By Andy Adams
Comfort and convenience are important factors both to keep boaters enjoying boating as well as to attract new people into boat ownership.
Perhaps the most significant regular challenges for all boaters are docking and close quarters manoeuvering. Getting in and out of your slip or into the fuel dock on a busy day can be tricky, especially if the wind is up or currents are running.
In 2005, Volvo Penta introduced their revolutionary IPS drive systems that included an industry first - joystick docking.
Suddenly, the challenge of docking a big boat became child's play–literally! The technology was very similar to playing a videogame and manoeuvering a big yacht became almost intuitive using these new systems. The joystick option was enthusiastically embraced by many new yacht buyers, but at first this great technology was only available on new high-end big boats.
Predictably, with such a desirable feature, joystick docking systems became more widely available, extending similar functionality through the electronic steering and digital control systems of new twin stern drive equipped boats and then later, twin or multiple outboard engine equipped boats.
This has just been great for new boat buyers, but what about the large fleet of existing boats?
And, what if you have a single-engine boat, a sailboat or a smaller size boat? Wouldn't it be great to have this new level of docking control?
So, along came Gerald Burton and Yacht Controller, a system that can be installed on almost any new boat as original equipment by the manufacturer, but more importantly, a Yacht Controller system can be added to existing boats.
Recently, we caught up with the inventor of the Yacht Controller, Gerald Burton at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, and we interviewed him on video. He gave us a brief history of his own background in boating (which was quite impressive) which led him to the idea of the Yacht Controller system.
The Yacht Controller system gives wireless control of the boat for docking in close quarters, manoeuvers using a handheld device that you could carry to the side of the boat, to the cockpit, or even out onto the dock, allowing you to maneuver your boat without even being on board yourself!
We don't recommend that, but the Yacht Controller system does make it possible. Here is what Gerry Burton told us.
First, he explained that it allows you to manoeuver your boat safely and with precision at any point in the docking procedure and from anywhere on board.
This means that you don't have to look over your shoulder to estimate or guess how far you might be from the dock or another boat, you can actually go to where you can see it clearly with the Yacht Controller in your hand.
He emphasized that using the Yacht Controller, you can literally move the boat as little as a matter of a few inches if need be.
Understandably, this device has taken off and as of today, the company has more than 10,000 systems installed in boats in the field without having any incidents with the units. To date, it's been installed on various boats from 30 feet up to 150 feet.
The hand controller itself is waterproof and it floats (in the event that you lose your grip on it); it's ruggedly built and also commercially certified.
We asked if you had to buy a Yacht Controller system new as original equipment from the manufacturer, or if it could be retrofitted to a boat. Burton told us that over 90% of the installations so far, have been retrofit. As the system has gained in popularity, it's now available as an option on 30 models of new boats according to Burton.
Builders realize that adding Yacht Controller is comparatively affordable and when it helps customers to be able to easily handle their boat, the purchase decision becomes pretty simple.
The hand controller itself and the buttons are sealed using silicon and Burton tells us that he had the unit designed by Porsche. The layout of the controls makes it extremely easy to realize which way you're directing the boat as you press a button. It's also worth mentioning that the switches have a very good tactile feeling to help you relate to the boat’s movements.
Next, we asked Burton what the requirements are, for a boat owner to retrofit their existing boat. He told us they do single-engine boats, twin-engine boats and all sorts of sizes.
He also mentioned that he can use both with electronic controls and also older boats that have cable controls, or mechanical controls. They have developed ways of adapting their system to virtually any boat but one of the key elements is having bow and stern thrusters.
Luckily, even some of the very oldest boats out there have had bow and stern thrusters installed, so that does not curtail opportunities for many boats at all.
They integrate with more than 26 different types of manufacturer’s control heads and all brands of thrusters. He mentions that they can even make things work for people with jet drive boats, so you know this is very adaptable.
To get first-hand experience with this, we went to Jon Moles of Toronto Yacht Services who recently installed a Yacht Controller system on a 55 Marquis.
Jon told us that the Marquis already had bow and stern thrusters, but owner still found it difficult to dock the big boat with just himself and his wife onboard, especially because the dock at his slip was on the port side and his helm was on the port side too, making it difficult for him to see.
From there, all that needed to be added was the Yacht Controller receiver and the remote. The receiver has to be mounted behind dash and the on/off switch for receiver is then mounted on the dash near the helm.
The receiver was connected to 12 v DC power and then was connected to the Volvo Penta electronic shift control system through a custom wiring harness, so that was all that had to be added.
Jon told us that he encountered no complications and the installation for the Marquis took approximately 10-12 hours. The total cost of system, including installation was approximately $13,000 before taxes.
More importantly, the owner was very happy with result.
So, if you have a boat that merits this sort of investment and if that investment can keep you boating comfortably and often, it certainly seems like a good idea. On top of that, we suspect the Yacht Controller system might increase the resale value of the boat, in a sense, further reducing the cost.