The Minn Kota iPilot - Gadget or Godsend?

Unlike the various choppers, blenders and other gadgets featured on those annoying infomercials, every so often a product comes along that is not only innovative and useful but delivers on the pre release hype.

Being a "gadget guy" I'm always on the lookout for some new piece of technology that will help me put a few more fish in my boat although the fact is I have consigned most of my gadget purchases to the ever-expanding bank of storage cabinets in my basement. While they all seemed like a good idea at the time, in practical terms they were not all that effective or useful.

Sonar's are but one example of my many forays into the world of techno-fishing.  I have run the gamut from flashers to wide screen full colour sonar/GPS combos that record data, accept map cartridges and allow me to download all manner of additional applications. While the GPS feature has proven to be useful (did I need a full colour 12" screen?  Probably not.) and, the more powerful units have certainly helped me locate fish - what I really use them for is to determine depth and find structure. I rarely, if ever, scroll through the ten pages of menu items that many units now have.

I eventually went out and bought a basic "no frills" portable sonar that I take along when not using my own boat and have found this $125 unit to be more than adequate for my needs.

Many years and thousands of dollars later I have finally managed to curb my enthusiasm and now do a practical evaluation of any new piece of technology before I buy - with a resulting loss in profits to the manufacturers.

An integral part of this evaluation process is to ask myself and honestly answer the following two questions.

  • Will it help me put more fish in my boat? and,
  • What will I REALLY use it for given the type of fishing I plan on doing?

When I first came across some promotional materials for the Minn Kota iPilot my "knee jerk" reaction was - got to have it!  Taking a deep breath I did my research and asked and honestly answered those two important questions. Only then did I place my order.

The Minn Kota iPilot is a wireless GPS enabled trolling motor enhancement that can either be  purchased factory installed on a new motor or as an add on for your Minn Kota Terrova or Powerdrive V2. The iPilot kit retails for about $445. A new motor with iPilot factory installed will cost anywhere between $950 and $1600, depending on the model you choose.  The system is also available factory installed or as an add on for two of Minn Kota's saltwater trolling motors.

Installation

Minn Kota provides clear written instructions in the owner's manual and there is an installation video available on their web site. The video, while providing a good overview of the installation sequence does not provide the same level of detail as the written instructions, particularly for the Powerdrive V2. Use the manual and you should have no difficulty installing your unit - I did it and I'm about as technically incompetent as they come.

If you have installed the unit on a Powerdrive V2 you must unplug the trolling motor when not in use otherwise the GPS will continue searching for a position lock and eventually drain your battery.  I installed a Nautilus Intelligent Battery Guard that allows me to disconnect the power to the motor by remote control when not in use. In Canada you can purchase this system at Canadian Tire for about $90.  If you have a Terrova you can power the entire system down using the remote - no external switch or unplugging required.

The remote is relatively user friendly once you familiarize yourself with it, but the challenge was finding a convenient place to put it while in use. I was not enamoured with the prospect of having to continually hold it in my hand or constantly putting it down and picking it up thereby running the risk of knocking it overboard while I was fumbling around looking for it - even though it does float. After mulling it over I decided to contact the folks at R.A.M. mounting systems and see if they could help me out.

What they came up with was a mounting system made up of a R.A.M. Cradle Mount - RAM-HOL-UN4U, a R.A.M. Diamond Mounting Plate with 1" ball - RAM-B-2386 and a R.A.M. Mount Medium Arm B- Socket - RAM-B-201V. The entire system came to $55.

The cradle fit the remote perfectly and I was able to mount it on the passenger restraint handle closest to where I sit when operating my boat thereby giving me easy hands free access.  R.A.M. has no end of mounting systems so all you need do is go on line and find one that best suits your boat layout.  I dealt with a company called gpscity.ca out of Calgary AB. They carry a full range of R.A.M. products and their service was excellent.

Another point to take note of is that once installed on a Powerdrive V2 your foot pedal will no longer work and you must rely entirely on the remote to operate the motor. You can continue to use your foot pedal if you have installed iPilot on a Terrova.

By locking the remote into the cradle I was able to operate the trolling motor with one hand while holding my rod in the other.  To be honest I didn't miss my foot pedal at all.

Putting iPilot Through Its Paces

Having now installed and dry land tested the unit to ensure everything was in technical working order; it was time to put the iPilot through its paces out on the water.

The testing took place during my annual spring walleye trip to Northern Ontario. I would be fishing a river, several small and one rather large lake that can, and did throw very different conditions at me in terms of wind, waves, drift and current.

iPilot has a number of very unique features that I found invaluable, particularly when precise presentation was required while fishing a weed line or underwater structure. One feature was even helpful when fighting a fish.

