Noticing water in the control head of our 25 year old Danahelm autopilot in Annapolis we very responsibly decided to replace the system electronics. How long could controls last once water got in, we reasoned.
A bit of research and price shopping and we bought a brand new Northstar AP380 autopilot system. In November we spent a week installing it.
Then we went home for a month.
Returning in January the system had a hickup or two but seemed ok. The autopilot carried Meredith across the Gulf Stream and into West End, Bahamas and then... it died.
Total death. No function at all. This was January 23, 2009. We had used it about 20 hours total.
The cpu burned out 20 amp fuses (the specified amperage) as fast as I could replace them. Used all 10 spares I had as I removed each input in sequence trying to isolate the problem.
A dealer in Marsh Harbour looked at the system and informed us the drive transistors were shot and that it was a manufacturing defect. He returned it to Northstar for warranty repair or replacement. That was February 26, 2009.
As of today, March 30, 2009 our autopilot is still not returned to us. Northstar tells us they repaired it but they cannot find out what they did with it after that.
They also do not care. We have now spoken to two customer service reps in two days both of whom have told us they will call back in a "few" minutes after they "check" something.
Northstar is owned by Navico. Navico is a company that does not actually make anything. It buys companies that make things.
There is a business model that suggests a lot of profit can be made by buying companies with areputation for quality and then substituting schlock. Such companies then shut down the customer service department and pocket all the revenue. When reality catches up to them the company just buys another "quality" cash cow.
Could it be Navico's business plan: Sell a brand to people which has a reputation for quality while substituting schlock?
Here are the brands this Navico outfit has bought so far: Northstar, Navman, Simrad Robertson, B & G, Lowrance, LEI. I would not buy any of them based on our experience with Navico to date.