Dennis Landry is 60 years old. He has a partner of six years, Cathy Beliveau, three sons, two daughters and six grandkids. He hadn’t been on the water for decades, but a couple of years ago, he decided to get back into boating.
Landry bought a 28-foot Regal cruiser with a Volvo Penta Duoprop and a bow thruster. He and Beliveau spent every weekend on the boat at Moose Landing Marina in Naples, Maine. Overall, he had a great summer.
Then he tried a boat with twin engines and a joystick. “It was a noticeable difference,” he says. “It made docking a lot less stressful. I was adamant that the next boat I was going to own was going to have a joystick.”
Landry ordered a Regal 35 Sport Coupe with twin sterndrives and a joystick. He’s planning to take delivery this spring, but he won’t have it long. He attended the Miami boat show in February and ordered a Regal 38 Grande Coupe with twin diesel IPS units and a joystick. And he upgraded with radar.
His story is exactly what manufacturers want to hear as the industrywide race accelerates to develop new technologies for easier boat operation. Whether it’s joysticks, multifunction displays with all on-board information on one screen, or telematic systems that let boat owners communicate with their boat and dealer, features designed to entice buyers like Landry are seen as the industry’s future.
Engines, electronics, systems and telematics manufacturers are taking different approaches, but the goal is the same: to remove stress and increase sales.
The Joy of Sticks
More than any other technology, joysticks have eliminated much of the fear involved with the most stressful parts of boating: docking and operating in close quarters. One of the earliest successful joystick operating systems was on Hinckley’s Picnic Boat, which premiered in 1994. The Down East-style boat with waterjet propulsion was a breakthrough, but its price tag kept the idea of joysticks out of the mainstream.
About a decade later, Volvo Penta introduced its first joystick with the Inboard Performance System. That was the start of the low-speed maneuverability revolution. “When we did the Inboard Performance System with vectoring thrust, it made the boat maneuverable,” says Ron Huibers, president of Volvo Penta of the Americas. “Before that, inboards were difficult to dock.”
These days, Mercury, ZF, Twin Disc, Evinrude, SeaStar Solutions, Yanmar and others also have proprietary joystick systems, with competition and collaboration driving innovation. At February’s Miami International Boat Show, Volvo Penta partnered with Seven Marine and Tiara Sport on an outboard-powered, 38-foot center console with twin Seven Marine outboards, and with Volvo Penta’s Glass Cockpit and joystick.
The joystick and Glass Cockpit, which is a multifunction display that Garmin Marine makes for the engine company, are all part of Volvo Penta’s Easy Boating initiative.
“When we make it simpler and less complex, we gain boaters,” Huibers says.
Also at the Miami show, Mercury Marine unveiled an assisted docking system with Raymarine, called Docksense (see Getting Technical, Page 34). It’s a collision-avoidance system that keeps a boater from hitting nearby objects when docking, and it’s intended to reduce stress in close quarters.
“That’s a great product for someone who knows how to boat but doesn’t want the headache of having to worry about what to do around the dock,” says former Mercury Marine president John Pfeifer.
Similarly, referring to Mercury’s Active Trim, which trims the drive or outboard, Pfeifer says, “I don’t care what level of expertise you’re at — you can be the most incredible driver of a boat that ever lived, but you can still appreciate a product like Active Trim.”
In 2008, ZF Marine developed a joystick for what many consider the most difficult type of propulsion system to dock and maneuver at slow speeds: straight-shaft inboards. The ZF Joystick Maneuvering System is targeted at boats 30 feet and larger to help the owner/operator become more confident.
Martin Meissner, ZF’s communications manager for marine propulsion, recalls a demonstration he did with a couple on a 60-foot Bertram. “The woman said, ‘I love this boat, but if my husband has a heart attack while we’re going somewhere, what do I do?’ ” He took the boat into a deserted lagoon and gave her the helm. “Within minutes, she was moving the boat sideways, spinning it on its axis. I’ve heard a number of people say, ‘This may single-handedly save our marriage.’ ”
At a Standstill
One of the recent advances in joysticks is station-keeping, or position holding. Virtually every company that offers a joystick has a version. Offshore fishermen use the feature to help maintain their location. Cruisers use it to hold their place when waiting at a bridge opening.
As part of its Helm Master with Set Point, Yamaha offers Fish Point, Drift Point and Stay Point, which are programmable modes that automatically hold the boat in place using a GPS interface.
Mercury uses similar technology with its Skyhook function. Heading Adjust makes changes to heading in 1- to 10-degree increments; BowHook allows the bow to point where the wind and current take it; and DriftHook maintains vessel position, allowing the boat to drift with the wind and current.
Twin Disc’s Express Joystick System also offers GPS-based station keeping with its Express Positioning.
ZF has iDrift, in which the driver pushes a button and the system is engaged, letting the boat drift over a wreck or free in a current.
“We can dial down the boat’s movement to 3 feet, anywhere on the Earth,” Meissner says.
If joysticks make operating a boat feel like a video game, then multifunction displays make it look like one. Captains can get just about anything they want displayed on MFDs, including navigation information, engine data, stereo controls and on-board cameras.