The Track Recording feature gives you the option of programming three separate tracks of up to two miles or just over three kilometres in length. At the touch of a button you can replay the track you have laid down either from where you stopped or began recording. It's also capable of changing direction mid track and taking you back to where you first started. 

It kept me on course regardless of how many twists and turns I recorded. To further test it's accuracy I randomly threw some markers into the water along the track I was recording and, when retracing that track it took me right back to each marker.

Another feature is Spot Lock which functions very much like an electronic anchor. When I found a location that was productive, rather than waist time drifting or trolling over unproductive water, I just hit the Spot Lock button and it kept me within five feet of my chosen location.  I found this feature to be particularly helpful while fighting a good size fish in choppy water.  Normally I would have to manually position the boat to keep the fish in front of me and away from the motor, but in this instance I just hit Spot Lock and it kept me in perfect position to fight and land the fish. Like Track Recording you can store up to three Spot Lock locations.

The iPilot will take you back either to a pre-recorded track or Spot Lock location if you re-engage the unit with one-quarter mile from the start/end of your track or Spot Lock location. If you want to record a new track or Spot Lock location simply record over the existing one(s) instead of recalling any you had previously stored.

To keep you on course or in your chosen location, when using certain features the unit will compensate for wind, drift, current and wave action, and this brings me to the second challenge I encountered.

While the unit will automatically compensate for wind, drift, waves or current when using the Spot Lock feature, that is not the case when recalling a previously stored track. Upon recalling a track, and depending on the water conditions, you may have to manually adjust the speed of your trolling motor in order to stay on course. While this was something of a challenge at first, with a bit of practice it was easy enough to make the necessary speed adjustments using the remote.

Please remember that if you want this unit to function properly you must ensure that your trolling motor has sufficient thrust to control your boat under less than ideal conditions.  It's also very important to keep your battery fully charged.

While these features alone certainly distinguish the iPilot from anything else on the market the folks at Minn Kota were not finished just yet.

There is a cruise control feature that locks in your current GPS speed which you can adjust in 10th of a kilometre per hour increments allowing for extremely precise bait presentation.  iPilot also has two features called Auto-Pilot and Advanced Auto-Pilot. While both features will keep you on the compass heading of your choice, Advanced Auto Pilot will compensate for wind, waves etc. although you will have to make manual speed adjustments if required to maintain your heading. Auto Pilot will not compensate for changing conditions.

In the event you find yourself overcome by an uncontrollable urge to go back to basics, you have the option of operating the unit in full manual mode.

In Summary

Is it perfect?  No.

The need to make manual speed adjustments was a pain at first. If you have installed the unit on a Powerdrive V2 the foot pedal no longer works and you have to unplug the motor when not in use. The remote can be somewhat hard to read because all of the keys, although marked with various icons are the same colour as the rest of the unit and it's not exactly cheap.

These challenges aside and unlike many of my previous purchases, the iPilot delivers on all counts and therefore will not be taking up shelf space in my basement. I would seriously consider upgrading your deep cycle battery and installing an on board charger because my guess is that you are going to be using your trolling motor a lot more than usual once you install iPilot.

If you would like some additional perspectives on iPilot visit the Cabela's or Bass Pro web sites and look up the product reviews submitted by their customers.

In summary I have no doubt that iPilot not only enhanced my fishing experience but helped put more fish in my boat and, when it comes right down to it, that's what it's really all about.

New for 2012

Never let it be said that the folks at Minn Kota are content to rest on their laurels. I guess they were listening to those of us who were less than impressed with the design of the remote, and for 2012 have given it a complete make over.

The new remote has an impoved ergonomic design, a bigger screen and larger, easy to read control buttons. In addition, you can now purcahse the new remote seperately, either as a replacement for your older model or to simply keep on hand as a back up.

Not being one to pass up a new gadget, I bit the bullet and bought one of the new remotes.

When I finally got a chance to field test it during my Spring Walleye trip this past May, I have to say that it was a pleasure to use. There was no difficulty syncing it with my trolling motor, and it fit snuggly into my existing R.A.M. Cradle Mount. 

It was no longer necessarry to squint and carefully study the remote to find the right button, and what I really liked was that you now need slighly less pressure to depress a button.

While this may not sound like too big of a deal, I no longer had to worry about popping the remote out of the cradle - something that happened a few times when using the "old" remote - when pressing down on a button.

While it's too late for me, wouldn't it be nice if Minn Kota were to offer an incentive of some kind to those of you who would like to trade up to the new model?

Harold Ball
Cabin 14 Is Fishing
Great Bear Lake Outdoors

Last modified on Tuesday, 16 October 2012 14:57

Additional Info

  • Brand: Minn Kota
  • Model: i-Pilot
  • Tackle Type: Trolling Motor
  • Performance: 7
  • Features: 8
  • Quality: 8
  • Price: 6
  • Overall Rating: Very Good
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