Retrofit Joystick Coming from ZF - 03/18/2009

If you are planning to buy a new diesel-powered boat this spring that has ZF marine gears you can have it fitted with ZF’s new Joystick Maneuvering System (JMS). Already Viking, Tiara, and MasterCraft are offering the system on some of their models. New boats at dealerships or in process at the factory can have the JMS installed or retro-fitted, according to a ZF spokesman this week. Moreover we’re told that ZF plans to offer a JMS retrofit for the aftermarket as early as this fall.

ZF makes the fly-by-wire control systems for all of its transmissions and pod drives.

The new Joystick Maneuvering System (JMS) from ZF Marine is a control system that provides simple and intuitive boat control that can be matched to all ZF Marine CAN-based propulsion systems. When interfaced with ZF Marine’s SmartCommand control system in a twin engine traditional shaft line application and a bow thruster, JMS can provide the same ease of control expected from azimuth pod drive systems, says the company.

This simple joystick can now be retrofitted to many boats with ZF transmissions. Maneuvers such as sideways docking, 360-degree spot rotation, and other complicated or difficult moves become easy operations with the JMS system since it also controls engine speed and transmission shifting, a ZF spokesman said. “This joystick system is ideal for people who don’t’ have the comfort level to dock in tight quarters or in places with cross currents or both,” he said.

Additional Features

Additional features, such as “Hold Heading”, are integrated with an electric compass and keep the vessel on a specific course, fine tuning the propulsion system to compensate for wind, current, or other external forces. The “Station Keeping” function, integrated with a GPS receiver, enables the vessel to remain in an exact position and orientation with the press of a button. (This is called “Sky Hook” in another system.)

In all, it is possible to install up to six control stations enabling maneuvering of the boat from any location.

ZF10 ZF9300
ZF makes over 100 models of marine gears handling engines from 26-hp (model ZF 6M, left), to 4951-hp (model ZF 9351).

Aftermarket Retrofit Package Coming

This week a spokesman for the company said that this fall ZF plans to have a retrofit “package” available for the aftermarket. Theoretically, the JMS system could be installed on virtually any boat with ZF marine gears, but units without trolling valves, electronic control of both the marine gears and the engines, and a bow thruster would have to have all of those items retrofit before the SmartCommand is installed. Clearly, in that case the cost of rehab might not be justified to many boat owners.

Nevertheless, such a retrofit package might have some appeal to people wishing to sell their old boats by making them an attractive joystick alternative to the competition. A spokesman for ZF said the JMS with SmartCommand software is written in such a way that the service personnel will be able to calibrate the system to each individual boat at the time of installation. “Since the system had to be designed to go into hundreds of models by dozens of brands,” said the ZF spokesman, “in-the-field calibration had to be designed into the system from the start.” Given the diversity of parameters involved, we find this capability remarkable.

As this product develops and more builders take it on as an option we will keep you posted.

ZF is involved with marine drive systems at all levels.

The Company

ZF might be the biggest company most people have never heard of. Headquartered in Friedrichshafen, Germany, ZF employs approximately 58,000 people at 119 locations in 25 countries, and had total sales of $17.3 billion in 2007. (That is about half the size of the whole U.S. marine industry combined!) ZF Marine LLC is a member of the ZF Marine Group , headquartered at ZF Padova SpA Italy. ZF Marine offers complete marine propulsion systems, including transmissions, propellers, control systems, surface drives, POD drives, and shaft brakes for all types of vessels. ZF is a leading worldwide supplier of driveline and chassis technology for nearly every application.

If you are interested in a retrofit or would like to know more contact ZF Marine LLC at 877.896.4040 or visit