At this year’s Miami International Boat Show there was a new technology that had the outboard manufacturers and their boat building partners buzzing.
Yamaha was the first to market with this new tech they have dubbed the “Helm Master” system.
No doubt borrowing from the “pod drive” systems on larger yachts, the team at Yamaha has developed a similar system to allow very precise boat handling with the use of a small joystick mounted on the dash. The Helm Master system allows the captain to move, slide and spin the boat with a push or twist of the joystick controller. The system is very intuitive and with a few minutes practice, just about anyone can maneuver a 35′ center console like a pro.
We jumped at the opportunity to try the Helm Master on a brand new Everglades 35′ center console equipped with triple Yamaha F350 motors. After a quick blast across Biscayne Bay, our captain stopped the boat so we could put the system through its paces.
While the throttles are in neutral, you press a button on the joystick to assume control. The first thing everyone noticed was the motor positions. When the Helm Master is engaged, the outside motors automatically turn inboard waiting for your command. It really looks crazy at first, but these extreme angles are what provide the thrust needed to maneuver the boat with maximum efficiency.
Once the joystick is in command the maneuvering is simple and intuitive. Push the joystick to the side and the boat slides sideways like an inboard sportfisher under the hand of an experienced captain. The control is also proportional, meaning the harder you push the joystick the faster the boat will move. Push forward and the boat gently moves forward. Twist the ‘stick and the boat gently spins on its own axis.
Strong winds and/or current can give any captain butterflies in their stomach and Yamaha has a solution. With the press of a button, the system kicks into “high mode” mode and the engine RPM’s while maneuvering are increased to give the boat extra power for tough conditions.
Simple, intuitive and predictable are the best words to describe the handling by joystick. With just a few minutes practice literally anyone can maneuver a large boat like a pro.
Yamaha has worked with the individual boat builders to develop custom software “profiles” (in the brain unit) to address the different handling properties of different sizes and styles of hulls. Every boat hull performs differently at slow speeds and these profiles ensure the system is tweaked to get the best possible handling for each boat model.
Being a techie, my next question was “how does it all work?”. The system is made up of a few major components; the joystick, brain module and independent electric powered steering rams for each motor. With the Helm Master engaged, it takes control of the steering, throttle and gear position. When the joystick is moved the brain calculates the correct steering angle for each motor, engages each motor in either forward or reverse and applies the correct amount of throttle to give the desired movement. In a nutshell, each motor is operating independently to best maneuver the boat and the entire “symphony” is “conducted” by the brain module.
When using the system, there is clearly a lot of electronic magic happening all at once. Rest assured, most of these system have been used and proven in other applications. This kind of “fly by wire” technology has been used in the aircraft and auto business for years, Yamaha has just brought it to your boat.
Overall, our entire team was very impressed with the Helm Master system. The seamless control of such a large outboard powered boat is really unparalleled by anything else. Most importantly, it should help alleviate new boat buyer’s fears when shopping in the rapidly growing large outboard powered boat market.
You can bet you will be seeing more of this technology in the very near future. Currently Mercury is shipping a similar system with Suzuki and Evinrude preparing to debut their iterations as well.