Yamaha unveils its own joystick

Posted on Written by Chris Landry

48_yamahaThe much-anticipated joystick-equipped helm control system from Yamaha — called Helm Master — hits the market in March.

The engine builder’s press event to unveil the product — Yamaha’s biggest media presentation since the 2009 debut of the F70 and V-6 series of 4-strokes — was held in late October at its test facility on the banks of the Tennessee River in Bridgeport, Ala. Yamaha’s news came only four weeks after Mercury Marine debuted its Joystick Piloting for outboards at the International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition & Conference.

Mercury and Yamaha have emerged as the first two production engine companies to offer joystick control for outboard boats. Teleflex has the Optimist 360 with joystick for mechanically controlled outboards. Mercury and Yamaha’s technology works with each manufacturer’s electronically controlled high-horsepower 4-strokes.

In addition to Helm Master, Yamaha unveiled 4-cylinder 200- and 150-hp outboards. The F200 is the lightest 4-cylinder 4-stroke on the market, according to Yamaha. “It’s light, powerful and durable,” says Yamaha Marine Group communications manager Martin Peters.

Yamaha president Ben Speciale calls it the “perfect upgrade for the avid boater in the 21- to 26-foot boat class.”

Yamaha installed Helm Master on five boats: a Regulator 34 center console, Contender 35ST, Grady-White Freedom 335, Everglades 355T and Grady-White Express 360. Yamaha hung F200s on seven boats ranging from 18-1/2 to 27 feet.

“The joystick is the one feature that really jumps out at people, but we do not want people to overlook the other helm components,” says Brad Leatherman, OEM technical/tournament support department manager. “Helm Master is not just about the joystick — it is a whole new system.”

The components include Helm Master digital steering, an electronic key switch, digital remote control, redesigned control units (with improved ergonomics), steering cylinders and pumps, and, of course, the joystick. The Command Link Plus 6Y9 gauge functions as the “gateway to the system,” Yamaha says, displaying digital readouts on a 5-inch color high-definition screen.

Steering friction control

New capabilities include automatic trim control, speed control and steering friction control. The latter technology allows the operator to adjust the steering friction — the number of turns lock to lock — from the helm. The on/off buttons to operate the three are on the aft end of the control unit, with speed control requiring two additional switches (faster and slower) on the control’s forward end.

49_yamaha_1Regulator Marine president Joan Maxwell was impressed with the steering friction control. “We can set up the system here at the factory to what we see as appropriate, but owners can then adjust that setting to their liking, based on the conditions and the types of waterways they are piloting their boat in,” says Maxwell, who will offer Helm Master on the company’s 32- and 34-foot models.

Skippers should also like automatic trim control. “As you move up the rpm range, the engines will automatically tilt to position the boat at the perfect running speed, the perfect fuel burn [rate] and best efficiency for the hull,” says Yamaha Marine Group vice president Dean Burnett.

The auto trim should appeal to former owners of inboard boats downsizing to outboard boats in the 30- to 40-foot range, says Leatherman. “They may have no concept of how outboard engine trim works, how it can be used to manipulate the boat position and improve efficiency,” he says. “So they’ll throw the throttle down and forget about the little buttons on the side of the control unit.”

In addition, Yamaha has redesigned the control unit so drivers can rest a palm on the base without accidentally hitting the buttons, Burnett says.

Maxwell says she sees Helm Master’s joystick as an attractive alternative for customers who normally would install a bow thruster but also a wise choice for inexperienced boaters.

Helm Master will be available only through OEMs and won’t be available for repowering, Peters says. “We’ll be working with the boat manufacturers to make sure the system fits their boats perfectly so the consumer is left with total satisfaction,” he says.

That effort is no small undertaking. “We have a four-day training program for boatbuilders,” says Leatherman. “We take their personnel from stem to stern through the system and take them on the water and get them oriented with the initial setup. We will teach them how to set up the system for their particular boat. We are not going to ship a single Helm Master kit until the boatbuilder is validated, trained on the water in our training school, and we are on site for that first installation.”

Helm Master can be paired with Yamaha’s electronically controlled F250, F300 and F350 outboards. The F350 is a V-8; the F225, F250 and F300 are V-6s. The system will be showcased on demo boats in February at the Miami International Boat Show, Peters says. Pricing was unavailable.

New engines, too

The light and compact F200 will excel on small and midsize center consoles, bay boats and hybrids, and pontoons and aluminum boats, according to Yamaha. “The 200 makes tremendous sense because there are so many boats that can take that kind of power and benefit from a lightweight 200, as opposed to a heavier V-6,” Peters says. “It is also a great motor for repowering because it fits on 26-inch centers. It is a narrow motor and easily could replace a lot of 2-strokes in the marketplace  right now.”

At 487 pounds, the F200 weighs 119 pounds less than Yamaha’s V-6 F200 and 14 pounds more than its 2-stroke Z200 HPDI outboard. The 2.8-liter 16-valve dual overhead camshaft powerhead “breathes easily and responds quickly,” Peters says.

49_yamaha_2Yamaha also unveiled a 150-hp 4-stroke — the V MAX SHO 150 — at the press gathering. This outboard gives boaters the kind of acceleration out of the hole and torque associated with 2-strokes, Peters says. The engine will be a good fit for bass boats and flats boats, he says. “It’s a brilliant alternative to a 2-stroke,” Peters says. “If you look at the typical 2-stroke, it is lighter and has arguably a better hole-shot, compared to most 4-strokes. What the V MAX SHO brings is the benefits of a 4-stroke, along with 2-stroke performance.”

The V MAX SHO 150 shares the same 2.8-liter, 4-cylinder powerhead as the new F200 that employs double overhead cams, four valves per cylinder and counterbalance shafts for smooth performance.

This version of the 150 also has variable camshaft timing. “The variable cam timing gives it that pop — that acceleration we refer to as the ‘wow factor’ — that the older Yamaha 150 does not have,” says Leatherman.

At 480 pounds, the 4-stroke V MAX SHO 150 weighs only 12 pounds more than Yamaha’s 2-stroke VZ150.

The mechanically controlled versions of the F200 will be available in March, and the electronically controlled models will hit the market in May. The V MAX SHO 150 will be available in July. Pricing was unavailable.

This article originally appeared in the December 2012 issue.

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