Joystick control – More Options Than Ever

It’s nice to see Volvo Penta announce a new joystick control system for conventional diesel inboard installations. It may well be back in 2005 (is that really over a decade ago? holy moley…) when pod drives debuted it was thought they would revolutionize the industry and straight shafts would go the way of the dodo bird. Well, not so fast.

As of this writing there are nearly a dozen options available for joystick control for not only pod drives but outboard engines, I/O’s and straight inboards, too.

My unofficial tally:

This is great because it gives the consumer and builders more choices depending on their requirements. No doubt joystick control allows more people more comfort at the helm, and if that helps grow boating in any way, shape or form then I’m on board.

For every technology advancement there’s always pros and cons. In the case of joystick control, the most obvious plus is how easy it makes close quarters maneuvering and station keeping. The obvious downsides are cost and increased maintenance. Pod drives are big, complicated components compared to standard running gear composed of shafts, struts and rudders, and they are not ‘maintenance free’. Likewise, the magic of joystick control for straight shafts, I/O’s and outboards requires plenty of hydraulics, black boxes, wiring and in some cases thrusters.

I suppose another perceived down side, particularly among cranky dockside curmudgeons, is that these systems replace anyone’s need to know how to manually maneuver a boat. To that I say, so what? That I learned the hard way ‘back in the day’ in a single screw inboard boat just doesn’t matter. I’m reminded of my helicopter flying days when GPS was beginning to make its way into the cockpit. There were dinosaurs (including me) who were leery of the technology -seems silly now – time and technology march on. The real point is features like joystick control make boating easier. They reduce stress. They make it less likely to leave gelcoat behind on a piling or to trade paint with another vessel. This will help keep people on their boats, enjoying and using them.

As more of these systems come online I would make the standard plea to builders to please make these components, especially the black boxes, hydraulics and wiring harnesses accessible! Someday, some poor soul will have to contort him or herself into whatever space these items are in to service and replace them. That said, I trust we haven’t seen the end of the joystick phenomenon and it’s exciting just to think about what the future may bring.


  • My issue from a boat handling perspective is that it makes a lot of people completely unaware of what their boat isn’t capable of. They forgo the learning process of what all that magic underwater stuff is doing to make the boat go, and simply correlate the joystick movement to results.
    Though, a lack of these systems won’t make 99% of the average boater care anymore about boat handling from a seamanship anyway.

    • That’s a good point. It speaks to the importance of adequate training and familiarization by dealers/brokers which frankly the industry as a whole could do a much better job of.

  • Honestly is also a cultural problem in this country. There is a tremendous lack of pride for a job well done, simply getting the job done no matter how shoddily, is good enough.
    This translates into many peoples hobbies, to hell with doing it well, let’s just recreate. Boating, even recreationally, had a tremendous ability to kill and maim you and your loved ones should you make even fairly basic seamanship and navigational mistakes one too many times.
    You can’t train those unwilling to learn, which is why at the end of the day the availability of these systems is probably a good thing. At least for the boat owners, not so much for the yards fiberglass and paint departments!

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