Using The Minn Kota Heading Sensor (Everything You Need To Know)


by Eric Bartlett

Are you thinking about using the Minn Kota heading sensor to improve your boat control and navigation, and to catch more fish?

But before you start using it, it’s important to address the following questions: what exactly does the heading sensor do, do you really need it, and how can you get the most out of it?

In this article we’ll walk you through the answers to these questions in full detail, so you can decide how you can make it work for your purposes.

What is the Minn Kota heading sensor, and what does it do?

The Minn Kota heading sensor is a magnetic compass that measures the boat’s heading (the direction in which the bow points), compares this to the direction of magnetic north, and then transmits this information via Bluetooth to the autopilot of the  trolling motor.

The trolling motor autopilot then uses this information to navigate the boat in a specific direction.

It’s important to keep in mind that the Minn Kota heading sensor does not measure GPS coordinates.

Instead, it focuses entirely on measuring the direction in which the bow of the boat is currently pointing, comparing this to the magnetic north, and then converting this information into digital form.

This functionality is similar to that of other types of heading sensors used for boat navigation, and is different from spot lock functionality, which instead uses GPS signaling for navigation.

So, when people refer to the Minn Kota heading sensor as a “GPS puck,” this is completely wrong.

And while the Minn Kota i-Pilot system does use GPS for navigation, the GPS sensor is located inside the Control Head of the trolling motor, and not inside the heading sensor. 

Is the Minn Kota heading sensor necessary?

The Minn Kota heading sensor is necessary for spot lock jog functionality (which enables you to move your boat 5 feet forwards, backwards, left, or right by pressing a button), as well as for some advanced autopilot functionalities.

But the heading sensor is not necessary for basic GPS navigation and for anchor lock.

Do you need the heading sensor for spot lock?

No, you don’t need the heading sensor for spot lock, since spot lock relies on the GPS coordinates measured by the i-Pilot controller, which is located inside the Control Head of the trolling motor.

So if you have i-Pilot, but haven’t installed the heading sensor (or if it doesn’t work properly), you can still use spot lock on your trolling motor

What is the best Minn Kota heading sensor location?

Ideally, you should mount the Minn Kota heading sensor in a location where it has direct line of sight to the head of the trolling motor, and is at least 24 inches away from any magnetic or ferrous parts of your boat, as well as any batteries or wires.

‘Ferrous’ refers to any boat parts that contain iron, which can interfere with the magnetic particles of the compass.

Great options for placement include wood, plastic, or aluminum surfaces anywhere between the bow and the stern that aren’t enclosed, and that allow Bluetooth communication between the heading sensor and the trolling motor.

But if you install it in the center console, make sure that it isn’t right next to a built-in compass, which is also magnetic.

Does the heading sensor have to be level?

Yes, the heading sensor should be mounted so that it’s base is level, which enables the compass to accurately detect the magnetic north.

Also, when you install it, make sure that the arrow at the front of the heading sensor is aligned with the bow of your boat as accurately as possible, since that is how the sensor measures the heading of your boat.

What battery should you use for the Minn Kota heading sensor?

Use a 12-volt battery as a power source for the heading sensor. You can either connect the battery directly to the positive and negative leads of the sensor, or you can use a switch (which also makes it easier to turn off after use).

You should also include a 1 amp fuse, which can be added either inline or as a fuse panel. 

What Minn Kota trolling motors have a heading sensor?

The following Minn Kota trolling motors come with a heading sensor included:

  • Ultrex
  • Ulterra
  • Riptide Ulterra
  • Terrova
  • Riptide Terrova

However, this only applies to models released since 2017, and not to earlier versions. If you want to add a heading sensor to an existing trolling motor that’s compatible with it, you can do that with a Bluetooth i-Pilot upgrade kit. 

Minn Kota heading sensor compatibility

The heading sensor is only compatible with Minn Kota trolling motors that have Bluetooth enabled i-Pilot or i-Pilot Link.

For example, if you have a PowerDrive or Riptide PowerDrive trolling motor, you can easily add a heading sensor to them because they come with pre-installed i-Pilot systems that are Bluetooth enabled.

Bluetooth enabled i-Pilot is only available for Minn Kota trolling motors built since 2017, which means you can’t use the heading sensor with earlier models built before 2017.

How to pair the Minn Kota heading sensor

In order to pair the heading sensor with your trolling motor, connect it to a power supply, and then press the pairing button until it starts flashing rapidly with a blue light.

Then press the corresponding pairing button on the trolling motor, which starts the pairing process.

You can tell that the process is complete when the rapid flashing of the light stops, and is replaced by a single short flash every 3 seconds.

If you’re currently thinking about getting a new trolling motor, check out our article on what is the best spot lock trolling motor on a small budget?

Minn Kota heading sensor calibration and offset

It’s important to calibrate the heading sensor in order to achieve maximum accuracy.

This is because its alignment with the bow of your boat is never 100% accurate when you install it, and this misalignment needs to be corrected by calibration. 

And while pairing can be done on land, calibration is only possible with your boat in the water.

In order to calibrate the heading sensor, turn it on and make sure that it is correctly paired with your trolling motor.

Then turn on the i-Pilot remote and go to Sensor Cal, which you can start by pressing the Ok button. 

Once the calibration process has been started, you need to drive the boat in two complete circles for the calibration to occur successfully.

Your progress along the two circles is indicated on the display of the i-Pilot remote, and this will also tell you when the process is complete.