Propulsion

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New power products from Fort Lauderdale

Today’s engines and helm controls are designed to accomplish a common goal: make driving a powerboat easier than ever. The easy-boating theme was apparent at this fall’s Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.

Evinrude's new E-TEC G2 outboards are available in 200-, 225-, 250- and 300-hp models.

There has been an explosion of new non-pod-drive joystick helm control systems, including joysticks for inboards and outboards. Depending on the system, they work with or without thrusters. Some of these products allow you to retrofit a boat with a joystick system.

Take, for instance, the Yacht Controller JCS — Joystick Control System — from Yacht Controller LLC. The Coral Gables, Florida, company debuted its Fusion wireless joystick at the show. It fuses all docking controls into a single-handed remote unit with a mini-joystick knob and buttons for low-speed operation using the inboards and bow and stern thrusters. It can also control as many as two anchor windlasses and even gangways, garages, cablemasters, cranes and tender lifts. Fusion is the progression of the original Yacht Controller remote, which had no joystick, and the JCS helm-mounted unit.

The versatility of the Yacht Controller, whether fixed-mount or wireless, gives the skipper precise control of the boat at low speeds, says company president Gerald Berton. By simply pressing and holding a button above the joystick, you can engage the bow or stern thruster exclusively, still using the joystick, to nudge the boat to port or starboard. Release the button, and joystick operation returns to normal mode, using both engines and thrusters.

Yacht Controller products were installed on about 40 brands of boats at the show, says Berton. “We were on Marlow, Hargrave, Horizon, Hatteras, Princess, Pershing, Ocean Alexander … you name it.” The JCS system is about $16,000, which does not include the thrusters or installation costs. Add $2,500 for the Fusion remote.

Yacht Controllere debuted its Fusion wireless joystick, which combines docking controls in a single hand-held unit.

Yacht Controller also introduced its “cost-effective” Sport Joystick for center consoles and small yachts. This helm-mounted system also teams the engines and the thrusters for low-speed operation, and a wireless handheld remote (with buttons, no joystick) can be ordered. In all, Yacht Controller says it has 10,000 systems in operation in boats.

Joystick systems for outboards made the scene only three years ago. I remember testing Teleflex Marine’s (now SeaStar Solutions) Optimus 360 control system with joystick and power steering at the 2012 Miami boat show. Today, four of the five major outboard companies — Yamaha, Mercury, Suzuki and Evinrude — offer their own joystick technology.

Honda has yet to introduce its own joystick. “We are always looking for what technology is next, and I know once you have the electronic throttle and shift, [the joystick] is the next logical step,” says senior manager Mark DiPietro, who acknowledged Honda’s tight-lipped product development process.

Honda introduced its new fly-by-wire Intelligent Shift and Throttle system, which can handle up to four engines and two control stations. So expect to see Honda power on larger boats, particularly center consoles. One switch on the throttle controls the trimming of all engines simultaneously, and there are individual trim switches for fine tuning each engine’s position. Honda says it has made installation simple, with one connection of a communication cable between the engine and helm-mounted control head. Adding a second station can be done just as easily by installing a second control head and connecting a cable to the existing system.

Honda's new IST - Intelligent Shift and Throttle - is a drive-by-wire system that can handle up to four engines and two control stations.

Yamaha’s Helm Master can now handle quad applications for boats 40 feet and bigger — a development announced at the show. I had a chance in October to test Helm Master on a 42-foot Hydra-Sports with quad F350s. I’ve driven boats with quicker-responding joystick systems, but Helm Master worked well, considering that it was controlling such a large boat without a bow thruster. Yamaha regional application engineer Bill Craft, who was on board during my demo, says the best way to operate the joystick on a boat this large is to engage it in a steady, consistent manner, moving the boat slowly. He says the harder the engines work, the more prop wash is churned up, resulting in less bite.

Outboards

Yamaha also introduced at the show four new models of high-output 4-strokes that maximize top-end speed and acceleration. The engines come in 115-, 150-, 175- and 250-hp models. The engines join Yamaha’s Super High Output (SHO) lineup. The new models begin to hit the market in April.

