My Bluewater 2550 was three years old last fall and had run beautifully on a pair of Evinrude E-Tec 200s, but over time, the throttle cables began to stretch and wear. The damage made it difficult to synchronize and shift the engines in a coordinated manner. So, when Evinrude developed its Icon digital throttle controls with a retrofit package, my wife and I arranged to make the switch.
I’ve driven many boats with many brands of motors and their digital controls, so I was aware of the treat ahead. But my wife, Linda, an arthritis sufferer who relinquishes the helm only under extreme coercion, was not. She’d become accustomed to ham-fisting dual controls, powering them up and down while pulling kids on our nearby lakes. We all laughed and played, but at the end the day, she’d secretly pop Advil and rub her throttle-weary wrists and hands.
First time out with the new controls, I gave Linda brief instructions and stepped out of the boat. She returned a half-hour later with this to say:
“This is a completely new boat. It changes everything.”
Digital throttle controls do their job in a variety of ways, but the bottom line is you get added control, less fatigue in managing engines and some really slick added benefits that make them worth the price when you repower or — for the rare motors that can be retrofitted with the systems — worth the money to change over.
Across brands, digital controls take advantage of computerized engine functions to issue commands much like a mouse on a PC, but with the familiar feel of levers and a few simple buttons.
Common features include ease of adding a second helm and the ability to fine-tune trolling, skiing or running speeds and hold them without holding the throttles.
The Hardware: Single-engine controllers are available in side-mount or binnacle styles. Twins to quints — yes, five engines — are controlled by a two-lever binnacle. All feature polished chrome bases and levers with composite accents.
Fittable and Retrofittable to: Icon controls can be retrofitted to all Evinrude V-6 engines from 150 hp up and factory-fitted to 250 hp and 300 hp engines.
Multiple Engines: Only Evinrude’s Icon handles five engines and automatically synchronizes them for smooth running. During pivoting and docking, the center engine automatically shifts to neutral and remains that way until and unless throttle/shift controls align at common gears and speeds.
Special Features: Powersync gives control of two or more engines to one throttle, syncing engine speed, and forward, neutral and reverse, to allow multiple engines to be run in sync by one throttle. Rpm Tune allows 1 percent throttle changes to be made at the punch of a button, letting the operator choose the best trolling or skiing speed or most economical cruise speed and hold it.
Likes: Lighted forward-neutral-reverse shift position indicators are easy to read at a glance, and engine sync function is most easily engaged of them all. One key operates all engines, and each engine has a single push-button on/off switch.
Dislikes: Binnacle controls occupy a smaller footprint than manual controls do, requiring a plate to retrofit. The gray polymer binnacle cap is not as sharp-looking as the stainless and chrome competitors’.