The mission statement of the modern recreational marine industry? Make boating as easy and comfortable for the customer as possible. Hence innovations such as GPS, depth sounders, VHF radios, planing hulls, outboard motors, boats with steering wheels instead of tillers, and the list goes on.
The most stressful period in most boaters’ time on the water is during close-quarters maneuvering — around a dock or trailering a boat at the ramp.
In what many consider one of the foremost boating innovations since LORAN, joystick maneuvering provides a virtually instantaneous comfort level for even the newest of novices!
Virtually every inboard boat builder now offers an option for joystick control. Such systems have become so ubiquitous that joystick control now exists even for sterndrives and outboards. No longer do current, wind, space constraints or number of people watching you need to make you nervous. With your fingers on a joystick and some form of twin-engine (or more) propulsion, you can make your boat dance!
Two things make joystick maneuvering work: azipods with propellers and shafts that swivel independently or propellers and shafts combined with a bow thruster — and computer programming. These ingredients result in you being able to move your boat in any direction. That’s right: forward, backward, spin on its axis, sideways and diagonally!
Everyone seems to have a story about how easy these systems make driving a boat. My favorite involves a 12-year-old girl I watched at a big fishing tournament in Beaufort, N.C. Volvo Penta engineer, Ed Szilagyi, gave this young lady 10 minutes of instruction out in the channel, where the current was swift. This girl then proceeded to man the helm of a brand-new Tiara 38 (close to $800,000 worth of boat), idle it between the bows of numerous big sportfishing yachts docked stern-to, spin the Tiara and back it into a bulkhead slip as if she had been doing it all her life!
Volvo Penta led the way in joystick maneuvering systems with its Inboard Performance System (IPS), which consists of radical azipods with forward-facing dual propellers on each shaft. Currently, Volvo offers systems for power packages from 248 to 850 hp in both gas and diesel. You can install up to four engines and pods in a vessel, making IPS applicable from boats between 30 and 100 feet long.
MerCruiser initially created its Zeus system with Cummins Marine Diesel. Like IPS, it consists of two or more azipods that swivel independently. However, Zeus’s dual propellers face aft rather than forward. Another significant difference finds each Zeus pod with a built-in trim tab, whereas IPS relies on either standard tabs or Volvo Penta’s dramatically different QL tabs attached to the transom.
Shortly after the introduction of Zeus, MerCruiser introduced Axius, a joystick control system for sterndrives. It works much the same as Zeus in that both drive units steer independently — controlled by software and electronic throttle and shift.
Yamaha Helm Master
Compatible with both Yamaha V-6 and V-8 outboards, Helm Master consists of digital electronic controls, a joystick, keyless ignition, digital electronic steering, an LCD information display and Y-COP theft insurance that disables the ignition and fuel systems with a simple swipe of your RFID keyfob.
In addition to the joystick maneuvering ability, Helm Master includes trim assist that raises and lowers your tabs automatically as you change speeds. Just set it to your personal preferences. Triple engine applications can use the center-engine feature to troll with only the middle powerplant. Speed Control sets the RPM to your choice, and then increases or retards it at the push of a button. And of course, like all systems, you can control all your engines with a single throttle lever.
Mercury Joystick Piloting
Mercury’s Joystick system rounds out Brunswick’s stable of advanced control systems by including outboards.
Except for AutoTrim, this system boasts all the features of the MerCruiser systems, plus it provides an integrated autopilot. A digital compass built into the steering system controls heading and waypoint sequencing to maintain and navigate multiple sequential courses.
Evinrude Optimus 360
Bombardier, the Canadian owner of Evinrude, teamed with Teleflex SeaStar, one of the world’s premier steering system manufacturers, to create Optimus 360. The major difference between Optimus and the other systems is that it was originally designed for mechanically controlled engines rather than digital electronic systems. Now, it works for both.
ZF, the world-famous German transmission manufacturer, builds azipods for numerous engine companies. It also has its own joystick system creatively named Joystick Maneuvering System or JMS.
The real creativity comes in how ZF accomplishes its task. Unlike pods, outboards or sterndrives, JMS uses standard inboard engines, shafts, props and a bow thruster to provide the same awesome maneuverability as the other systems. Plus, if you already have a bowthruster, JMS can be retrofitted to your vessel at considerably less expense than some of the more involved packages.
Caterpillar calls its new joystick maneuvering product the CAT 360 system. Press the station select on whichever helm you’re controlling and Cat’s 360 system automatically ramps the engines up to 950 rpm. Like JMS, Caterpillar’s system combines a bow thruster, standard prop-and-shaft propulsion and advanced software to afford the helmsman full joystick control for maneuvering.
One other factor stands to truly revolutionize the American recreational marine industry like no other. Many times, the man of the family drives the boat while the significant other handles lines. When the helmsman screws up a docking, he inevitably seems to blame the line handler — sometimes quite loudly!
Consequently, in many cases (get ready for a slightly rash generalization), the woman of the pair doesn’t feel secure enough in her boat-handling skills to believe that in case of an emergency (heart attack, injury, illness) befalling the man aboard, she can get the boat safely back into the slip or onto the trailer.
With joystick controls, not only can she feel capable in an emergency, she no longer even needs the man aboard. She can now take the boat out with her friends and leave hubby home with the kids!
If you add to that the fact that in the majority of American households, it’s the woman who keeps the family books and writes the checks, a new dynamic arises: Given two identical boats, one with joystick control that the woman can “share ownership of” and one that she feels incapable of driving, which do you think that family will likely purchase?
Two-speed joystick maneuvering
Dynamic positioning (press a button and the boat automatically holds its position and heading until you release it!)
All systems move a vessel’s turning axis from stern to amidships
Significant gain of interior space on inboard systems
Faster, easier installation at factory saves money
Approximately 30 percent greater fuel efficiency
Approximately 30 percent lower CO2 emissions
Greatly increased cruising range
Little or no bow rise at hole shot
Higher top speed
Safer, more predictable handling
Speed-related turning radii
Improved inclination angle at cruising speed
Outboard, Zeus, Axius and IPS systems not retrofittable
Some professional captains suffer bruised egos from “newbies” being able to handle their boats equally well with far less time at the helm