Joystick Control, for Outboard Boats?

Why not? We’ve become used to seeing joysticks in pod drive applications on boats in the 30-foot-plus range, and anyone who’s used these systems knows they make docking a breeze. But on an outboard boat, joysticks are a relatively new application. During the past year I’ve had the chance to drive several−here’s the scoop.

boat docking

Want your boat to go sideways? With joysticks, you can make it happen.

Yamaha has the Helm Master, Mercury has the Verado Joystick Control, Evinrude uses the Optimus 360, and a version of Optimus is available to retrofit cable-controlled (but not digitally-controlled) outboard rigs built by other manufacturers. Suzuki just introduced a system of their own called Suzuki Precision Maneuvering. I’ve tried all of these, some in twin outboard applications, and others with triple-engine rigs. And in all cases, using the joystick really does make docking the boat or engaging in close-quarters maneuvering much, much easier. The ability to crab the boat sideways, spin it in place, and make tiny lateral adjustments as you ease it into the slip are down-right awesome. And somewhat surprisingly, all of these systems seem to work about equally well.

Except when they don’t work. I’ve found that in a strong breeze of 20-knots or more, twisting the joystick doesn’t always do the trick. Especially on boats with high bows (which catch a lot of wind) the small props of the outboards just don’t have enough bite to get the job done. The engines shift and rev, the wind blows, and… nothing. That said, let’s remember one thing: controlling a boat at the dock in 20-plus knots is always a tough thing to do. And although the joysticks may have had a tough time of it, I also had trouble getting the bow where I wanted it using the traditional throttling method.

Is joystick control something you should consider? Reach for your wallet, then you tell me. These systems aren’t cheap, and including installation, usually run a bit over $20,000. Plus, they can’t be used on all boats, with all engines. Differences in center of gravity, engine spacing, and other variables mean that different makes and models experience different results. But one thing is for sure: if money is no object and joystick controls are an option on your next boat, you WILL find docking easier.

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