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February 05, 2013

Helm Master

Yamaha introduces an integrated control system for outboard boats.

On the Stick

Joystick control is the coolest aspect of the system, however. Helm Master’s joystick is the device that gives intuitive throttle, shift and steering control. Since the engine tie bars are eliminated, the ­engines vector independently to give sideways crab-walking movement along with diagonal, forward or reverse. ­Rotate the joystick to spin the boat in a circle on its center of gravity. With this ­ability, docking or ­maneuvering in tight quarters can be mastered quickly, even by novice boaters. The control’s ­high-mode option increases engine rpm if more power is needed to compensate for a strong current when backing into a slip. The joystick function will be handy in ­fishing situations too.

Fish-Fighting Tool

Say you have a hot fish on the line and need to back down quickly or change course to maintain the proper angle on the line. The joystick will let you do that without manually shifting the engines in and out of gear. Precise incremental speed adjustments will help keep the right amount of tension on the line when slow-trolling or ­live-baiting. During bottomfishing trips, the joystick will allow the helmsman to maintain position over a spot with minimal effort. Helm Master doesn’t include an automatic power-anchor mode, but the engines can be shifted into neutral when a fish is close so there’s less risk of cutoffs. 

Total Simplicity

Helm Master has many advantages besides digital control. The joystick footprint is small, so it won’t take up much room at the helm. The companion digital-steering helm doesn’t require hydraulic hoses (nor does a second station), and it tilts for greater comfort. Wiring harnesses are simplified for easier rigging. The required control units and other components mount in an aft compartment, so the installation is clean and accessible. 


Because of detailed adjustments required, Helm Master will be available only through Yamaha’s partner ­boatbuilders, not directly to consumers. The system will be available ­starting in March.

“We believe there are going to be 15 to 20 key players for Helm Master in our builder network,” ­Leatherman ­explains. The added cost will be determined by each boat company. Joe Neber, president of Contender Boats, estimates an upcharge of $24,000 for a twin-outboard application and $30,000 for triples. Grady-White had not yet determined the added charge for its models as of press time, according to Joey Weller, Grady’s vice president of sales. Regardless, the cost of the system will often be offset by subtracting the bow-thruster option, which isn’t absolutely necessary with the Helm Master’s capability.

Smartphones, tablet computers and other fingertip-activated digital gadgets have forever changed how we ­communicate and play. With the Helm Master control system, boating has joined the digital age in a very useful way.