Joystick Steering In Boats: Here Are The Facts (Explained)

We all know that, in general, boats are controlled by steering wheels and shifter/ throttle levers. But this is not the only option for piloting your vessel.

In addition to the traditional steering wheel and throttle control for your boat, you can also use a joystick to control and direct your boat.

Let’s check it out.

Background on Joystick Control

Joystick control started with inboard motor control.

When they were first introduced, they worked very well and since then have only been improving.

It was previously harder to retrofit or install and utilize joystick steering with outboard motors on your boat. But this has been getting easier and more innovative as the years go on.

This is because outboard boats are not commonly equipped with a stern or bow thruster. There are great advantages to equipping an outboard motor or motors with this system.

These systems are not only easier to install, but they are more reliable, refined, and even more ideal for users today.

6 Pros of Joystick Steering on your Boat:

There are many reasons to get a joystick steering system on your boat:

1) Safety

Joysticks can help improve safety while on your vessel.

If you are an experienced boater, you are likely able to dock a vessel no matter the weather conditions or other factors.

However, joystick control can make it easier for less experienced boaters to control their engines even in situations involving high winds or currents as well as other obstructions or tight spaces.

2) Variety

With the improvements and upgrades made to modern joystick systems, you can now install them on bigger and smaller sized vessels than you would have been able to in the past.

Also, you should likely see even more advancements made to include a wider variety every year.

On inboard boats, they are typically integrated with a bow thruster for very accurate control.

3) Maneuverability

One of the biggest advantages offered by joystick control is the increased maneuverability level, especially for boats with twin outboards.

This steering type offers additional ease when steering your boat backward, which can be challenging for novice marine operators.

You can also maneuver with more accuracy when it comes to keeping your boat facing one way or avoiding spinning and drifting. This can be very important if you are using your boat for fishing.

This maneuverability is also important to navigate tight channels or marinas. Having more control while you are going at lower speeds can be highly important in these areas and is easier when utilizing joystick controls.

4) GPS Controlled Steadying

In addition to ease of maneuverability, some joysticks even allow for GPS powered steadying abilities.

This will allow GSP coordinates to keep a boat locked into one latitude-longitude coordinate. This acts as a sort of a digital anchor for your vessel, leaving you the sole task of concentrating on fishing.

This can be a great advantage in deeper water or water that is otherwise hard to anchor in.

This is also great for temporary movement around your boat if you are the sole passenger and need to keep the boat steady while moving about the deck.

5) Multiple Engines

High horse-powered boats often use more than one outboard motor to achieve the high level of horsepower they require.

Joystick control on multiple outboard motors allows for separate steering control for each motor instead of the combined steering control offered with a steering wheel setup.

This offers more precision than outboard motors offer under any other circumstances.

6) Disability Friendly

Joystick control can also be ideal for users who have a disability.

These options offer more power and control for those who might find regular methods challenging.

With a smaller motion required from the operator, this is an easy and compact way to steer a vessel.

Some sailboats can even be equipped with electric winches or other technology options, allowing people to sail who would have otherwise been unable.

Installing a Joystick on your Vessel:

Most boats will not come pre-equipped with a joystick, but this doesn’t mean you cannot add one if you want one.

Installation of joystick control is not recommended as a “do-it-yourself” task.

You might think that installing joystick control is as simple as mounting your joystick and plugging in a couple of wires, but this is not the case.

The typical setup for proper joystick control includes:

  • Computers
  • Controllers
  • Actuators and sensors
  • Hydraulic steering system modifications
  • Installation costs
  • Other components based on need or desired features

In addition to the above equipment, if your motor is not compatible with the desired system, you might also be looking at buying new engines.

Obviously, if you know your end goal is to have joystick control on your vessel, you should look into getting the proper equipment right away, but this isn’t an option for those who already have their vessel.

Getting your system fitted after the fact is entirely possible but can be very expensive, so you will want to make sure you know your budget when you start shopping around for this system.

Final Thoughts:

Joystick control offers a wide variety of advantages, especially for those new to marine piloting and other operations.

What I have found in my boating experience is that docking is intimidating to new operators.

I always take charge of docking our pontoon that features an outboard motor. I even feel uncomfortable doing so in extreme weather conditions, high currents, or really tight spaces.

Fitting your boat with joystick steering is a great way to have more control and allows for more precise movements.

When researching this topic, I could not find any cons to this besides price, and let’s face it, everything you do with your boat is generally expensive to implement.

This feature does come with a learning curve, but in the end, it would be easy to learn and operate for even the most novice marine captain.  Most joystick controls are designed to disable when the traditional controls are used automatically.

The benefits of this type of system can be beneficial to boaters of all skill levels. If you think these features sound right for you, you should look into fitting your vessel with this today!

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