Is Yamaha’s Helm Master EX with joystick valuable on a single-engine boat?
That’s the question our team asked when in November, masked men from Yamaha met us at the Fort Myers Yacht Basin downtown. Two unmasked vessels: a dual-engine Jupiter 27 center-console and a single-engine Robalo Cayman 246 Bay were dockside. With plenty of multi-engine joystick time under our belt, we opted for a new experience with the Robalo’s single engine.
The EX Factor
The joystick is the top tier of the new Yamaha Helm Master EX operating system. The EX iteration is compatible with all F-series DEC controlled Yamaha outboards 150 hp and up. The tiered system begins with the Digital Electronic Control (electronic throttle and shift), to which optional Digital Electronic Steering can be added. That allows you to customize the steering resistance and adjust the lock-to-lock steering from four to nine revolutions, depending on your rpm. DES works without hydraulics, as does the Yamaha autopilot—the third tier—and that saves a considerable amount of weight in pumps, hoses and fluids.
There are no black boxes for the autopilot, just a small ECM, heading sensor and antenna plugged into the system. From the DEC to the joystick, all components can be easily retrofit. With 100 percent digital controls, the wheel is just bolted to the dash, and the cable links it and the joystick to the Helm Master display and the electronic steering. Without hydraulics, the autopilot is plug-and-play.
Garmin builds Yamaha’s full-featured MFD, the CL7 display, and it is essentially a multifunction display with chart-plotting and sonar-scanning capabilities. The EX system is also compatible with Raymarine’s Axiom series displays. A new 5-inch touchscreen display, the CL5, is available for Helm Master EX, as well.
But how ‘bout that single-engine joystick. Did it work? Yes it did.
With it we could dock easily without having to spin the helm and simultaneously work the throttle and shift. The single-lever control handles vector and thrust, shifting from forward to reverse for fast, easy and finely tuned adjustments in direction and speed.
But can you pivot with a joystick on a single powerplant?
To pivot counterclockwise, twist the stick to full port, and begin moving it fore and aft to shift from forward to reverse and feed in throttle. The first thing you will notice in this maneuver—besides the fact that it works pretty neatly—is that it’s smooth as well. No matter how fast you shift from forward to reverse, the motor is throttled down to idle speed before the shift begins, and then throttles up when it’s complete. It happens so quickly, the rpm change on the instruments is barely visible and barely discernible to the skipper. Officially, we could not crab the boat with the stick and single outboard, but Yamaha’s Capt. Sean Gill discovered a hack that would “walk” it sideways. And it is easy.
Just pull back the stick a bit, then turn forward, twist, and quickly repeat. With a moment’s practice, the rhythm is easy to repeat, and with five or six repetitions, we had a foot between us and the dock—enough room to clear the stern as we turned away.
The electronic steering has to be selected to get the Yamaha autopilot, which also has to be present to add the full-maneuverability joystick. The logic is that the autopilot powers the joystick, but the joystick adds additional controls to the autopilot.
Tap “Fish Point” on the joystick to hold your boat over a given waypoint without concern for the boat’s heading; the bow or stern (depending on what the operator selects) will swing downwind or down-current. Tap “Stay Point” on multi-engine installations to keep the vessel on station and maintain a heading—a nice feature when waiting for a slip at the gas dock. “Drift Point” is beautiful for drift-fishing, especially with a kite; it lets the vessel drift while maintaining heading so lines and kites aren’t entangled. All of these features can be controlled with and are contingent on having the autopilot function.
The joystick also lets you change a course in autopilot mode just by turning the stick. Or set a parallel course by pressing the stick to starboard or port. That lets you give an approaching vessel a wider berth without having to deactivate the autopilot.
If you are thinking all these features seem dronelike in quality—bingo!
And that becomes even more apparent on multi-engine vessels. With the dual-engine Jupiter, we could pivot exactly on position. A twist of the stick issues the command “pivot in place,” and the Helm Master EX system executes it flawlessly. Crabbing works the same way, ensuring that your sidestep is perfectly aligned to your intentions.
While many of these controls and maneuvers are possible in other integrated control systems, the Helm Master EX offers a smoother, more intuitive global control system than we have experienced with other systems.
Control is power.