It enables precise control of fore and aft, port-starboard and diagonal motion, as well as in-place rotation of the bow, to make docking and low-speed maneuvering easier.

With Helm Master you can spin the boat on its own axis, move it sideways, or on any heading angle you desire, and then hold the vessel against the wind or current. The system also incorporates additional boat control functions, such as automatic outboard trim, speed control and steering resistance adjustment.

It has taken until 2019 for a New Zealand boat to be equipped with Helm Master, so it’s fitting the first vessel should be the 2019 Hutchwilco New Zealand Boat Show Gate Prize, a Surtees 750 Game Fisher-Yamaha outboard package on a Hosking trailer packed to the gunnels with sponsors’ gear and equipment (see sidebar). Worth a whopping $250,000, it will be the biggest boat show prize ever, anywhere.

The New Zealand introduction of Helm Master encompasses the latest generation of Yamaha’s clever technology, which provides electronic control of steering, gear shifting and throttle functions via a joystick. Helm Master allows 360-degree directional control at low speeds.

Helm Master is a control system that works with Yamaha’s DEC – digital electronic control – four-stroke engines of 150hp or higher. It’s designed for twin, triple and quadruple engine rigs, which makes it suitable for a wide range of boat types and sizes. The Surtees 750 Game Fisher is towards the lower end of the boat size range.

Helm Master is more than just a joystick. It is a mature, fully-integrated boat control system that combines Yamaha electric steering, GPS sensor data, Yamaha electronic throttle-and-shift and SDS (Shift Dampener System) propellers to provide unprecedented multi-directional low speed control.


Completely plug-and-play, Helm Master seamlessly connects with Yamaha’s electronic steering (or in the Surtees 750-twin Yamaha F150’s case, electric-over-hydraulic steering) and is second station compatible. It takes up little dashboard space, there are no hydraulic lines or cables under the helm, and it displays engine data and mode status on a Yamaha Command Link display and/or NMEA compatible MFD.

In the Surtees, which is equipped with a pair of Yamaha F150 DEC engines, hydraulic steering pumps are tucked away in a locker under the helm seat. For Yamaha’s new XTO F425hp V8, which has integrated electric steering (coming to other models soon), hydraulics are not required.

For 2019, Yamaha has added SetPoint functionality, which was demonstrated to us on the Waitemata Harbour. SetPoint uses dual-antenna GPS to maintain vessel positioning. Set Point control buttons reside on the Helm Master joystick and Yamaha’s new Command Link 7 touch-screen display is used to configure preferences.

SetPoint has three modes: StayPoint, where you select a point and the vessel automatically drives itself to that point and maintains position and heading, like a virtual anchor; FishPoint, which maintains a position over fish or structure, but not a heading, primarily using idle rpm to keep the bow orientation the same; and DriftPoint, which controls the heading of the boat as it drifts with the wind or current.

These modes have particular relevance for sport fishers, especially as Helm Master has more cleverness up its sleeve. In StayPoint and FishPoint modes, one bump of the joystick – forward, to the side or to the rear – moves the boat’s position by 3m. Additional bumps within three seconds of one another move it up to 33m in total. Great if you want to fish a reef system or stay in touch with schooling fish.

In StayPoint or DriftPoint modes, one twist of the joystick moves the boat’s bow heading angle by 5 degrees; additional twists within three seconds of one another rotate the boat by up to 50 degrees in total – useful to prevent tangles while drift-fishing.

Another function, called Pattern Shift, allows trolling speeds far below what’s possible with the engines in gear. Helm Master achieves this by shifting the engines in and out of gear to maintain a target speed, which can be as lows as 0.4 knots in calm conditions. Trout trolling anyone?


Helm Master also offers High Mode, which ramps up engine revolutions for more thrust. This is useful in windy conditions or where the vessel is subject to lots of current. High Mode revs can be pre-set anywhere up to 2500rpm, but in FishPoint they remain adjustable in real time to allow fine-tuning to counter the conditions.

While manipulating the joystick is simple and intuitive, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. As you move the joystick or engage SetPoint, it’s a little disconcerting at first to see and hear the engines revving up and down and independently shifting gears between forward, neutral and reverse seemingly at random. Engines also turn independently, often making crazy angles.

But there’s nothing random about any of this: Helm Master’s computer brain, reacting to inputs from the joystick, or in SetPoint, responding to GPS data, knows exactly what it’s doing.

In operation, Helm Master is pretty impressive, as Yamaha Motor New Zealand showed us aboard the Boat Show Prize Surtees 750 Game Fisher. As well as making coming alongside, berthing and manoeuvring in tight spaces a breeze, Helm Master has so many applications when fishing and for boating in general. It brings a level of convenience and control that Yamaha hasn’t been able to offer New Zealand boaters before.

Every boat is different, so for Helm Master to perform to its potential, it must be installed and calibrated specifically for that vessel by expert Yamaha-trained technicians. Yamaha Motor NZ is currently working with its dealer network to familiarise them with the product. Yamaha dealers will offer Helm Master around the country.