Yamaha has also come out with two improved and updated versions of the F150 and F8 outboards. The upgrades to the 150 — Yamaha’s best-selling outboard in the United States, with 150,000 units sold — include a clutch improvement for smoother shifting and the addition of a variable trolling feature that lets the driver increase rpm in increments of 500. The F8 was given a more ergonomic shift lever, and for better storage options it now has rear resting pads and a tiller that folds easier. Both engines have been given a more modern appearance.

Yamaha has four new models of high-output 4-strokes in 115-, 150-, 175- and 250-hp models, but its 350 remains a favorite of offshore anglers.

Earlier in 2014, Yamaha introduced the lighter and more efficient F115, which replaced the 115 that hit the water in 1999. The company also added a 175-hp outboard to bridge the gap between its 150- and 200-hp models. The new F115 weighs 24 pounds less than the previous model. It displaces 1.8 liters, compared with the original’s 1.7 liters, with increased bore and stroke, so Yamaha was able to build it lighter while increasing acceleration and power.

Mercury also has a new 115. Show-goers also got to see the company’s three new versions of its 2.1-liter outboard — the 75, 90 and 115. The 90- and 115-hp models include the Command Thrust gearcase — the same beefed-up gearcase housing used by the Mercury 150 FourStroke, but with a 2.38-to-1 ratio. The gearcase packs more power for heavier boat applications.

It was the first major boat show appearance for BRP’s new Evinrude E-TEC G2 line, which supplants its previous E-TEC outboards and confirms the Canadian company’s commitment to 2-stroke technology. “For the outboard application, no other technology better meets the needs of the consumer than E-TEC,” says Jason Eckman, product marketing manager for marine propulsion systems at BRP. “Nothing else comes close to delivering the … performance while meeting all emissions requirements like an Evinrude E-TEC.”

With its modular design, this outboard is a far cry from your father’s Evinrude — in terms of both technology and appearance. Kept under wraps during its two years in development, the G2 also is the first outboard specifically designed for the direct-injection system, BRP says. Consumers will have the option of 200-, 225-, 250- and 300-hp models.

BRP says the G2s weigh 539 to 558 pounds, a little more than other 2-strokes, in part because of components such as power steering and a 2-gallon oil reservoir. Innovations include a new “starboard-starboard” engine design that features two identical piston chambers, which BRP says are the primary source of the torque and long-term reliability. Other features include integrated hydraulic power steering with three levels of assist (minimal, medium, maximum), an automatic trim system and dual-axis rigging that routes all engine cables through one tube, making for a clean, clutter-free transom.

Suzuki unveiled its 200-hp DF200A 4-cylinder 4-stroke earlier this year, but this was its first appearance at a major show. The company says the inline engine performs at a level that can be expected from a V-6.

The design features a 175-cubic-inch “big block” and a higher compression ratio for greater acceleration and low-end torque. The outboard uses Suzuki’s lean burn technology, and sensor systems allow better monitoring and control internal operations. The DF200A weighs 498 pounds — more than 12 percent less than Suzuki’s V-6 200.

Sterndrives and inboards

Sterndrives may not be as popular as they once were, but they are holding their own. In fact, Volvo Penta of the Americas president Ron Huibers reaffirmed the company’s commitment to using General Motors engine blocks and introduced the company’s next generation gasoline sterndrive. “We know that for our customers and dealers, they are going to get great quality, competitive cost and a technology bump that will give them great reason to buy a Volvo Penta sterndrive,” Huibers says. “We have been with GM in the gas business for 15-plus years, and we’ve had great success.”

Mercury has begun building its own gas sterndrive engines and already has produced a MerCruiser 250-hp 4.5-liter engine. Mercury, which had previously used General Motors blocks, made the switch to produce engines more suited for marine use.

At a marine trades show in November, Volvo Penta debuted the first of a fleet of sterndrives — 200- and 240-hp V-6s with a 4.3-liter displacement — with the fifth generation of GM motors. Volvo Penta will roll out additional Gen V GM engines in 2015 and will have a full family of the next-generation gas engines by 2016.

This 240-hp V-6 model is among the first in a fleet of new gas sterndrives coming from Volvo Penta in 2015 and 2016.

