Propulsion preview

Yamaha last year ramped up its outboard offerings for the freshwater market, producing four high-output 4-strokes, including this 175-hp engine.

Yamaha last year ramped up its outboard offerings for the freshwater market, producing four high-output 4-strokes, including this 175-hp engine.

The drive to make boating easier has kicked into high gear in the industry’s propulsion segment since our last detailed propulsion report (in the June 2014 issue).

The engines and accompanying systems at the February boat shows in Miami will illustrate the easy-boating sales and marketing efforts. (The Miami International Boat Show and the Yacht & Brokerage Show in Miami Beach run simultaneously Feb. 12-16.)

The production of new non-pod-drive joystick helm control systems, including joysticks for inboards and outboards, represents a big part of the growth in the propulsion arena. They function with or without thrusters, depending on the product. Some of these installations allow owners to retrofit a boat with a joystick system.

The Yacht Controller JCS — Joystick Control System — from Yacht Controller LLC is one example. The Coral Gables, Fla., company introduced its Fusion wireless joystick at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show last fall. It teams up all docking controls in a single-handed remote unit with a mini-joystick knob and buttons for low-speed operation using the inboards and bow and stern thrusters. The system also can operate as many as two anchor windlasses, plus gangways, garages, cablemasters, cranes and tender lifts. Fusion is the progression of the original Yacht Controller remote, which had no joystick, and the JCS helm-mounted unit.

The versatility of the Yacht Controller, whether fixed-mount or wireless, gives the skipper precise control of the boat at low speeds, says company president Gerald Berton. By simply pressing and holding a button above the joystick, you can engage the bow or stern thruster exclusively, still using the joystick, to nudge the boat to port or starboard. Release the button, and joystick operation returns to normal mode, using both engines and thrusters.

The JCS system retails for about $16,000, which does not include the thrusters or installation costs. Add $2,500 for the Fusion remote.

Yacht Controller also has introduced its “cost-effective” Sport Joystick for center consoles and small yachts. This helm-mounted system links the engines and the thrusters for low-speed operation, and a wireless handheld remote (with buttons, no joystick) can be ordered.

Yacht Controller’s Fusion wireless joystick gives you freedom to control the boat away from the helm or on a dock.

Yacht Controller’s Fusion wireless joystick gives you freedom to control the boat away from the helm or on a dock.

Joystick systems for outboards hit the market only three years ago. At the 2012 Miami boat show I tested Teleflex Marine’s (now SeaStar Solutions) Optimus 360 control system with joystick and power steering. Yamaha, Mercury, Suzuki and Evinrude offer their own joystick technology.

Honda has been hinting about introducing its own product. The engine-maker last year came to market with its fly-by-wire Intelligent Shift and Throttle system, capable of controlling as many as four engines and two control stations. “Once you have the electronic throttle and shift, [the joystick] is the next logical step,” says senior manager Mark DiPietro.

One switch on the throttle controls the simultaneous trimming of all engines; of course, you have individual trim switches for fine-tuning each engine’s angle of attack. Installation is simple, with one connection of a communication cable between the engine and helm-mounted control head. With a second control head and connecting cable you can add a second station, says Honda.

Yamaha’s Helm Master, introduced in 2012, now can handle quad applications for boats 40 feet and bigger. Last October at Yamaha’s U.S. test center in Bridgeport, Ala., I tried Helm Master on a 42-foot Hydra-Sports with quad F350s. I’ve driven boats with quicker-responding joystick systems, but Helm Master did just fine, considering it was controlling such a large boat without a bow thruster.

I chatted with Yamaha regional application engineer Bill Craft about the operation of Helm Master with quads. He says the best way to operate the joystick — at least on this boat — is to engage power in a steady, consistent manner, moving the boat slowly. Pushing hard churns up prop wash and reduces bite. He was right — slower was better.

The Evinrude E-TEC G2’s debut reaffirmed BRP’s commitment to 2-stroke technology.

The Evinrude E-TEC G2’s debut reaffirmed BRP’s commitment to 2-stroke technology.


Yamaha concentrated on the freshwater outboard market in 2014. The engine maker rolled out four new models of high-output 4-strokes to max out top-end speed — a high priority for freshwater bass anglers. The engines, which come in 115-, 150-, 175- and 250-hp models — Yamaha’s Super High Output lineup — will be available in early spring.

Yamaha also has come out with two upgraded engines — the F150 and F8 outboards. Improvements to the 150 — Yamaha’s best-selling outboard in the United States, with 150,000 units sold — include a better clutch for smoother shifting, and it now has the variable trolling feature to increase rpm in increments of 500. Yamaha fitted the F8 with a more ergonomic shift lever. You can stow it more easily with its new rear resting pads, and the tiller folds with little effort. Both engines have been given a more modern appearance.

