As our relationship and close association with advancing electronics and technologies continues to grow, anglers have more at their fingertips than ever before. Navigating a crowded marina under strong winds and swift currents will test any captain’s piloting skills, but thanks to new drive unit steering technologies from leading outboard manufacturers helmsmen now have a little less to worry about. With the ability to independently maneuver multiple outboards with precise directional thrust, navigating tight quarters has never been easier.
Pod systems from leading inboard engine companies have utilized and benefited from innovative joystick control for years. However, outboard users have recently been introduced to and are quickly seeing the benefits of having the ability to target thrust in opposing directions. Whether you are docking, loading a trailer, navigating a narrow canal or making a full circle pivot, maneuvering your outboards independently will make even the newest boater look like an expert captain. All kidding aside, this technology is sure to rub some the wrong way, claiming the art of seamanship will be lost forever. While joystick navigation will indeed make novice boaters capable of docking under the most extreme conditions, it won’t compensate for years of on the water observations and doesn’t substitute for critical boat handling skills.
…the sleek joystick is super responsive and provides precise incremental thrust…
If you spend a great amount of time on the water, it’s likely SeaStar Solutions has been helping you out along the way. Previously known as Teleflex Marine, SeaStar Solutions has led the industry for nearly 60 years, putting boaters in control with a host of innovative and quality steering and outboard drive unit parts for OEM and aftermarket applications. SeaStar Solutions was the first to strike with joystick operation for outboard motors and their Optimus 360 will soon replace traditional steering units for mechanically controlled, twin outboard applications.
The individual movement of drive units is controlled by an electronic power steering system that utilizes individual actuators and specially engineered cylinders installed below deck. While moving the joystick will result in precise maneuvers, what sets Optimus 360 apart from the competition is that as of press date it is the only joystick handling solution that can be outfitted to existing vessels. Additionally, Optimus 360 can be interfaced with third-party autopilot systems including models from Garmin and Raymarine, while eliminating the need for a secondary pump and associated installation and purging process.
Yamaha is known the world over for reliable performance and collaborated with Volvo Penta and Teleflex in their Helm Master system, which can independently harness the power of triple outboard configurations. In addition to proven joystick control, this system provides a fully encompassed boat control suite that features a Digital Steering Helm, effectively eliminating cables and hydraulic hoses at the helm. The system also features anti-theft devices and a 5 inch color LCD data center. The joystick is only used for low RPM maneuvering and the amount of pressure applied to the joystick, which is located at the center axis point of the boat, relates to the amount of thrust and outboard direction applied at the transom.
The innovators at Mercury Marine aren’t ones to be left behind, and their joystick control system is also part of a much larger suite of electronic controls offering users the ultimate boating experience. Bringing their experience and technology from joystick controlled Cummins MerCruiser Zeus drives, Mercury’s innovative piloting system leaves nothing to be desired. While the sleek joystick is super responsive and provides precise incremental thrust, Mercury’s technology advances the user experience even more with unique functions that will greatly benefit anglers on their quest for the one. Skyhook Digital Anchor pinpoints the boat’s position using a GPS satellite antenna and independently adjusts the outboard engines to maintain both the position and heading at the moment of engagement, even in the presence of wind and current.
Mercury’s joystick system can be installed on vessels with twin, triple or quad powered 250 or 300 HP Verados and although currently only an option for new builds, retrofitting existing vessels will soon be a possibility.
As of press date, Suzuki’s joystick technology is also in the works, but no matter your preference it’s nice to know manufacturers aren’t happy standing still. With the latest and greatest advancements in steering and throttle control you will be able to maneuver with confidence no matter the conditions. From here one question remains. What’s left for the future of outboard technology?