Huibers highlighted the reasons for sticking with GM for its new engine platform, including the addition of common-rail fuel injection, the depth of GM engineering and expertise, competitive cost and reliability, the continued use of Variable Valve Timing, and fresh water cooling as a standard component in all Gen V engines. “With common rail injection you get higher compression ratios, so you get better efficiency, increased torque and wide-band O2 sensors to accommodate variations in fuel quality,” Huibers says. “With GM, we have been riding a horse that’s a real thoroughbred. Now along comes this Gen V engine, and together we’ve just taken it to a whole new level.”

The recently introduced V8-430 and V8-380 — Gen IV engines — are already equipped with VVT, which alters valve timing for immediate on-demand combustion through faster and more efficient use of air and fuel.

“We are the diesel experts,” Huibers says. “Where are the gasoline [engine] experts in the world? They are right here in the U.S. When you operate these engines, you are proud of that American muscle. They are incredible. The technology leaps of Gen V are huge.”

Mercury has also stated its long-term sterndrive propulsion plan — and why it dropped the GM blocks. “With outboards, we have always had the luxury of deciding what technology we wanted in our engines, and now we can do the same with our sterndrive engines,” says David Foulkes, vice president of product development, engineering and racing. “We are now able to give [our customers] features that are built into the engine exclusively because they are marine engines [not marinized auto engines].”

For example, the new MerCruiser‘s throttle body faces aft instead of forward. “With the previous engines, the throttle body was always facing the driver, and so was the noise that was being generated,“ Foulkes says. “Now we can direct that noise aft and away from the driver.”

Turning to inboards, Cummins at the show promoted its repowering capabilities and its new joystick system — the Cummins Inboard Joystick. The company recently began two repowering projects to install its 380-hp QSB6.7 diesel in two classic 37-foot sportfishing boats. The Casa Vieja Lodge — a top billfishing destination in Guatemala — is working with Cummins to repower the 37-foot Merritt Release and the 37-foot Rybovich Makaira. Once these repowers are complete, Cummins will power the lodge’s entire six-boat fleet.

“We are trying to focus our promotion efforts around these projects and also trying to get out the word that Cummins doesn’t only sell to production builders,” says Andy Kelly, marketing communications manager for Cummins Recreational and Light Commercial Marine. “There are a lot of boats that have old, tired engines, and we’ve got a variety of different engines that can fit into those spaces. So you can have cleaner emissions, better fuel economy and warranties. We have a [reconditioned] engine line as well as a new-engine line.”

Cummins is also spreading the word about its Inboard Joystick, which works with a “new class of DC thrusters with extended run-time capability,” says Kelly. Designed for use with conventional inboards and transmissions, the system operates with the QSB6.7 (250 to 550 hp), QSC8.3 (500 to 600 hp) QSL9 (285 to 405 hp) and QSM11 (300 to 715 hp) engines. The Cummins thrusters are supplied by Vetus-Maxwell.

Speaking of Vetus-Maxwell, the company had a boat in Fort Lauderdale to illustrate how its Extended Run Time bow and stern thrusters can be used in single-inboard applications with a joystick helm setup.

Joystick helm control systems are typically installed on boats that are 30 feet or larger with two or more engines. But this one was packaged in a single-inboard-powered 24-foot 1979 Topaz dual console. A 260-hp Yanmar diesel powered the boat. The Vetus thrusters were installed in the bow and stern, and a Glendinning electronic throttle and shift control and Glendinning joystick control were installed at the helm. “We have had this system in twin-engine applications, but this is the first single-engine installation,” says Vetus-Maxwell sales manager Chris DeBoy, who piloted the test boat during my demo ride. “Single-engine boats are not the most maneuverable boats. This gives the skipper complete control for backing into a slip, pulling up to a face dock or any other tricky maneuver.”

It can be installed on boats from 24 feet and up with gas or diesel engines. At least one boat company — a builder of Down-East-style express yachts — is interested in using the Vetus thrusters in a single-inboard application, and there is some interest from the sailboat market, too, says DeBoy.