Yamaha began 2014 by introducing the lighter and more efficient F115. The original 115 was retired after 15 years on the market. Bridging the gap between its 150- and 200-hp models, Yamaha also added a 175-hp outboard. The new F115 weighs 24 pounds less than its predecessor but has a greater displacement — 1.8 liters, compared with the original’s 1.7 liters.

Mercury was to unveil new product in late January. The company was tight-lipped about specifics.

In 2014, Mercury debuted its latest 115 FourStroke outboard, one of three new 4-strokes that use the same 2.1-liter powerhead. I was able to try out the 115, along with the other two engines — the 75 and 90 — at Mercury’s Fond du Lac, Wis., headquarters last summer. The 90- and 115-hp models include the Command Thrust gear case. This larger lower unit packs more power for heavier boat applications. Mercury builds its 150 FourStroke with the same gearcase but a different gear ratio.

Bombardier Recreational Products arguably stole the propulsion spotlight in 2014 with the introduction of a new lineup of high-horsepower outboards — the Evinrude E-TEC G2 — reaffirming, to say the least, its commitment to 2-stroke technology.

Volvo Penta began rolling out its General Motors Gen V gas sterndrives in late 2014. This is the 240-hp Gen V package. Other models will follow this year.

Volvo Penta began rolling out its General Motors Gen V gas sterndrives in late 2014. This is the 240-hp Gen V package. Other models will follow this year.

“For the outboard application, no other technology better meets the needs of the consumer than E-TEC,” Jason Eckman, product marketing manager for marine propulsion systems, said after BRP’s press introduction last summer. “Nothing else comes close to delivering the … performance while meeting all emissions requirements like an Evinrude E-TEC.”

The G2, available in 200-, 225-, 250- and 300-hp models, also is the first 2-stroke outboard specifically designed for the direct-injection system, BRP says.

BRP says the G2s weigh slightly more than other 2-strokes — 537 to 558 pounds —in part because of components such as power steering and a 2-gallon oil reservoir. Innovations include a new “starboard-starboard” engine design with two identical piston chambers, which BRP says are the primary source of the torque and long-term reliability.

BRP manufactures the engines with integrated hydraulic power steering with three levels of assist (minimal, medium, maximum), an automatic trim system and dual-axis rigging that routes all engine cables through one tube for a clutter-free transom.

Suzuki came out with a new high-horsepower engine in 2014, too —its 200-hp DF200A 4-cylinder 4-stroke. The company says the inline engine matches the performance expected from a V-6.

A 175-cubic-inch block and a higher compression ratio churn up acceleration and strengthen low-end torque. The DF200A weighs 498 pounds — more than 12 percent less than Suzuki’s V-6 200. It uses the same lean-burn technology to maximize fuel economy.

Sterndrives and inboards

Volvo Penta of the Americas introduced its next generation of marine gasoline engines in late 2014, reaffirming its commitment to using General Motors engine blocks. “We know that for our customers and dealers, they are going to get great quality, competitive cost and a technology bump that will give them great reason to buy a Volvo Penta sterndrive,” president Ron Huibers told me at the Fort Lauderdale show in October. “We have been with GM in the gas business for 15-plus years, and we’ve had great success.”

Mercury has begun building its own gasoline sterndrive engines and already has produced a MerCruiser 250-hp 4.5-liter engine. Mercury, which previously used General Motors blocks, made the switch to produce engines more suited for marine use.

At the 2014 Marine Dealer Conference & Expo in November, the industry got its first look at the new Volvo Penta 200- and 240-hp V-6s with the fifth generation of GM motors. Volvo Penta will provide a sneak peak at its new Gen V engine at the Miami show. The company will have a full family of the next-generation gasoline engines by 2016.

Mercury’s 363-pound 115 FourStroke hit the market last year. New engines are expected in Miami.

Mercury’s 363-pound 115 FourStroke hit the market last year. New engines are expected in Miami.

There are several reason for continuing to use GM engines, Huibers says, including the addition of common-rail fuel injection, the depth of GM engineering and expertise, competitive cost and reliability, the continued use of Variable Valve Timing, and fresh water cooling as a standard component in all Gen V engines.

“With common-rail injection you get higher compression ratios, so you get better efficiency, increased torque and wide-band O2 sensors to accommodate variations in fuel quality,” Huibers says. “With GM, we have been riding a horse that’s a real thoroughbred. Now along comes this Gen V engine, and together we’ve just taken it to a whole new level.”

The recently introduced V8-430 and V8-380 — Gen IV engines — are already equipped with VVT, which alters valve timing for immediate on-demand combustion through faster and more efficient use of air and fuel.

“We are the diesel experts,” Huibers says. “Where are the gasoline [engine] experts in the world? They are right here in the U.S. When you operate these engines, you are proud of that American muscle. They are incredible. The technology leaps of Gen V are huge.”

