Five years ago Volvo Penta rocked the boating world with its revolutionary IPS system with pod drives and joystick. The IPS propulsion system was just for inboard-powered boats at the small end of the range (where the unit numbers are largest). Its joystick made docking so easy even a caveman could do it and the system became very popular. Many people actually moved up from twin stern drive boats to inboard power just so be able to get the joystick function. Now, Mom (and Dad) could easily dock the boat without providing amusing entertainment for dockside gawkers. Over the years, over 10,000 boats have been sold with Volvo's IPS system. But what about twin sterndrive boats? Why couldn't Volvo Penta develop a joystick system for them? It could, and it has.
Volvo Penta Sterndrive Joystick Captain's Report
If you think that joysticks are only for large inboard boats or pod drives, think again. Volvo Penta has developed a joystick for twin sterndrive boats, gas or diesel.
After more than two years of working on the new Sterndrive Joystick system with boat builders and end-users, Volvo Penta recently made their new system available to us for testing. One of the advantages of being the second company out with technology in a new area is that the late-comer gets the advantage of seeing everything.
As Clint Moore, President of Volvo Penta of the Americas told us a couple of years ago, "We don't introduce new products until we're ready." Now the Volvo Penta Sterndrive Joystick is ready, and so were we.
We spent a full day testing the Volvo Sterndrive Joystick system, doing every thing we could think of from close quarter docking to station-holding in a current, to stop-and-go, twist and turn maneuvers at both high speed and low speed settings.Capt. Steve Says...
Joysticks aren’t new and we all know what to expect of them. When I got the call that I was going to test the new Volvo Penta Sterndrive Joystick, I knew just what to expect. But maybe that was putting the cart before the horse. What if it actually didn’t handle as expected?
I wasn’t too worried about that, but just the same, during the flight to the secret Volvo Penta test facility (in an undisclosed location) I came up with a list of my own expectations that I would set out to test on this new drive system. It’s a fair bet that my list would equal yours, so with that in hand, I stepped up to the dock and onto the Sterndrive Joystick demonstrator... a brand new Formula 310 BR. Is the Joystick Intuitive?
First things first. I ease into the helm and there is a lot of Volvo Penta going on here, but I was focusing on the joystick to my right. Everything else looked manageable and self explanatory. Just the same, a Swedish Volvo Penta executive followed me on board and in his accented English said “let me show you how it works.”
“No thanks," I said, "Are you going to tell everyone who buys Sterndrive Joystick how it works?” Item number one on my list was “Do I need a manual for this thing?" If I do, the game's over.
If I don’t have to read a manual, then no one else will and it scores a major hurdle. As it turned out, I didn’t need one and you won’t either. I fired up the engines and started maneuvering right away. There’s no mystery, no learning curve, and no complication. Turns out my new Swedish friend was only being courteous, rather than explanatory, and my stock in both him and Volvo Penta went up. The Joystick's Dual Modes
Indeed, there wasn’t anything complicated about this joystick. It’s a base unit with two buttons, and a joystick. Having run my share of “sticks” I figured the two buttons were for two power settings and I was right (still no reading a manual here). I pushed the button on the left, the international side for “easier” and started yanking. As expected, this was “docking mode”- a gentler power setting for approaching a dock flanked by expensive fiberglass that you don’t want to rush into.
Max rpm moving sideways in this mode seemed to hover around 1200 and that gave me enough control to counter a moderate crosswind and/or current. The joystick worked progressively, also as expected. Moving the stick a little, moved the boat a little, and moving it a lot… well, you can guess the outcome there.
Pressing the second button (the one to the right) had me in “boost mode”, and that’s my term for it. I’m not sure what Volvo Penta’s term is and I didn’t think to ask. The name is inconsequential as the results are predictable. We had more maneuvering power at the touch of a button. Now we could counter a lot more adversity, like the flow just before a waterfall, or perhaps our desire to move sideways against a named storm. Well, that may be overstating things, but there was a marked boost in power and handling that would come in handy if I were looking to get out of harm’s way in a hurry.