DeBoy let me take the helm, and I was immediately taken by the quick and forceful response of the system in joystick mode. I spun it 360 degrees, walked it sideways to and from a piling, pushed it along diagonally. It flat out works. You push a “Take” button twice on the joystick control base to shift into joystick mode. Same goes for the shift and throttle control — push the “Take” button twice to return to normal control.

“The standard DC thruster has runtime in the 3-minute neighborhood per hour,” says DeBoy. The thrusters installed in the test boat were 11-kW/15-hp thrusters (model BOW220DE), which provide a 7-minute runtime per hour; all other thrusters have a runtime of 10 minutes.

Alternative energy

Alternative power systems have been one of the leading innovations in the marine industry in the last few years, with electricity, propane and even natural gas providing power. As hybrid propulsion packages, they’re often teamed with diesels that run cleaner and quieter and perform better. Case in point is a new electric/diesel system I had a chance to check out at a boatbuilders’ show in October. This hybrid technology comes from Elco Motor Yachts, an upstate New York company that already offers 70- and 100-hp electric inboards.

The new hybrid electric/diesel system uses a 20-hp Elco electric motor and a 425-hp Cummins diesel. The system was installed on a Beneteau Swift Trawler 34. The single-shaft parallel system couples the Cummins 6.7-liter diesel to the Elco engine. The boat can reach a top speed of 20 knots under diesel power and can cruise at 5 to 6 knots using only electric power. A 12-unit AGM battery bank powers the electric engine, which can be operated for as long as two to three hours before it needs charging.

Elco introduced 5-and 7-hp equivalent electric outboards this year, and a 9.9-hp and a 25-hp model are due out in 2015.

As I cruised along under electric power at 5 knots, the only mechanical sound I heard was the Elco’s motor belt turning. No fumes. To shift from one engine to another, you shut off the motor that is running, press a control button on the helm and start the other motor. It takes a few seconds.

Elco also has launched a line of electric outboards with the introduction of 5- and 7-hp models. A 9.9-hp and a 25-hp model are due out in 2015. The company anticipates strong interest from boaters on lakes that prohibit combustion engines, and saltwater sailors have also taken an interest, says senior sales manager Ted Norris.

Add natural gas to the alternative energy list for powerboats. Intrepid Powerboats at the show had one of its 32-foot center consoles with a new natural gas/gasoline hybrid propulsion system developed by the Apex, North Carolina, company Blue Gas Marine. “We can use any gas — hydrogen, propane and natural gas — to power any internal combustion engine,” Blue Gas Marine CEO and founder Miguel Guerreiro says. “Natural gas is the most widely available gaseous fuel around the world, so we developed our technology specially for natural gas.”

Guerreiro and Intrepid president Ken Clinton met in February 2014 at the Miami International Boat Show. “He told me about the system, and I checked his references and saw he has surrounded himself with some very qualified people,” Clinton says. “I was impressed. This is a legitimate fuel alternative, and there are so many benefits that come with this system that I don’t see why it wouldn’t take off.”

Intrepid has retrofitted a 2013 327 CC powered with twin Mercury 300-hp Verado 4-strokes. (The boat will be at the Miami show in February.) The Intrepid can operate on natural gas or as a hybrid that carries natural gas and traditional fuel, such as gasoline. The driver can switch between the two fuels on demand and at any speed with the press of a button.

Blue Gas Marine is developing a network to distribute the natural gas fuel to boaters, ensuring that it will be readily available. Boaters can even fill up at home or from any building equipped with natural gas, Guerreiro says.

The backbone of the system is an electronic fuel injection unit for natural gas that is added to the existing engine. The system also consists of natural gas high-pressure lines; pressure gauges, safety devices and devices to control the flow of gas to the injection system; and a helm control that allows for switching between the two fuels. Guerreiro says a few boat companies were interested in becoming the first to try the hybrid system, but Blue Gas Marine chose Intrepid because of its track record as an innovative company.

“I am the guy who installed four 557-hp outboards on a boat because a customer wanted them,” Clinton says. “So we owe it to everyone to look at the green avenues. Once we saw benefits, not only the fuel economy but the cleanliness of the system, I was sold on it.”

See related article:

- Half full or half empty: winter storage and fuel

January 2015 issue