Three new station-keeping systems for boats powered by multiple outboards not only let captains automatically maintain position in wind and current, but can also lock in a heading, whether holding the boat in place or drifting.
SeaStar Solutions first hit the market last fall with the multifaceted SeaStation system integrated into the SeaStar Optimus 360 joystick steering package. SeaStation features Position Hold, Heading Hold and a combined Position/Heading Hold.
At the Miami International Boat Show in February, both Mercury Marine and Yamaha Marine followed suit, debuting similar systems. Mercury expanded on its popular Skyhook virtual anchor for outboards, adding features such as Heading Adjust, BowHook and DriftHook to the Joystick Piloting for Outboards package.
Yamaha added Set Point to its Helm Master outboard joystick control system with features that include Stay Point, Fish Point and Drift Point.
All three systems use multichannel GPS positioning data, sophisticated electronic heading sensors, onboard processors, and independent outboard steering and throttle control to put the boat in the position and direction you desire using twin, triple or quad outboards.
So-called virtual anchors are integrated into each of the systems. Press a button or two and the boat automatically holds position.
Virtual anchors are not new. Mercury’s Skyhook, introduced a little over four years ago, performed this feat. But with the expanded number of Skyhook features, Merc has decided to now call its virtual anchor BowHook. It holds your position but allows the bow to point in whatever direction the wind and/or current dictate.
SeaStar Solutions calls its virtual anchor Position Hold, while Yamaha refers to this feature as Fish Point. The fact that the outboards are required only to hold position means the engines need not rev as high as when also holding a desired heading.
“This feature [Merc’s BowHook] is useful when a locked-in heading is not necessary,” says Walter Ross, senior product manager for Mercury Marine.
In addition, the relatively low rpm needed for this function makes it better suited for fishing, says David Meeler, marine product information manager for Yamaha. “It [Yamaha’s Fish Point] uses no more than idle rpm to hold position,” Meeler says. “That means it’s less likely to scare fish.”
One of the coolest applications would be holding the boat over a wreck on a windy day, allowing anglers to fish straight down. This keeps the lines vertical rather than angling out as the boat drifts swiftly away from the structure.
What’s really new is the ability to keep the bow pointed in whatever direction you wish while also holding the boat in place.
With the Position/Heading Hold feature on the SeaStar system, for example, you can use the Optimus 360 joystick to adjust the heading and then lock it in. Mercury does the same thing with its Heading Adjust, while the Yamaha function is called Stay Point.
This ability can be particularly useful when using a virtual anchor while waiting for a bridge to open or a spot at the fuel dock on a crowded waterway. It keeps the boat from spinning and possibly bumping into another vessel.
“It’s also helpful when fishing around a buoy or other fixed structure,” says Jeffrey Jatich, field service engineer for SeaStar Solutions. “You can, for example, position the boat up-current of a productive fishing spot and keep it pointed into the current as you fish baits or lures astern of the boat.”
Get My Drift
The new systems also let you control the boat’s heading while drifting. Merc calls this DriftHook, SeaStar labels it Heading Mode, and Yamaha dubs it Drift Point.
With the Yamaha Helm Master system, for instance, the captain steers into the desired heading for the drift, sets the throttle levers to neutral, enters joystick mode, then presses the Set Point button on the joystick control.
As with DriftHook and Heading Mode, the boat will drift with wind and/or current but remain pointed in the direction the captain set. Heading adjustments can be made using the joystick. The Merc system, for example, allows for adjustments in 1- and 10-degree increments.
“When drift-fishing, wind and current are sometimes at odds, causing the bow to spin while drifting and tangling lines,” Jatich points out. “By locking in the heading, you’re better able to keep lines straight.”
“Drift Point is really helpful when kite-fishing,” Meeler says. You can point the boat sideways to the wind for fishing along one side or put the bow into the wind for fishing kites from the stern, he points out.
All three of the systems can be networked with third-party multifunction displays. SeaStation, for example, is compatible with current Garmin, Raymarine and Simrad displays. Mercury’s new Skyhook interfaces with Simrad displays, and Set Point can be networked with Garmin, Furuno, Simrad and Lowrance displays.