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:
- For pod drives (for the recreational market, not including the commercial applications) it’s Volvo Penta’s IPS and Mercury’s Zeus
- For straight shafts see ZF Twin Disc, Cummins, and Xenta VMA Plus
- For twin I/O’s it’s the Mercruiser Axius and Volvo Penta
- For outboards, there’s Yamaha’s Helm Master, Mercury, and SeaStar’s Optimus
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.