Mercury also has outlined its long-term sterndrive propulsion plan — and explained why it dropped the GM blocks. “With outboards, we have always had the luxury of deciding what technology we wanted in our engines, and now we can do the same with our sterndrive engines,” says David Foulkes, vice president of product development, engineering and racing. “We are now able to give [our customers] features that are built into the engine exclusively because they are marine engines” and not marinized auto engines.

Transitioning to inboards, Cummins continues to promote its repowering prowess and its new joystick system — the Cummins Inboard Joystick.

“We are trying to focus our promotion efforts around these projects and also trying to get out the word that Cummins doesn’t only sell to production builders,” says Andy Kelly, marketing communications manager for Cummins Recreational and Light Commercial Marine. “There are a lot of boats that have old, tired engines, and we’ve got a variety of different engines that can fit into those spaces. So you can have cleaner emissions, better fuel economy and warranties. We have a [reconditioned] engine line, as well as a new-engine line.”

Cummins Inboard Joystick is compatible with a “new class of DC thrusters with extended run-time capability,” says Kelly. It’s designed specifically for operation with conventional inboards and transmissions. It teams up with the following Cummins engines: the QSB6.7 (250 to 550 hp); QSC8.3 (500 to 600 hp); QSL9 (285 to 405 hp); and QSM11 (300 to 715 hp) engines. Vetus-Maxwell supplies the Cummins thrusters.

Vetus-Maxwell has been making some news, too. At the Fort Lauderdale show I got a firsthand demonstration of how its Extended Run Time bow and stern thrusters can be used in single-inboard applications with a joystick helm setup.

A joystick helm control system was installed in a single-inboard-powered 24-foot 1979 Topaz dual console with a 260-hp Yanmar diesel. Vetus fitted the boat with both a bow and a stern thruster, along with a Glendinning electronic throttle and shift control and Glendinning joystick control.

Elco will soon have five electric outboards from 5 to 25 hp on the market.

Elco will soon have five electric outboards from 5 to 25 hp onthe market.

“We have had this system in twin-engine applications, but this is the first single-engine installation,” Vetus-Maxwell sales manager Chris DeBoy told me during my test boat demo ride. “Single-engine boats are not the most maneuverable boats. This gives the skipper complete control for backing into a slip, pulling up to a face dock or any other tricky maneuver.”

It can be installed on boats from 24 feet and up with gasoline or diesel engines. At least one boat company — a builder of Down East-style express yachts — is interested in using the Vetus thrusters in a single-inboard application and there is some interest from the sailboat market, DeBoy says.

The joystick system on the Topaz responded quickly and with force. You push a “Take” button twice on the joystick control base to shift into joystick mode. Same goes for the shift and throttle control — push the “Take” button twice to return to normal control.

“The standard DC thruster has runtime in the 3-minute neighborhood per hour,” says DeBoy. The thrusters installed in the test boat were 11-kW/15-hp thrusters (model BOW220DE), which provide a 7-minute runtime per hour; all other thrusters have a runtime of 10 minutes.

Alternative energy

Elco Motor Yachts began offering electric outboard engines last year, debuting 5-, 7- and 9.9-hp models. The company expects to unveil two more outboards in the 15- to 25-hp range in 2015. The engines should appeal to boaters on lakes that prohibit combustion engines and to saltwater sailors, the company says.

Elco also came out with an inboard propulsion package with hybrid diesel/electric technology. The system, which uses a 20-hp Elco electric motor and a 425-hp Cummins diesel, was on display — installed in a Beneteau Swift Trawler 34 — for the first time at the International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition & Conference last fall. The boat can reach a top speed of 20 knots under diesel power and can cruise at 5 to 6 knots using only electric power. Powered by a 12-unit AGM battery bank, the electric engine can run as long as three hours before recharging.

Marine hybrid technology now includes gasoline and natural gas. Intrepid Powerboats has installed a new natural gas/gasoline hybrid propulsion system in a 32-foot center console. Blue Gas Marine of Apex, N.C., developed the system, which uses hydrogen, propane and natural gas to power any internal combustion engine, says Blue Gas Marine CEO and founder Miguel Guerreiro. “Natural gas is the most widely available gaseous fuel around the world,” he says.

Intrepid has retrofitted a 2013 327 CC powered with twin Mercury 300-hp Verado 4-strokes. (The boat will be at the Miami show in February.) The Intrepid can operate on natural gas or as a hybrid that carries natural gas and traditional fuel, such as gasoline. By just pressing a button, the driver can switch between the two fuels — at any speed.

Blue Gas Marine is developing a network to distribute the natural gas fuel to boaters, ensuring that it will be readily available. Boaters can even fill up at home or from any building equipped with natural gas, Guerreiro says.

This article originally appeared in the February 2015 issue.


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