Here’s good news for owners of boats powered by a single outboard. Those vessels now can be equipped with joystick docking control and a host of other features previously limited to multi-engine rigs with the introduction of the new Yamaha Helm Master EX system. Offered for single- to quad-engine boats, Helm Master EX will also be sold through Yamaha dealers, the first time an OEM joystick system has been available to retail customers for up-fitting or re-power applications.
Helm Master EX is a collection of features that can be installed incrementally, starting with a binnacle Digital Electronic Control (DEC), and a Boat Control Unit (BCU) for each motor. The BCU contains system software, is about the size of a large cell phone, and can be mounted anywhere under the helm. Digital Electric Steering (DES) can be added to any Yamaha DEC-controlled outboard (except 3.3-liter F250 or F350A models). Its all-electric steering rack uses the same mounting holes as a hydraulic system and provides power steering with no pumps or hoses.
The next layer of technology is a new autopilot system controlled by a small panel on the helm plus a heading sensor and a GPS antenna.
Adding the joystick completes the entire system and adds a number of SetPoint modes especially useful for fishing. The joystick can also be used for on-the-fly adjustment of speed, heading and course in autopilot mode. The software underlying the system can be set up for each installation through the Yamaha touch-screen display.
With a single outboard the joystick provides simultaneous fingertip control of throttle, steering and shifting, but the boat is not capable of some of the maneuvers possible with multiple motors; the boat cannot be made to walk to beam, for example, or spin within its length.
“The big advantage of the joystick with a single engine is its responsiveness,” said Robbie Coates, national sales manager at Sea Hunt boats, which loaned its Ultra 239 SE center console model to Yamaha for testing of Helm Master EX and was one of the first builders to demo the system. “It can steer the motor lock-to-lock in less than two seconds, much faster than you can turn the wheel by hand, and you’re not also shifting and throttling at the same time. It will be helpful to any boat owner, but especially to the novice.”
Sea Hunt plans to rig the digital throttle and electric steering on all of its Yamaha V6-powered boats and offer the autopilot and joystick features as upgrades. Coates expects the steering will add about $2,000 (per outboard) to the boat price, but it enables so many other features that it adds a lot of value.
For a single-engine boat, Helm Master EX with autopilot and joystick will add up to $12,000 to the boat price, says Coates, who expects many builders will offer the system for premium models. For re-power applications, Yamaha will sell a complete Helm Master EX single-engine kit for about $16,000 not including the cables required for rigging.
This article originally appeared in the September 2020 issue.