Joystick control for outboard-powered vessels is hardly new – I experienced it for the first time at an Evinrude press event in the USA in 2014 – but joystick control for a single outboard is, as far as I know, unprecedented and Yamaha its the first to bring it to market with Helm Master EX.
Helm Master EX brings together a suite of technologies to deliver truly groundbreaking control for outboard-powered vessels. A development of Yamaha’s Helm Master joystick control for multiple outboards, released a couple of years ago, Helm Master EX not only improves on the original, it brings most of the benefits to a single outboard powered vessel, plus a whole raft of new technology to further enhance the boating experience.
Compatible with all current Yamaha Digital Electronic Control (DEC) outboards from 150 to 425hp, Helm Master EX works with single, twin, triple and quadruple outboard installations. It can be fitted by boat manufacturers or retrofitted to any existing Yamaha DEC outboard equipped vessel.
The system comprises four primary application levels, designed to be fully expandable and customisable according to specific customer requirements. Go with the full Helm Master EX system right off the bat, or start with Level One – Digital Electronic Control and add Digital Electric Steering (Level Two) and additional modules over time. Designed and manufactured by Yamaha (no third-party technology), there are no integration issues and each plug-and-play component is quick and easy to install.
With each new level the system’s capabilities ramp up further. Level One includes a new, upgraded digital electronic control and Yamaha CL5 touchscreen display and an optional new slimline key switch panel with a keyless remote to unlock engine ignition.
The Digital Electronic Control (available in single through quadruple outboard versions) offers push-button up-down speed control, Pattern Shift mode (automatically engages and disengages the gearbox for slower-than-idle trolling), Neutral Hold (allows the operator to increase the engine revs in neutral – to warm up the engine, for instance), throttle friction adjustment and station selector for switching between helms. There are also various functions for use with multiple outboard installations.
Level Two introduces electric steering, doing away with steering pumps, hoses and hydraulic fluid. Electric steering is smooth and quiet with zero lag time. And because it only uses current on demand, it places less load on batteries than conventional steering pumps that constantly draw power. Quick and cheap to install, and leaving more transom space for other things, Helm Master EX offers constant or variable (based on engine revs) lock-to-lock with adjustable steering friction.
Level Three adds Yamaha’s new Autopilot, which incorporates a number of built-in, single-touch navigation and control functions.
These include Heading Hold, which automatically maintains a set compass heading while drifting with the wind and/or tide, Course Hold, which automatically combats wind or current to set the boat back on course, and TrackPoint, which allows automatic tracking from waypoint to waypoint plotted on a compatible multi-function display. This is a handy feature for fishers following a depth contour, reef or shoreline and anyone negotiating channel markers or navigation beacons.
Other push-button functions include Waypoint Arrival – automatically slows the boat as it approaches a destination set on a compatible MFD – and Pattern Steer, which allows operators to select one of two pre-set adjustable steering patterns (zig-zag or expanding circle) without using an MFD.
Level Four unlocks the full potential of Yamaha Helm Master EX, adding Yamaha’s full manoeuvrability joystick control system. This stylish and ergonomic controller provides simultaneous control over shift, throttle and steering. It can also be used in conjunction with many of the built-in Helm Master EX SetPoint features, for maximum positional control (see below).
New Zealand release
Marine journalists and Yamaha dealers experienced Helm Master EX as part of a co-ordinated worldwide product launch at a special launch event in Auckland in late June. A Level Four system was set up aboard a new Haines Hunter SP725 with a single Yamaha 250hp outboard.
Although our time with the Helm Master EX was brief, it was long enough to realise that it offers something unique: an outboard joystick control system that works with a single outboard.
Although, like other systems, Helm Master was initially designed for multiple outboards, with Helm Master EX, most of the control and navigation functions are also available with a single outboard. There’s really only a couple of things Helm Master EX can’t do with a single outboard: move laterally (sideways), rotate on the spot or maintain position and heading (StayPoint) to lock the boat in position. Those functions are available only with two or more engines.
What Helm Master EX can do with one engine is remarkable enough, as we found out. The joystick delivers precise low speed control when coming alongside another vessel, approaching a dock or launching and retrieving off a trailer. It’s not quite the same level as Helm Master with twin-engines, but much better than a single outboard vessel without Helm Master.
This was clearly demonstrated by a Yamaha representative using the joystick to move the boat away from the crowded jetty, not quite sideways, but in a combination of controlled throttle, shift and steering inputs to ‘walk’ the Haines out of a tight space.
Out on open water we were able to experience the system’s unique joystick and autopilot functionality, including SetPoint. SetPoint is a suite of position-hold and drift mode control functions.
FishPoint holds the vessel in position over a reef, wreck or a school of fish. Using (minimum) engine revs, gear shift and electric steering inputs, it holds the vessel over a chosen position. For anglers, especially jig fishers and deep water bottom bouncers, this ability will be invaluable – no need for a bow-mounted electric trolling motor to maintain position.
In FishPoint, the joystick control also allows you to ‘bump’ the boat forward, in reverse or to the side in pre-set increments of 1.5m up to 6m.
Fishers will also appreciate DriftPoint and DriftPoint Track. DriftPoint allows you to keep your bows pointed in a set direction while drifting with the wind and/or current. Twisting the joystick alters the bow heading by as little as 1 degree or as much as 50 degrees. I can see this function as being perfect for drifting along a shoreline or reef and casting to structure.
Perhaps even more useful for lure casters, DriftPoint Track will maintain a bow heading while the boat drifts along a predetermined track plotted on a compatible MFD. This would allow you to fish along a contour line or accurately track a shoreline, without the expense of fitting a bulky electric trolling motor and its heavy batteries. Fitting Level Four Helm Master EX costs about the same as fitting an electric trolling motor, but offers a whole lot more functionality.
StayPoint, which keeps both position and heading, is only available with two or more outboards.
There will always be a place for an electric onboard – shallow water fishing where outboard engine noise spooks fish, for instance – but for many fishing applications, SetPoint functionality renders them obsolete.
With the Autopilot engaged, the joystick controller also allows speed adjustments up and down, heading adjustments and course adjustment (in Course Hold mode).
Heading Hold keeps the bow pointed in the same direction no matter the wind or current while Course Hold keeps the vessel on course at the push of a button. Yamaha also demonstrated Pattern Steer, allowing zig-zag and spiral tracks, which are useful search patterns when, say, trying to locate a reef marked on the chart.
Track Point and Waypoint Arrival functions were unavailable because the MFD was awaiting full integration with Helm Master EX.