The Joy of Joysticks

Yamaha’s Helm Master eases maneuvering in the trickiest situations
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If there’s one maneuver that gives even qualified skippers the shivers, it’s docking a boat. Whether you’re performing in front of an audience at the fuel dock or pulling into your home slip against a cross-current or gusty winds—or both—chances are pretty good the procedure has upped your anxiety more than once.

Joystick control systems have helped to alleviate these jitters for an ever-growing number of boat owners, but there’s more to these systems than just making docking easier. (Listen up, anglers: This means you.)

Yamaha’s Helm Master is a joystick system that works like others: Toggle the joystick to port or starboard, and the outboard engines move the boat sideways. Nudge the joystick forward or aft, and the Helm Master makes those motions happen. Twisting the joystick pivots the boat on its axis.

The Helm Master joystick is force-sensitive, meaning the farther you push it, the more thrust the system will command from the outboards. But the real magic is the Helm Master’s SetPoint Modes, called StayPoint, FishPoint and DriftPoint.

The most basic of these modes is StayPoint, which, at the press of a button, marks your position using dual-antenna GPS and then (through independent articulation and thrust vectoring of the outboards) maintains that position within a 10-foot radius in normal conditions. Yamaha says StayPoint works within 75 feet when wind and currents are a factor. Position can be adjusted manually in 10-foot increments up to 100 feet by bumping the joystick forward, aft or sideways. A twist of the joystick will adjust the bow heading angle in 5-degree increments up to 50 degrees.

Yamaha’s Helm Master system isn’t just for docking or tight-quarters maneuvering; it can also put you on the fish. 

Yamaha’s Helm Master system isn’t just for docking or tight-quarters maneuvering; it can also put you on the fish. 

FishPoint and DriftPoint are for everyday situations as well as for anglers. One of the most aggravating circumstances an angler can encounter is being blown or pushed off a hot spot by wind or current. FishPoint helps to minimize this problem by keeping the bow or stern facing into the wind or current, and uses minimal thrust so as not to spook the fish. A single forward, aft or side bump of the joystick adjusts the boat’s position in 10-foot increments.

DriftPoint uses the system’s GPS to keep the boat’s bow pointed in a certain direction during a drift, making the feature great for drift fishing, fishing baits with kites, or presenting the cockpit toward a school of working fish. Five-degree adjustments to the bow position can be made by making one twist of the joystick, up to 50 degrees.

Most boaters will encounter Helm Master as new-boat equipment, and that’s the way Yamaha likes it, says New Product Introduction Manager David Meeler.

“We work directly with boatbuilders, and our engineers certify specific boat-engine combinations to make sure everything works perfectly,” Meeler says. “Certain boat-engine combinations can be retrofitted at a later date by a certified Yamaha Marine technician if the boat and motors meet very specific criteria, but this is not a DIY system.”

The Helm Master’s nuts and bolts include a digital steering helm, electronic key switch, digital remote control, dual GPS antenna, control units, steering cylinders and pumps, a joystick and a Command Link CL7 display. Helm Master will work with as many as five Yamaha XF425 outboards. The engine limit is four if they’re F200 up to F350C outboard models.

Good technology makes boating more enjoyable and fishing more productive. Yamaha’s new Helm Master does both of those things, for anglers and cruising boat owners alike. 

This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue.