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November 05, 2012

Yamaha Helm Master

Yamaha's fully integrated boat control system includes a digital steering helm, fly-by-wire throttle and digital joystick control.

See complete details of the Yamaha Helm Master System in the February issue of Salt Water Sportsman. Be sure to scroll through the 16-image gallery, above.

Yamaha Outboards rolled out its much anticipated Helm Master system to the media this week, and I had chance to experience the benefits of what this engine builder calls a “fully integrated boat control system.” I absolutely loved the new joystick. Very cool.

Still, Helm Master represents much more than just joystick steering. I think it represents a quantum leap in the boat control systems. No cables or hydraulic hoses originate from behind the helm. All components link up via digital electronics. This includes electronic steering of twin or triple Yamaha outboards.

Helm Master integrates a number of components, including a digital steering helm, fly-by-wire throttle and shift, electronic key switch, new CommandLink 6Y9 color display and, of course, a digital joystick control. Behind-the-scenes elements include powertrain control units, steering control units, power steering pumps, bypass valves and steering cylinders (one per engine).

Helm Master also allows the captain to program a new Trim Assist feature to auto-trim the engine to preset levels at various rpm points. There’s also a Y-Cop theft-deterrent feature built into the system.

Only Yamaha-partner boat brands will feature Helm Master, and even then you’ll find it only in a select number of new models powered by Yamaha’s 4.2-liter V-6 outboards and the F350 V-8. You’ll be able to see and try the system for the first time at the 2013 Miami International Boat Show (February 14-18).

For boaters, the focal point seems to be on the joystick low-speed steering control. I used it in docking situations, and found it, well, a joy to use. The first time I steered an Everglades 355T with triple F350s, and then jumped on a Grady-White Freedom 335 with twin F350s. It requires some getting-used-to, but once you get the hang of it, the joystick becomes second nature.

To use effectively, focus on where you want to put the boat. Avoid looking at the engines, as you might when docking in a conventional manner. The engines toe out to move the boat, and that’s completely mind-boggling.

The boat will pivot on the point where you are standing (accomplished by twisting the joystick). Avoid returning to neutral as you maneuver the boat; simply continue to point the joystick in the direction you want to the boat to travel, making corrections without returning to neutral.

One feature missing in Yamaha’s Helm Master is skyhook-type mode that holds the boat in position, such as over a wreck while fishing. There's no indication that Yamaha plans to add this feature to Helm Master.

You can expect to see Helm Master-equipped boats at dealers beginning in March 2013. Yamaha would not reveal an estimated cost of the system, but did say that the retail price will be set by boat builders as part of the overall boat package.