A young man reels a fish in from a boat.

Autopilot for the Family Fishing Boat

Life is precious. This is never more apparent than after the loss of a loved one, which sadly is a part of life sometimes. We lost my father-in-law, Dan, recently and the experience has inspired me to post a project that he would surely enjoy. Like Dan, I have a fishing boat. Time on the water to boat, swim and fish with my family and friends is time I consider precious. When I captain the boat, though, I want to rid myself of the stress that comes with an anchor that won’t catch or a boat that settles out-of-position. This season, I will rid myself of this stress by upgrading my boat with a trolling motor that has an autopilot.

You had me at “Autopilot”

A couple of years back I fished on someone else’s boat with the Minn Kota i-Pilot. That person landed an absolutely magnificent Northern Pike, but it was me that got hooked! The way our boat transitioned from trolling to anchoring let us focus on getting lures in the water, and the tech paid off in spades. Truthfully it must be experienced to be appreciated. That said, I’ll share Minn Kota’s explanation here so that you can at least get a rough idea of the greatness that awaits my family craft, the Boat Cheeks.

The Wiring Plan

The trolling motor I picked is a 24V model, and my boat was previously wired for a 12V trolling motor. This will make the replacement a bit more complex, but the project is still quite manageable with a few key tools on-hand.


  • Replace the old marine battery with 2 new marine batteries
  • Replace the old, corroded wires with new marine 8 gauge primary wire
  • Replace the old, underrated trolling motor plug with a new high-current plug
  • Replace the old Circuit Breaker (CB) with a new one rated to the motor’s specification
  • Add a new, 2-bank onboard charger to the forward battery compartment
  • Add the optional 12V Bluetooth (BT) heading sensor to augment the i-Pilot reference system
  • Mount the new trolling motor and connect


A schematic showing the basic electrical connections.
A pair of batteries are in series to provide 24V to the trolling motor. The starting battery remains 12V and provides power to the BT heading sensor.


Quality, marine-grade parts are the only safe parts to use on a boat. Marine electrical parts, specifically, are made to resist corrosion in the wet environment of boats.

Trolling MotorAmazon1
Heading SensorAmazon1Some motors include this; mine did not.
70A Trolling Motor PlugAmazon1
70A Trolling Motor ReceptacleAmazon1
24V Marine CBAmazon2Keep a spare in the tackle box!
Primary Marine Shrink TubingAmazon1Sold in 4′ lengths, use 1/2″ for 8 gauge
Standard Marine Shrink TubingAmazon1Sold as a pack of sizes that work for smaller guages
Non Insulated Butt ConnectorsAmazon1Sold as pack. Must use shrink tubing to insulate.
Tinned Lugs – 8 AWG 5/16″ ringAmazon2Sold as 2-pack – need 3 for this project
Tinned Lugs – 8 AWG 1/4″ ringAmazon1Sold as 2-pack – need 1 for this project
Primary Marine Wire – redAmazonas-neededConsult trolling motor manual for wire size. For me, 8 AWG.
Primary Marine Wire – blackAmazonas-neededConsult trolling motor manual for wire size. For me, 8 AWG.
Heat Shrink Insulated ConnectorsAmazon1Nice multipack with lots of options

Specialty Tools

Marine cable terminations are crimped and not soldered. I’m lead to believe the ABYC standards spell out why if you are so inclined to search for that. For the appropriate strength and corrosion resistance, a proper crimper and heat gun are required tools to do the job right. Moreover, you’ll want a torque wrench for some key mechanical fastenings. Lastly, a good multimeter will help with safety along the way to verify voltages are as-expected before using the new motor.

Crimping Tool (Set)AmazonLove this crimper: one-handed and can tackle battery lugs as large as 4 gauge.
Electric Heat GunAmazonFantastic – fast and easy heat shrink!
Torque WrenchAmazonLoose battery terminals can be dangerous – tighten to specification!
MultimeterAmazonDon’t connect the trolling motor without confirming the DC voltage.

A Word of Caution

A boat’s electrical system is dangerous. It can electrocute you, start a fire, or strand you far from home.

A Word of Advice

A trolling motor installation can easily and affordably be scheduled with a local professional. If you are inexperienced or uncomfortable with DC electrical upgrades and repairs, please search your area for powersports mechanics and/or boat dealers with shops. Then hire this job out.

Read the Factory’s Manual

The trolling motor installation guide is the obvious and best choice for instructions to install the trolling motor. Most manufacturers, including the stellar Minn Kota brand, post installation guides online. I recommend researching these prior to your purchase.

Here are the manuals for the parts I’m using:

Trolling Motormanual (install).pdf ; manual (owner).pdf ; mounting-dimensions.pdf
Heading Sensormanual.pdf
i-Pilotmanual (quick-reference).pdf ; manual (full).pdf ; troubleshooting.pdf
70A Trolling Motor Plugspecifications.pdf
70A Trolling Motor Receptaclespecifications.pdf
Crimping Tool (Set)oem product page
Electric Heat Gunmanual.pdf
Torque Wrenchmanual.pdf

Terminate Wire Properly

A normal wire and damaged wire side by side
Improper electrical terminations can lead to problems like this negative wire coated black from a melted jacket.

The Right Tool – The Right Part

Marine heat shrink will have adhesive lining that activates when the tube is shrunk with a heat gun. It will likely ooze out a bit, which is a great sign the crimp/wire is sealed!

Marine wire and crimp parts should be tinned copper to resist oxidation and its ill-effect of increased wire resistance. Use a proper wire crimper with terminal-specific dies.

The Right Technique

Read both of these posts from Marine How To. We’re not affiliated, but there’s great teaching on these pages:


A personal photo of Dan on his boat
Like most Minnesota captains, Dan would surely have enjoyed the convenience and capability that i-Pilot brings to a fishing boat.

The automation of an autopilot, be it in an airplane or part of a boat trolling system, reduces workload. Pilots benefit with increased situational awareness — managing weather, traffic and the occasional drunk idiot. Boat captains can get easier heading control and instant-anchoring when it’s time to deal with “fish on” or the occasional drunk idiot :). I’m personally quite excited to run my new automation to its fullest, so that I can make the most of precious time on the water.

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