Compass Guided Kayak Autopilot


Last July, [Louis] bought a kayak off of Craigslist. It was a pedal-powered device with a hand-operated rudder, and he ended up enjoying his time on the water. [Louis] fishes, though, and it was a bit of a challenge to manage hands free fishing while maintaining a steady course. His solution was an Arduino-powered autopilot that allows him to troll for salmon and Arduino haters with just the push of a button.

In [Louis]’ system, a motor is attached to the steering lever along with a few limit switches. This motor is powered by an Arduino controlled with an LSM303 compass module from Sparkfun.

When the autopilot module is started up, it first checks to see if the compass module is enabled. If not, the system relies on two tact switches to change the position of the rudder. Enabling the compass requires a short calibration of spinning the kayak around in a circle, but after that the steering is dead on.

There are a few things [Louis] would like to add such as a heading display and a bluetooth module for remote control. This setup already landed him a 13 lb salmon, so we’re going to say it’s good enough to catch some dinner.

15 thoughts on “Compass Guided Kayak Autopilot

    1. Don’t put LSM303 near anything that contains iron, especially if it moves :)

      I learned that the hard way. Earth’s magnetic field is ridiculously small compared to random fields from magnetized iron. I once had a robot that absolutely loved the fridge door, because the magnetic field inverted near it.. it kept bumping back towards it no matter what direction you tried to go.

  1. Surely if the computer is in control of the steering it can be programmed to make its own circular path to calibrate itself. User interface consists of an LED labelled “Hold tight!”

    1. While on the subject of trolling, I want to remind all the new kids on the internet that “trolling” in a forum thread comes from the fishing term (not the Scandinavian mythological creature like the graphic suggests). When you troll a thread you are essentially casting out your insult, misinformation, or inflammatory remark into the thread, and waiting as the thread rolls along to see who bites, trolling for trouble if you will. FYI, the more you know…whatever.

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