Today’s outboards are becoming part of the Internet of Things, and this could change everything from maintenance habits to on-the-water troubleshooting. Here’s how the latest outboard IoT systems work.
Thanks to the internet of things, or the IoT, you can whip out your phone and check the status of your house, your car, or even your refrigerator. So, why not your outboard engine, too? Truth be told, our outboards are already getting a heck of a lot smarter than they once were, and today, a number of them are as wired in as that Nest system you use to check on your dog every 15 minutes.
How Outboard IoT Works
Outboards have had digitized brains for years now, monitoring everything from fuel burn to fault codes. The trick to making them more communicative was more or less all that needed to happen for them to join the IoT, and most of the time it’s the phone in your pocket that lets them do the talking. All the major manufacturers now have apps, some of which can link up with the outboard via Bluetooth (in some cases an adaptor may be necessary to provide the engine’s ECU with Bluetooth connectivity). And in some other cases your outboard can tie into the wider world without you or your cell phone even being present. The writing was printed in bold on the wall last year, when Yamaha purchased Siren Marine, an outfit specializing in marine remote monitoring systems. Remote monitoring and security was an early step in bringing boats in general into the IoT, and systems like the Siren have their own cellular connectivity abilities so they can stream data back and forth all without any help from you or me.
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Note that these capabilities are generally limited to larger, more expensive models — at least for now. Still, with cell connectivity and/or Bluetooth and the ability to bump data from the engine to your phone and on to the wider world, an outboard can do all sorts of nifty tricks like sending diagnostic data directly to your dealer, even when you’re out on the water. It can tell you and your dealer when service is due, log performed maintenance, or send an alert if something goes outside of the engine’s set parameters.
Which Outboards are the Smartest?
As we mentioned, all of the major outboard manufacturers are dabbling in these waters to one degree or another. That said, some are farther along than others.
Yamaha Marine – Yamaha gets top billing in this regard because of their conscious “CASE” strategy: Connected, Autonomous, Shared, and Electric. The “connected” part is being pursued via a Helm Link system data connection module which is now integrated with some models but should appear in more and more of the product line moving forward. Remember, Yamaha just completed the purchase of Siren, and at the time Marine Business Unit President Ben Speciale said “we want to be sure that all future Yamaha products are connected, because we know that is what our customers want — an integrated, connected boating experience.”
In February of this year Yamaha announced the Siren Trident, being fitted on boats from two builders (Grady-White and Regulator Marine) in a pilot program. Working with outboards of 150-hp and up, the Siren Trident monitors usage and automatically sends maintenance notifications which can be bounced directly to the dealer, while also accumulating use data to support predictive and preventative maintenance.
Mercury Marine – Mercury is joining the IoT via their SmartCraft system, VesselView, and the VesselView Mobile app, creating a link between the engine systems and your phone. Once Bluetooth relays the data to your phone, you can share it with your dealer, store the history, and set up notifications and alerts. Mercury announced in 2018 that it had partnered with Fell Marine to codevelop wireless and IoT connected products to integrate with SmartCraft, and the systems they’re developing should work with any SmartCraft-capable outboards.
Suzuki Outboards – In 2022 Suzuki announced the launch of its mobile app Suzuki Diagnostic System Mobile Plus (SDSM+). Strictly speaking this app doesn’t really provide the outboard with connectivity to the IoT. However, it does give users similar capabilities with a couple of added steps. Rather than linking with your phone it allows you to use the phone to read a QR code displayed on the multifunction gauge, delivering data on engine status, maintenance schedules, and driving tendencies. You can bump the data along to your dealer in advance of bringing in the engine for service.
Neither Honda nor Tohatsu has taken the IoT leap yet. So for the moment, that’s the complete outboard IoT picture. Now you can go back to watching your dog.