VIDEO: Joystick control without pod drives


When we think of joystick helm control, pod drives usually come to mind. But the marine industry has been busy developing systems to marry joystick steering with outboards and sterndrives.

At the recent Miami International Boat Show, Yanmar America Corp. debuted a joystick for its sterndrive propulsion system, and Teleflex Marine introduced a joystick for twin-outboard installations. I had a chance to demo each setup at the show’s in-water component at Sea Isle Marina on Miami’s Biscayne Bay.

Click play for a presentation on the two joystick systems.

The Optimus 360 control system consists of different subsystems: Teleflex’s Optimus power steering system, electronic shift and control system, and joystick, said Aldo Mastropieri, Teleflex Marine product manager of custom marine and steering.

“Wait till you try this — it’s the first on the market,” Mastropieri told me as we sat down for a dockside interview. “We’re the first to bring joystick control to the outboard steering market, and without the use of bow thrusters.”

The Optimus 360 retails for $17,995, and the steering system itself is about $7,000. They are expected to be available in July and April, respectively.

Boat owners can have the system installed at their own pace, Mastropieri said. “You could install the steering system first and then add the joystick and controls later to come away with your full joystick control system,” he said.

In Miami, the Optimus 360 was installed in a 34-foot SeaCraft center console with twin 2005 225-hp Mercury OptiMax 2-strokes. Compared with other joystick systems I’ve tested, this one held its own quite well. I was surprised at how smoothly and quickly the joystick transitioned the outboards into and out of gear. That alone gives the skipper better command of the boat.

The Optimus 360 does an excellent job of getting quick response from older outboards (7 years old in this case), and it’s flat-out impressive that Teleflex has found a way to give mechanically controlled outboard boats the benefits of joystick operation. You’ll get a kick out of watching the outboards “toe in” so their props are as far apart as possible. It looks strange, but only because such steering positions are a first for this propulsion setup.

Yanmar’s Easy Operation System — consisting of a joystick helm control, new V-8 diesels and twin sterndrives with counter-rotating propellers — was set up in a 40-foot Nor-Tech center console. The engines, linked to Yanmar ZT370 drives, packed head-snapping acceleration.

The joystick was impressive, too. After getting a quick tutorial from Tom Watson, division manager of the Yanmar Marine Engine Division, and Capt. Ron List, I circled a nav marker and practiced walking the boat sideways and diagonally. Like the Optimus, this system requires no bow thruster.

“Another advantage of the electric steering system is the helm has a variable feel,” List said. “At low speed you have three turns lock to lock, and at high speed it’s five. So as you increase speed you gain response sensitivity.”

The Easy Operation System is expected to be available later this year. Pricing was unavailable.