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A remote control for big boats

Yacht Controller allows a boat to be operated from virtually anywhere on board — even from the dock

Yacht Controller allows a boat to be operated from virtually anywhere on board — even from the dock

Andy Scheer is driving a boat from its foredeck when a water taxi motors by, several of the taxi riders doing a double-take.

No one is at the helm of the 36-foot Sealine. Scheer is maneuvering it from the bow with a set of remote controls. The water-taxi driver directs other riders’ attention to the powerboat with the phantom helmsman.

“I’m beginning to think I’m part of their tour,” says Scheer, turning the 36-footer in a tight circle.

Scheer, 54, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., skippers a demonstration boat for Yacht Controller, a wireless remote control drive system for vessels with electronic engine controls. Scheer motors up and down Lauderdale’s Intracoastal Waterway, handling the boat from the foredeck without anyone at the helm.

On weekends, Scheer rafts up at Shooters Waterfront Cafe, an eatery popular with boaters. He draws a crowd maneuvering in tight quarters with controls housed in the cell phone-sized box. “It causes quite a sensation,” he says. “People get up from their tables to watch.”

The Yacht Controller, recipient of a National Marine Manufacturers Association 2004 innovation award, is a boon for shorthanded powerboaters.

“The niche for this, in my opinion, is boats up to 90 feet,” says Scheer. “Over 90 feet, you have a big crew.” Scheer says single-handers will find it useful, as will double-handers — especially if one of the crew is inexperienced. Couples can save wear-and-tear on their marriage with a Yacht Controller, he says. With dock line in hand and controls strapped to the wrist, skippers can leave the helm, dock the boat and tie up alone — from the bow, stern or side deck, even from the dock, where they can see for themselves how close the boat and dock are. “You don’t have to have someone else telling you, ‘Four feet, 2 feet. Stop! Stop! Stop!’ Isn’t that how it goes?” asks Scheer.

Gerald Burton of Miami, president of Yacht Controller Corp., says clients or potential clients have seen some other interesting applications. Captains on sportfishing yachts can use the remote controls to back down on big game from the cockpit — where the action is —instead of up on the flybridge. Photographers can maneuver from anywhere on their boats while snapping photos. Filmmakers can drive a boat remotely from shore or from another boat while actors simulate operating it from behind the wheel. He says one megayacht owner wanted a unit to remotely operate a 40-footer when he takes it in tow behind his 160-foot yacht, to keep the smaller boat from bumping into the larger one when the mothership slows down or stops.

Hardware for the Yacht Controller includes the control box with transmitter and a small receiver on the bridge hard-wired to the engine’s electronic controls, providing parallel controls.

Turn the Yacht Controller on and an alarm sounds to alert the skipper that the unit is working. Start operating the remote controls (the transmitter), and the alarm turns off. Scheer’s control box has four tumbler switches, one for each of the boat’s twin engines and one each for a bow and stern thruster. Controllers also are available with a tumbler to control an anchor windlass or power winch.

Push the engine tumblers forward and back for forward and reverse engine control. Push the thruster tumblers left or right for lateral movement. If you take your fingers off a tumbler or the controller malfunctions, the machinery controlled by that tumbler automatically shifts into neutral. If you turn the unit on and the controller isn’t working, all functions remain in neutral. When unused for four minutes, the unit turns off, and when the transmitter’s two AA batteries are low, an alarm sounds. Company literature says helm controls always override the Yacht Controller.

Burton says the transmitter is advertised to operate up to 150 feet away from the receiver, but he has seen it work from 500 feet. The controller transmits on an FCC-assigned frequency, so cell phones and other transmitting devices shouldn’t interfere with it.

Burton has a unit on his boat. “It makes it a whole lot easier to tie up your boat,” he says. “Mine is 70 feet, and I run it alone.”

Burton says a Yacht Controller costs $5,400 to $8,000, depending on the number of functions it controls. The minimum number of tumbler switches is two, the maximum four. He eventually expects to offer a remote control with 12 functions, for engines, anchors, thrusters and winches, and to monitor water depth, boat speed and engine functions. “You’ll have a complete information center,” he says.

For more information: (305) 423-9333. n