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This piece was originally published on the Panbo website and is reprinted here with permission.

One of my METS show highlights was the Starlight LED Helming Guide introduced by Autonnic Research. While the concept is somewhat hard to grasp from ashore — even with an animation — I think it’s a great example of how electronics can be fashioned into a unique and useful tool that connects intuitively with the natural world of boating. While “a star to steer by” sounds lovely, I’ve observed many a helmsman who needed lots of help and experience to make it a truly smooth and pleasurable experience, and I’m pretty sure that Starlight can substantially shorten the learning curve. 

Autonnic A5600 Starlight LED steering light bar.

Autonnic A5600 Starlight LED steering light bar.

The initial A5600 Starlight is a 36-inch (910 mm) tube encapsulating a 26-inch (660 mm) LED light bar along with simple dimming and course setting buttons. The light bar is meant to install 6 to 16 feet forward of the helm and vertically close to the driver’s visual horizon, with the cable connecting to DC power and a NMEA 0183 Heading source (like one of Autonnic’s own fluxgate sensors). So the fixed on-center yellow LED marks your bow while the active blue LEDs marking the Course to Steer change to port or starboard as illustrated this Autonnic animation:

In other words, Starlight gives you a constant reference not just to your steering accuracy but also to how quickly your error or correction is taking place. And it’s not necessary to glance downward to a compass or a conventional instrument display, aside from deciphering the real meaning of changing digital numbers or a swinging card. Moreover, Starlight allows adjustment of the horizontal degree angle represented by the light bar’s red and green LED endpoints so it best integrates your helm view to real-world objects like stars or navaids, or simply to adjust how precisely your wobbly steering is displayed.

The A5600 Starlight (PDF specifications here) is available now for about $329, but note that Autonnic hopes to add steering to waypoint or wind angle options by about June. Also planned for release at about the same time is a NMEA 2000 Starlight system with all three steer-by modes possible. And while I don’t know of any concrete plans, I like to picture how slickly the Starlight technology could be built into a dodger or the after edge of a cockpit companionway, or maybe even the fully integrated “dashboards” we’re going to start seeing in many new boats this year.

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