need to redo the correction. Garmin really needs to do something about this.

Originally Posted by MiamiJay View Post
I know that there are a lot of THT’ers who have replaced their CCUs when they had the same problem as you and me. My situation sounds identical to yours including having it 4 years with no problems. Lots or trial and error but I finally got it working again. My only issue now it getting it to be tighter in following a route, especially after a turn but it is pretty good.
I am guessing that your issue with steering on a route is that the compass heading is not matching the COG from the GPS. If there is an error in the calibration, the difference in HDG and COG will make the autopilot overcorrect and steer an "S" around the course line.
Old 10-26-2020, 10:06 AM
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Nomans - have you tried restoring the AP to factory settings and redoing the entire setup from scratch (seatrial etc)? If it's really a problem with the AP not remembering a new calibration, then wiping everything might solve it. That's my next step if it goes off again.
Old 10-26-2020, 10:07 AM
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Also I noted that my calibration quality was 53 -- not sure how meaningful that is, but I know 100 is perfect. Nonetheless literally nothing has moved near the CCU in years so it will be very interesting to see if it goes wrong agian.
Old 10-26-2020, 10:44 AM
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Originally Posted by jtcwhaler View Post
Nomans - have you tried restoring the AP to factory settings and redoing the entire setup from scratch (seatrial etc)? If it's really a problem with the AP not remembering a new calibration, then wiping everything might solve it. That's my next step if it goes off again.
Yes, I did. Same story -- it holds the calibration for a while and then the heading becomes inaccurate again. Pretty much the same thing that would happen after doing the calibration. Maybe you will be luckier.

Has anything changed on your NMEA 2000 network? That is another thought that I had because the CCU and the display head communicate over NMEA 2000 and it is possible that something is going on there.
Old 10-26-2020, 12:02 PM
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Ah that sucks. Sounds like the fluxgate compass has gone bad in the CCU, so probably replacing is the only fix. Not sure what the refurbish / replacement cost is from Garmin, but may not be too bad, and you might be able to get the Reactor 40. Are you certain the 20 can't accept input from your other heading sensor? I would have thought that's just a software thing.

No, nothing's changed at all on the network. Everything was working great for years until one day it wasn't!
Old 10-26-2020, 12:10 PM
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Originally Posted by jtcwhaler View Post
Ah that sucks. Sounds like the fluxgate compass has gone bad in the CCU, so probably replacing is the only fix. Not sure what the refurbish / replacement cost is from Garmin, but may not be too bad, and you might be able to get the Reactor 40. Are you certain the 20 can't accept input from your other heading sensor? I would have thought that's just a software thing.

No, nothing's changed at all on the network. Everything was working great for years until one day it wasn't!
I have a Reactor, the older model. A Rector 40 Hydraulic would be the new replacement that allows use of an external heading source. I don't know if you would need the same part but it is not cheap. This is what Garmin said I would need as a replacement. That's why I a so pissed that Garmin won't update the software to allow the external heading source. That's all I need.

Old 10-26-2020, 12:26 PM
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Garmin should be willing to get you a new or refurbished unit for a lot less as a "repair" for the bad CCU...

Old 10-26-2020, 12:43 PM
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Originally Posted by jtcwhaler View Post
Garmin should be willing to get you a new or refurbished unit for a lot less as a "repair" for the bad CCU...
I tried and got the corporate middle finger. "Four year old unit not supported." That's part of why I switched everything else back to Furuno. Garmin just wants you to get a new one. The autopilot was too much work to swap because of the proprietary Garmin pump that cannot be used by other systems.
Old 10-26-2020, 12:46 PM
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I find a lot of useful things about Garmin here
Old 11-02-2020, 01:55 PM
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2nd followup. So far so good - the new calibration is definitely holding and hopefully it will continue to do so. At this point, I believe that using the power button on the GHC20 to shut down the AP after calibrating did the trick. Not sure what one would have to do if you only have an MFD and no GHC20.
Old 11-03-2020, 06:18 AM
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Originally Posted by jtcwhaler View Post
2nd followup. So far so good - the new calibration is definitely holding and hopefully it will continue to do so. At this point, I believe that using the power button on the GHC20 to shut down the AP after calibrating did the trick. Not sure what one would have to do if you only have an MFD and no GHC20.
Glad you are having more luck than I did solving the problem. I found that the calibration did not remain stable after a few trips even doing the power off on the GHC 20 after running the compass calibration and north heading setups.

I just wish Garmin would update the software for the Reactor CCU so it can use an external heading source as they did with the Reactor 40. For me at least that would be a far better solution since it would permit me to use my Furuno SCX-20 satellite compass as the heading source, which is much more accurate and stable than the lame Garmin heading sensor. I know people who have installed an SCX-20 and use it for their autopilot and it really improves the steering performance of the autopilot.
Old 11-03-2020, 06:29 AM
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I have the same unit and agree that overtime it tends to "wander off" requiring calibration. I agree that nothing is moved or changed and I end up several degrees off. It seems more like an insensitivity in the sensor and amplifies over time. Like a 1-3* tolerance that is okay for a little while but after several cycles you're as much as 10-12* off.

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