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Joystick steering options are everywhere in Miami

Joystick steering dominates the docks this year at the Miami International Boat Show, which opened Thursday morning and runs through Feb. 18.

Flags, fliers, banners and posters identifying the technologies from Volvo Penta, Mercury, Yamaha, Teleflex and others greeted me at every turn at the Marriott on Biscayne Bay’s Sea Isle Marina. (The in-water portion of the show is held there.)

I had an opportunity to test two new joystick systems for outboards — Yamaha’s Helm Master and Teleflex’s Optimus 360 by Sea Star. I had already tested Mercury Joystick Piloting For Outboards at the 2012 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.

The Yamaha Helm Master functions with its V6 4-stroke models — the F225, F250 and F300 — as well as the V8 F350. Teleflex showcased its technology in a marriage with high-horsepower Evinrude E-TEC outboards from Bombardier Recreational Products.

Yamaha, Teleflex and Evinrude representatives are quick to point out that their setups also include advanced steering systems and neat new features such as steering friction control. As Yamaha product information manager David Meeler said: “It’s not just about the joystick.”

I spent about six hours on the docks — and the boats. I tried the Yamaha Helm Master on the new Pursuit SC 365i Sport Coupe with twin Yamaha F350s and the Teleflex Optimus 360 by Sea Star on the Andros Offshore 32 with a pair of 250-hp E-TECs. I also jumped at an opportunity to try out Yamaha’s new four-cylinder 200-hp 4-stroke that powered a 23-foot center console, the Sportsman 229.

The 487-pound F200 has giddyup, for sure. The boat accelerated from 20 to 30 mph in about 4 seconds and hit 43 mph (WOT) in another 3-1/2 seconds. The engine never broke free from its grip on the water when I whipped the boat into some high-speed doughnuts.

The F200 weighs 119 pounds less than Yamaha’s V6 F200 and 14 pounds more than Yamaha’s 2-stroke Z200 HPDI outboard. The engine is built with a 2.8-liter, 16-valve dual overhead camshaft powerhead.

The representative from Sportsman, Ralph Archer, was impressed with the engine and boat’s ability to stay on plane at a measly 15 mph. “That slow planing speed is ideal for driving in rough waters when 15 mph is as fast as you would want to go,” he said.

I started the day aboard the Pursuit, an innovative boat that hides the outboards in a stern engine compartment. I had tested her without Helm Master at the builder’s press outing last fall in Fort Pierce, Fla. It took a Pursuit team about three days to install the system, said Pursuit design and engineering manager Chris Gratz.

Meeler patiently walked me through the functions, features and components of Helm Master. You can set the friction control at two levels. It controls the number of turns it takes to get from lock to lock, as well as the required steering effort.

To engage the joystick you simply shift into neutral and press the button called joystick. Meeler said it’s best to manipulate the stick in a rolling motion, which I did. I used the joystick to circle a navigational marker — a piling — a couple of times. The current was reasonably strong, and the Helm Master had plenty of thrust to overcome it. Twin F350s powered this craft, but with triple-engine setups the center engine remains active in reverse. “With other systems it’s idle, but we’re using it for extra thrust,” Meeler said.

Helm Master friction control gives you a range of four to nine turns lock to lock. The default setting, in this case seven turns, is set by the boat manufacturer.

The Teleflex Optimus 360’s lock-to-lock steerage ranges from 3-3/4 to eight turns. Like the Yamaha, the Optimus has two thrust settings, but with different monikers — normal and “boost.” You push two buttons to engage the joystick — the “+” button on the throttle control unit and the boost button on the joystick base.

I maneuvered the Andros in a similar pattern that I followed in the Pursuit test, circling a piling and pushing the bow and stern every which way.

The Evinrude/Teleflex system uses Evinrude's ICON electronic shift and throttle (EST), said Evinrude senior product specialist Larry Koschak, who showed me the system on the Andros. “The Optimus 360 takes over with the power steering pumps, the steering helm and the joystick. So the major steering duties start with Teleflex,” he said.

The Optimus 360’s thrust seemed to pack a slightly better punch than the Helm Master, which may be attributable to the larger size of the Pursuit. Overall, the joysticks and complete steering systems did a fine job, delivering the precise control this technology is known for. Switching from joystick to throttle and shift and vice versa was simple.

— Chris Landry