Outboard motors have seen a lot of changes in just a few short years and the means to control them has also undergone dramatic changes. Mechanical throttle and gear controls are being replaced with reliable and trouble-free electronic controls, but the new technology doesn’t end there. A joystick control of the engines is becoming popular for easy close quarter maneuvering. Engine manufacturers and aftermarket companies are now providing their own versions of these innovative controls. Earlier this year at the Miami International Boat Show Mercury Marine announced the introduction of its new Joystick Piloting For Outboards.
Mercury is no novice to joystick controls as it has very successfully developed the Zeus joystick controls for its pod drives and its Axius joystick controls for its Mercruiser outdrives. Borrowing technology from both of these systems Mercury Marine’s outboard version of joystick control is now available for all new Verado 250 or 300 horsepower outboards (sorry, but there are no retrofits available to older Verado engines at this time). Designed to be used in applications from two to four outboards, this simple joystick control allows for total control of Verado outboards for both throttle and steering with just one hand by simply twisting and maneuvering the joystick. Mercury claims that its control is quieter and more efficient than bow thrusters and can allow for sideways movement and 360 degree on axis control. This system is so easy to use that a novice or accomplished captain will be able to operate it with just a few minutes of practice.
Looking at the motors when the joystick control is operating your first instinct tells you that something is broken because the motors can be facing in towards each other (as in the image above) or in different angles. This is something you would normally only see if the linkage between the motors has failed. Not a good thing. But in fact there is no linkage present with this system as the motors have their own independent hydraulic steering cylinders tied into the joystick electronic controls (although there is a safety cable between motors to protect the engines should a steering cylinder fail). In dual and quad engine applications all the engines work independently to create the versatile steering capabilities and in triple engine configurations the two outer motors do all the maneuvering work. Software in the electrical shifting and throttles system issues commands from the joystick to the actuator in each steering cylinder (assisted by independent power steering pumps), commanding the engine to do what is necessary for maneuvering the vessel in a desired manner. This system is designed so it will only operate at low speed and limits RPM’s to 1600.
This new joystick control ties into the existing Mercury SmartCraft digital throttle and shift (DTS) supplied with Verado Motors and modifies the electro hydraulic power steering system to work in unison with the joystick control. This new control also ties in with Mercury’s vessel view and working in unison allows for some interesting new piloting possibilities that will be discussed in the next article on Mercury’s new technologies. Even on its own this new joystick control has just made navigating in tight or difficult quarters a whole lot easier and can make docking a pleasurable and simple endeavor.