INNOVATION: ZF Marine debuts Joystick Maneuvering System

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ZF Marine introduced at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show a system that controls low-speed steering and power via a helm joystick, bringing pod-like maneuverability to conventional shaft-driven inboard boats.

“Boatbuilders are really excited about JMS because they don’t have to re-engineer the entire hull to accommodate a pod system,” Martin Meissner, ZF marketing manager, told Trade Only Today. “They can keep building traditional hulls but now can offer the maneuverability available with pods.”

ZF’s Joystick Maneuvering System is expected to be available at the end of the year. (Incidentally, the company, which manufactures the transmission for the Zeus pod drive system, also announced during the show that it will be offering its own pod drive for recreational boats from 30 to 48 feet.)

“Maneuvers such as sideways docking, 360-degree spot rotation, and other complicated moves — usually difficult with standard control levers — become easy operations with the JMS system, since it also controls engine speed and transmission shifting,” said Meissner.

Soundings Trade Only editor-in-chief Bill Sisson and I had an opportunity to operate the system, which was installed on a Bertram 630. “I was impressed,” said Sisson. “The close-quarters maneuverability was quite similar to the pod-powered boats I’ve driven.”

JMS works with two other ZF components — the SmartCommand control system and transmissions equipped with trolling valves.

JMS allows movement of a traditional shaftline vessel in any direction. The joystick, via the SmartCommand system, communicates with the two main engines and the bow thruster. The bow thruster kicks in primarily during side-to-side movement. Bow thruster size is determined by the vessel’s weight, waterline length, horsepower and distance between the props.

When the joystick system is engaged, the rudders remain in the ahead position, allowing the props and bow thruster to do the work. JMS is used only for low-speed maneuvering and cannot accelerate beyond a preset throttle percentage.

The system transitions to conventional throttle and steering controls at higher speeds. To make that transition, the driver must press a button on the SmartCommand pad. In the future, the skipper will be able to simply engage the throttles to exit JMS.

A number of boatbuilders tested the system aboard the Bertram 630 and are interested in the technology, said Meissner. The Ferretti Group has the system installed in one of its yachts, which was displayed at the Genoa Boat Show in October, according to ZF Marine executive vice president and general manager Vittorio Rasera.

Aboard the Bertram, H.A. Turner, an independent captain, demonstrated several functions executed via the SmartCommand control pad, including Hold Heading, which uses an electric compass to keep the vessel on a specific course. ZF also plans to integrate a GPS into the system, which will allow the Hold Heading function to account for and adjust to the tide, wind and current. The Station Keeping function will enable the vessel to remain in an exact position and orientation with the press of a button.

JMS will get even better, said Meissner. Another ZF technology called SteerCommand will be integrated with the system, he said, which will allow the rudders to move independently at all speeds, said Meissner. (The pod drives in both the Cummins MerCruiser Diesel Zeus and the Volvo Penta IPS have this capability.) ZF officials could not say when SteerCommand will be integrated with JMS.

Even without SteerCommand, the group of editors and dealers aboard the Bertram liked what they saw.

Robert Hazard, vice president of sales and marketing for E.H. Yachts in Egg Harbor City, N.J., said his company is installing the system on a 52-foot Buddy Davis. “I’m very impressed … very impressed,” he said after the demonstration.

Pricing was not available at press time.

— Chris Landry
chris.soundings@gmail.com

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