The term “joystick” was coined by pioneer aviators, and the invention must have added to the exhilaration and joy of flight.
Joy was not the emotion we experienced when we grasped the joystick of a Bennington R24 pontoon equipped with the new Yamaha Helm Master EX control system, but we will admit to excited anticipation. It was our first opportunity to experience joystick control for a single engine, a feature of Yamaha’s Helm Master EX that is exclusive to the industry, from both OEM and aftermarket sources.
The Helm Master EX system consists of all-new software and hardware that can be rigged with up to four Yamaha digital electronic control (DEC) outboards from 150 to 425 hp. Installed in layers, the system starts with a new DEC control and digital electric steering (not required for motors with integral power steering). Other components are a new autopilot system, which supports virtual anchor modes, a 5- or 7-inch Yamaha touchscreen display, and the joystick.
We started the demo by trying out the Track Point autopilot, which features one-button heading and course hold. We used the touchscreen to set up a quick multi-waypoint course, setting the system to coast down to a stop at the destination and engage a SetPoint virtual anchor mode to maintain that position. It was all very slick and easy to use. You could set up a sunset-cruise course, and sit back and let Helm Master chauffeur your boat around the lake. The autopilot and SetPoint functions could be handy for anglers, but only if the boat has a 25-inch transom. The 20-inch Yamaha V Max SHO models are not offered with digital controls.
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In a single-engine application, the Helm Master EX joystick doesn’t offer the complete boat control available with multiple engines; it cannot make the boat spin within its length or walk sideways up to a dock. From a functional standpoint, the boat behaves as it would without the joystick. What is gained is fingertip control of steering, throttle and shifting for low-speed maneuvers. Through the joystick, the electric steering can go lock-to-lock in less than two seconds, without the drama of flailing at the wheel with two hands. And you can accomplish a shift from forward to reverse instantly as you steer from full-lock port to full-lock starboard, without ever looking down. With some practice, intuition takes over, and the tension and anxiety many boaters might feel when docking a boat should be greatly diminished.
The price for this stress reduction is determined by the boatbuilder, and will depend on whether the builder is rigging one of the new Yamaha F250 or F300 motors as standard equipment, or a 425 XTO with DEC and integral power steering, or a motor that requires the separate digital electric steering. If you are considering a repower or up-fit project with a Yamaha DEC outboard, a Helm Master EX kit from Yamaha will cost between $11,200 and $16,000, depending on the power-steering system and display choice. Some may consider this system and find the joystick control desirable, but the autopilot and SetPoint functions less so. Alas, that’s not how Yamaha has assembled this technology. The steering-control software is by necessity part of the auto-pilot. We think the value proposition comes down to the personal utility you see in the entire system.