Over the years, BoatTEST.com has extensively tested each of the joystick systems that Mercury has developed. We have consistently been impressed by the control and sensitivity as well as the human interface aspects that Mercury has achieved. The company's new system does not disappoint, and we think owners of large offshore outboard-powered boats deserve the same equipment options as their sterndrive and pod-drive peers.
The Mission of "Joystick Piloting"
The primary purpose of Joystick Piloting for Outboards is to increase the control and ease of maneuverability in close quarters and when docking for both skilled and less experienced boaters on larger outboard-powered boats. But this is more than a docking system; with its waypoint sequencing feature engaged, the boat can be operated at cruising speeds and the course can be adjusted with the joystick or control pad.
Mercury designed the system mainly for boats over 30' (9.14 m), but may be used on some shorter boats, and includes many of the same features offered in the Zeus pod drive and Axius sterndrive systems.
Currently the system is available only in conjunction with the new unique Verado 250-hp and 300-hp engines.
All Designed By Mercury Marine
All the components -- both hardware and software -- have been designed by the team at Mercury. In this way, Mercury is able to integrate the new components seamlessly with other systems that have been around for years. Since all parts of the system are controlled by Mercury, they have complete control – and responsibility – for the smooth and reliable operation of all components.
How it Works
For this system, the engines have a modified steering actuator which allows each Verado engine to act independently. One can be turned to port and be in forward gear, and the other turned to starboard and in reverse. There is no tie-bar forcing the engines to move in tandem.
As a safety feature, the joystick mode can be engaged only when all engines are in neutral. If for some reason the captain wants to switch back to regular throttle control, all he needs to do is move the main throttle out of neutral and the joystick will disengage.
The Black Box. The "thrust vectoring module" is the main component, essentially a computer that contains the software that translates the joystick input into the proper commands to control engine rpm, gear direction, and steering.
Joystick Does it All. All the captain needs to do is move the joystick in the direction he wants the boat to move. Since the controls are proportional, the further the stick is pushed, the faster the boat moves in that direction.
A boater can slide a boat sideways, accurately move it diagonally, spin the boat on its own axis – or do all three almost simultaneously. Obviously this can be extremely handy in marinas with limited space with a strong current or cross wind. Most importantly, the boat can actually be steered and controlled with only one hand.
For beginning boaters, it takes the confusion – and stress – out of puzzling out how to move the controls for the effect desired. It also gives peace of mind to dad when the kids are handling the boat.
One-Hand Operation. The top of the joystick (high-hat) also moves and can be twisted. Twist it clockwise and the boat will spin to starboard on its axis. Twist it counterclockwise and the boat spins to port.
No Bow Thruster Needed
During testing the team at Mercury determined that they could achieve all their desired maneuverability without a bow thruster. Not having a bow thruster is a huge positive in our opinion, because it reduces cost, complexity, problems, and two large holes in the hull.
Eliminating the bow thruster also puts an end to the embarrassing noise that comes with it, alerting everyone in the marina of the boat's arrival, and possibly to the skipper's lack of docking expertise.
Major Features and Functions
Skyhook. "Joystick Piloting" also integrates with Skyhook, Mercury's trademarked feature which utilizes GPS along with an autopilot to hold the boat in a fixed position. With Skyhook turned on, when wind or current attempt to move the boat, the Mercury system automatically makes constant adjustments to not only hold position, but also to hold heading as well.
Auto Trim. When the joystick is engaged the system automatically trims the engines for their optimal position.
Cruise Control. Because Joystick Piloting is compatible with VesselView the Cruise Control feature can be used.
Waypoint Sequencing. Simply chart a course, engage the "Waypoint Sequencing" function and the Joystick Piloting system will follow directions to steer the boat to its programmed destination. While this is an important feature, we caution that this is no substitute for an engaged skipper making sure the course is clear and unobstructed. Rather, this feature is designed more to ease navigation chores and distractions for the skipper while underway.
Slower-Speed Docking. The "Dock" button on the Digital Throttle and Shift (DTS) pad cuts the engine rpm back, making docking even more assured and controlled.
Auto Heading. The control system uses an integrated electronic compass to lock in a heading, thus keeping the boat on course. One-degree changes in the heading can be made by moving the joystick left or right. Ten-degree adjustments can be made from the control pad.
Control Pad. This pad allows the skipper to activate any of the piloting features, or make course corrections as mentioned above, in 10-degree increments.
Handles Triples and Quads
Mercury knew the system had to work with triple and quad engine configurations as well as with twins. In some four-engine configurations, the two port engines move in unison as do the two starboard engines. The precise control calibrations for each boat will be based on the spacing between the engines. In some cases only the outer engines will move while the center two remain stationary. In a triple set-up, the middle engine remains centered or moves to port/starboard depending on what is needed to optimize movement, while the outer engines move independently.
Yes, a boat can be retrofitted with the "Joystick Piloting" system. Since the design does not require any modification to a boat, any boat large enough for twin, triple or quad 250 or 300 Verados is a candidate for retrofit. However, only new model Verado 250s or 300s can be used with the system. Older Verado engines cannot be retrofitted with the new control system.
With so many recreational boats being powered by large outboard engines, this system should have a significant positive impact of the quality of boating for those owners. For example, not only center consoles and walkarounds, but also large outboard-powered express cruisers can now provide all the advantages of joystick control.
For boaters who have wanted to move up in size, but may have thought their skills would limit that, Joystick Piloting will be a welcomed solution.