I wouldn’t necessarily approach the dock in this mode, but having its ability was a decided comfort as we’ve all needed to get out of Dodge in a hurry before someone else smacked into us. Max rpm moving sideways in this mode was around 2000 so you can imagine the authority that I had at my fingertips. Activating and Deactivating
What I liked about this system was that I needed to activate it to make it work. It didn’t just
work by twisting or moving the joystick. That’s important, especially where smaller boats -- that this system is targeting -- are concerned. You don’t have to worry about one of the kids bumping into the joystick and sending the boat into the boat in front of you.
In order to get the joystick to respond, you need to push a button to activate it. And it took me all of 15 seconds to discover a clever nuance of that activating, too. First, both engines need to be in neutral (and yes, you need two engines for this level of maneuverability). Put either engine control into gear and you de-activate the joystick, just as it should be. It would be problematic to have to do anything else.
Next, you push the left button, the docking mode button. Now you can maneuver to your heart’s content in all directions. Rotating the joystick rotates the boat in the same direction you rotate the joystick. To engage the “boost mode” you have to have docking mode engaged first, then you can up the power. You cannot start out in “boost mode” and that is a brilliant design feature that will keep a lot of people from getting themselves into trouble. You have to start out easy and then take another step to get more power.
To disengage the system, just move an engine control into gear or press the left button again. You’re back to operating the boat in a conventional, normal way. So How Responsive is it?
Very responsive. Before I arrived, they had the test boat tied to a dock and then moved two other boats in, front and back, leaving 6”-8” (15-20cm) of room between the bow and stern of the test boat. After my “getting the feel” tests, they pointed me to the space between the two boats and instructed me to “pull her in there”. I questioned whether it would even fit or not and they assured me it would.
Winds were 5-10mph quartering, current was 1-1.5mph on the beam... Great! You can see it in the video, but sure enough, it took little effort to do what otherwise would have been impossible. I eased the 31' (9.45 m) test boat right into the spot with scant room to spare. At this point, I also appreciated the fact that pulling out would also be problematic, and spring lines would be useless. Again, the Sterndrive Joystick worked perfectly and I was out and away in short order. The Joystick "Feel"
So how does it feel? Well, if you think you’re going to pull into the dock with the same aggressive stick handling that you use to play Halo on your X-Box, prepare for disappointment. This requires a more gentle hand and gentle touch. When you move the Sterndrive Joystick itself, you engage a drive system. You can feel and hear it shift into gear. Would you keep throwing your car from forward to reverse and back again, all the while stomping on the gas? Of course not. Treat your boat the same way.
My advice is to handle the joystick like you hold a baby bird and be gentle. Once engaged, you can move the stick further to go faster, but enter gently and switch direction gently. I did this automatically and naturally. But what would happen if I was aggressive and jerked the joystick from one side to the other quickly or in a panic?
Does the system have a “self-preservation” mode? The answer is yes -- the EVC system WILL NOT allow the drive to shift unless the engines are below 750 RPM. This feature prevents drive damage. Questions Remained
If this system worked by independently controlling the two outdrives, what position would they return to when the system was de-activated? Would I be turned hard left, straight, the direction I was in before engaging the system, what? And how would I know where the drives were pointing when starting up?
The answer is, the drives center themselves upon deactivating the Sterndrive Joystick. You can pull out straight ahead once in gear.
The valve doesn’t care how the wheel is positioned. It responds to the turns, not the position of the wheel. So wherever you have it facing when you disengage the Sterndrive Joystick, that’s your new straight ahead position. Of course, if you are like me (who isn’t?) just center the wheel before disengaging the system. Again, brilliant design, in my opinion. Recommendation
Volvo Penta's Sterndrive Joystick system will go a long way towards not only avoiding those embarrassing moments at the dock, but giving you that boost of confidence in being able to handle a boat that’s a little bigger than what you thought you could handle. Only now, even the wife and kids will be able handle it too -- so learn to share. You'll be surprised at how much more exciting they will be to come boating with you!
The big question: Is the Sterndrive Joystick worth the up-charge? Only you can answer that question. But our guess is that unless you and your significant other are both proficient with twin engine docking and mooring, it is worth the extra beans. After all, the cost of the Sterndrive Joystick is only a small percent of the total price of the boat, and eliminating the anxiety most people have a about docking makes the Sterndrive Joystick a no-brainer.
And, think of all the money you'll save because now you don't have to buy one of those big inboard boats with an IPS system!