“It’s made [driving] exponentially easier,” says John Barry, owner of Technical Marine Support in Pleasant Prairie, Wis., and a director of the National Marine Electronics Association. “You always know exactly where you are. You can really get a system that you can understand.”
Barry calls what he sees happening in this sector among Furuno, Garmin, Raymarine and Navico “coop-etition.”
“Cross-branding among electronics manufacturers is unprecedented,” he says, adding that the typical-size screen he sees is around 12 inches on 30- to 60-foot boats, and at those sizes, popular add-ons are radar, fishfinders and depth sounders. Most MFDs also contain GPS antennas and require fewer connections for installation than previously.
“You hook up your red and black wires, and you’re navigating,” Barry says. “That’s a huge benefit because it lets consumers feel like they can jump in.”
The driving force behind all that integration is the NMEA 2000 network, a backbone wire harness that runs through a boat with a series of plugs. Transducers and other accessories plug into the network, and the information is provided at the MFD. The only separate networks are dedicated to the propulsion system and provide the information to the display through a plug into the main network.
Barry is a big believer in the redundancy the installations provide, but he has a couple of concerns with MFDs, mainly centered on compatibility.
“There’s intellectual property concerns among the manufacturers, and the NMEA’s function acting as intermediary is no small task,” he says. “Just because you buy an MFD, it doesn’t mean that it can display tachometers.”
For example, Bennett Marine makes an NMEA gateway that lets a captain look at the position of his tabs on a display, but if the display doesn’t have a trim tab graphic, then the captain won’t get the information.
Moving forward, a new NMEA network that was recently introduced is OneNet, with high bandwidth to support video and other information.
“The big change you would see from our standpoint is video integration,” says Jim Hands, director of marketing at FLIR Maritime, which owns Raymarine. At the 2018 International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition and Conference, Raymarine launched a forward-facing, high-definition camera for augmented reality. The captain can call up the video app on the display, and take data from the chart and AIS, and overlay them all on the screen, where the destination waypoint is shown.
“I’ve used it on the water, and anyone approaching a harbor or destination they may not be familiar with makes it infinitely valuable,” Hands says.
Clear Cruise Augmented Reality is available on all Raymarine Axiom displays with the addition of a high-definition camera and an AR200 stabilization module. Raymarine also plans to add augmented reality to FLIR M232 thermal cameras.
One of the biggest advantages a thermal camera has over high-definition versions is that the thermal unit can see through fog and sea smoke, in addition to providing usable night vision.
“It’s all about just making it easier, more intuitive, and elevating your awareness,” Hands says. “We amplify people’s senses. You’re taking advantage of all these sensors and bringing them together in a meaningful way on the screen.”
Mercury Marine, Yamaha Marine and Volvo Penta are all moving toward providing boat manufacturers with a propeller-to-helm package. This includes the drive system, transmission (if required), engine, controls and display for engine data at the dash.
Volvo Penta’s subsidiary CPAC Systems is part of the AB Volvo Group, and supplies hardware and software for the company’s embedded control systems.
In July 2018, Mercury parent Brunswick Corp. acquired Power Products, which makes electrical components and systems. The acquisition better positions Mercury to deliver a helm-to-prop package because of the digital switching and other technologies that Power Products supplies.
Yamaha’s Helm Master system includes the outboard, joystick, controls, steering and display screen. While Mercury and Volvo Penta have made their own propellers for quite some time, Yamaha acquired Precision Propellers about 10 years ago and more recently changed the name to Yamaha Marine Precision Propellers.
The most recently developed technology doesn’t make it easier to operate a boat, but it removes much of the stress of owning one. Volvo Penta owners can use the company’s Easy Connect app that shows route, temperatures and more information — and communicates with a local dealer for any issues that pop up.
At the 2018 Miami boat show, Nautic-On, a connectivity company that Brunswick Corp. owns, was launched. In addition to letting a boat owner keep an eye on his boat’s location and systems from afar, the technology adds a level of coverage by keeping the service connected to the boat.
“We’re trying to build on this smart boating ecosystem and smart boating platform,” says Adam Schanfield, general manager at Nautic-On. “A lot of people focus on two-way communication, but we focused on that third plank.”
The dealer or service representative is directly linked to the boat, which can be beneficial for rental operations or high-volume dealerships. “Those dealers that actively manage their CSI score are actively looking for a revenue stream to improve their customer service,” Schanfield says.
One of the toughest parts of owning a boat is putting it away for the winter, but Evinrude and Volvo Penta make that chore a little easier. On Evinrude’s E-TEC G2 series of outboards, owners simply turn a key to winterize the motor. Volvo Penta’s Easy Drain is on its latest generation of stern drives that have closed cooling. Hit a button, and all the water in the block is emptied.
Of course, with all this technology come raised costs.
“Customers want the better experience, and people are willing to pay for it,” Huibers says. “When we make it a seamless experience like their car, they’ll have more trust in it and ultimately more fun.”
This article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue.