The quad-motor version of the Mercury Joystick Piloting for Outboards made a debut last week at a Merc media event I attended in Barataria, La., where I also got a great update on the continuing development of the Mercury joystick system.
Mercury will be the first to offer joystick control for quad motors, and it says that capability will be available to boat builders in August. The joystick control for dual and triple Verado outboards will reach builders in late June. At the event, I had a chance to speak with David Foulkes, Mercury vice president of product development, and application engineer Chris Chapman, who has been working with boat builders to set up the Verado joystick system and who also rigged the Sea Vee 390 boat we used to demo the quad joystick control.
In that application, the two outboard Verado 300 outboards steered, but the center motors were fixed in joystick mode. Those motors do shift and throttle to enhance what Chapman calls “reverse authority” and to contribute to yaw control (the boat rotating on its axis). Chapman explains that in other boat applications, the center motors may steer, but only if there is enough room on the transom to spread the motors sufficiently. In that case, the port and starboard pair of motors would mirror each other when steered. Chapman is confident that he can achieve good joystick-mode control with the center engine fixed, and on centers as narrow as 25 inches.
One thing we are all learning boat joystick controls is that they need to be dialed in to match “vessel personality,” a list of factors that Chapman says includes the boat length, beam, weight, the amount of steering lock-to-lock the builder wants available, and perhaps most importantly the boat’s center of pressure, which Chapman says is usually a bit aft of the center of gravity. Chapman and other Merc application engineers are visiting boat builders and setting up the joystick system, a process that can take four or five hours of run time. The plan is then to give the builder a control program specific to each boat that can simply be uploaded during the production process.
It’s interesting to note that Mercury has been helping builders set up joystick systems since 2007, when it introduced a joystick control for its Zeus pod drive inboards. The lessons learned in developing that system, and the Axius joystick control for MerCruiser sterndrives, have been applied to the Verado system, which one engineer told me is “95 percent Axius.” In fact, Mercury had its joystick control for outboards developed some time ago but held it back from the market when the economy went into recession. Outboard sales have been on the rebound, but Mercury also told me that it’s beginning to see its first Verado customers show interest in repowering as those motors run out of extended warranty coverage. It’s not that those motors are wearing out – I suspect a well-maintained four-stroke outboard might last a lifetime – but that many customers feel most comfortable with warranty in place. With repower in mind, Mercury is developing a joystick installation training program for a handful of key dealers in coastal markets that specialize in repowering high-end offshore fishing boats.
I last ran the Merc joystick control in October, and since that time the overall calibration has been refined. Shift points are noticeably smoother and the entire system feels more linear in its response to input. A feature I had not noticed before is that, if the motors are trimmed all the way down, when the joystick is engaged the system automatically trims the motors up so that the propshafts are level with the boat bottom, which produces the most effective thrust. If the motors are trimmed up at all, the system leaves them there, assuming that the captain may have them up for a good reason, like a shallow bottom. I also learned that shallow water reduces the effectiveness of joystick control. The motors would kick up significant mud from the bottom of the slip we were using in Louisiana, and when it’s that shallow it can impact the thrust the props can produce, according to the Merc engineers.
I was also told that there’s a still-secret element to the Mercury joystick system, which has to do with changes made to the props or gearcases to enhance thrust in reverse. Merc does not want to share details until its patent is secure.
For more information visit Mercury Marine.