Raytheon 'SportPilot' boat autopilot, $5.

The last thing I want to do here is bore you to tears with the painful details of boat autopilots, but you don't have to know all there is to know about them to recognize the 'buy' signal when it appears.

The yard sale where I found this little unit was being held by a guy who was selling all sorts of marine stuff, including an entire Furuno autopilot, a box of assorted Quicksilver (Mercury's line of parts,) and all the electronics off a large Yamaha outboard motor. The guy was very helpful and knowledgeable, cheerfully answering all my questions. He had previously worked at a marine shop, and just accumulated this stuff over the years.

When I got to the sale, I immediately noticed some really pricey items laid out on the ground - a beautiful 15 h.p. Johnson outboard motor, some sort of expensive weather radar and a couple of really big aluminum anchors. When I asked the prices of each, he replied, 'Well, I have that listed on Craig's List right now for X dollars.' As you can guess, the 'X' in every case was lots more than I was willing to pay. I had driven about twenty miles to get to this sale first thing in the morning, specifically because he'd advertised boat equipment and parts in his newspaper ad. But I got there only to find that the good stuff was already advertised somewhere else, and for too much money. But then... his wife pulled this little SportPilot out of a cardboard box and asked him what price she should put on it, and he told her $5! I grabbed it from her and decided to stay at the sale a while longer.

This whole experience was a great lesson for me on how dangerous it can be to prejudge things. After seeing the prices he had on the first few items I saw at the sale, the only thing I wanted to do was get the heck out of there. But things aren't always as they seem! Whereas a seller is very likely to screw up and price some of his items so high that nobody will buy them, he's often just as likely to screw up and give something away. Don't let yourself fall prey to your emotions and flee a sale just to spite a seller because some of his prices are too high.

I'm fully aware that most people reading this wouldn't know a boat autopilot if it fell on their head, so I want to explain a few things you should know so that you'll be able to take advantage of this opportunity.

1 - Boat autopilots are very expensive. Although this particular model actually came with a few other components when bought new, the unit we have here is the main component that runs the show, and the whole setup costs a whopping $1300 new.

2 - People on eBay will be looking for the separate components to an autopilot system, not just the complete set. So, don't be afraid to grab a part or a piece whenever you see one, if that's all that's there.

3 - Autopilots in general must be really hardy pieces of equipment because from my experience, bidders will still bid them up quite high even if I'm offering them in untested and as-is condition. They must be pretty certain these untested pieces are still functional!

4 - Although there are lots of different kinds of autopilots, from the mechanical, to the GPS, to the compass driven, a great many of them employ a compass and the boat's rudder to steer the boat. They simply use direction from a compass to keep track of the boat's heading, and then use an actuator to move the boat's rudder to keep the boat on track. This is why whenever I see connections for COMPASS and RUDDER on a piece of marine equipment, I know that I'm probably looking at a component for an autopilot setup (of course, the SportPilot on the front of this unit is also a pretty obvious tipoff.)

5 - When in doubt, ask the seller! It certainly never hurts to do that!

This little score is yet another vindication of the 'mile-wide, inch-deep' approach to eBay profits. By training yourself to learn at least a bit about as many different areas as possibly, you'll find yourself literally stumbling over profitable deals like this one! 

This Raytheon SportPilot unit sold on eBay for $290.

Photo of Raytheon SportPilot marine boat auto pilot