By George Mitchell
Yamaha Pro Staff
When people talk about Yamaha’s Helm Master Digital Integrated Boat Control System, they seem to focus on joystick control, but Helm Master isn’t just a joystick; it’s digital steering that is by far the best you’ll ever experience. Helm Master provides the smoothest, most accurate steering that you’ve ever had on your boat, and it’s got intuitive features that are second to none when keeping boaters’ safety and boat control in mind.
Depending on how your builder set your boat up when it was new, at initial power up you can turn the steering wheel three turns to the left and three turns to the right. Your dealer can adjust that to fewer turns, which will make the engines more responsive, or more turns to make them less responsive. You can also adjust the friction of your steering wheel, with settings to make the steering standard or heavy (very handy in rougher seas at slower speeds). You change the actual resistance of the wheel.
What’s even cooler is that the system changes the friction automatically when you get up to high speeds so that the wheel is more difficult to turn, which helps keep the wheel from turning or moving out of place when you come off a wave and the boat changes angle or disperses water and forces it through the engines at a different angle. It’s a safety feature that makes the boat run true and avoid inadvertent little spins of the wheel and direction changes at just about any speed.
My 36-foot Yellowfin with triple 300hp Yamaha V6 4.2 liter four-stroke outboards is a 36-foot sports car whether running at 20 mph, at 35 mph, or at 60 mph. It’s not squirrely at high speeds; it runs just as true as it does at low speeds.
The Helm Master System is a tilt helm, just like any other helm, but it’s all digital steering. When you look underneath the dash inside the console, there are no hoses coming out ‒ instead there are only two wires. It makes rigging simple, clean, neat and easy, and your chances for any kind of leak or issue are practically non-existent.
With the Helm Master System you only have a couple of connections under the dash, so it’s very simple to hook up. Digital steering makes your life so much easier. Docking or fighting fish becomes smooth and effortless. It’s not only the best steering you’ve ever had, but it’s an incredibly safe and efficient steering system.
We were recently running in slick calm conditions at 64 mph, and it was nice for the first 40 miles, but then we got into some really nasty stuff where the current was against the wind, so I backed the boat down to 42 mph and we were on a perfectly straight, fully-controlled run for the next 45 miles. Helm Master is just a fantastic way to control your boat.
When you want to switch over from the steering wheel to the joystick, you press the button on the base of the joystick when you’re in neutral, which will give you a banner across your Yamaha Command Link gauge that says, “Joystick Activated,” and your motors will splay out and you will have control of your boat with your joystick. When you want to go back to the steering wheel, you press the Joystick button again and you go back to your standard steering. You can also shift one of your motors in gear with your binnacle and it will kick you back to standard steering.
One of the best features is the Gateway System that allows the Helm Master system to interface with various autopilot systems, so everything is plug and play, without pumps or hoses. You just plug in a few wires and the two interface and communicate (the connections come from your autopilot manufacturer).
I can pull up to an offshore rig that I want to fish, use it as a waypoint, and the autopilot will do a 3/8-mile circle around it while I use the speed control on my control box as my throttle so the engines bump up in 50 rpm increments until I get the perfect speed to present the baits around the rig. I essentially get the perfect speed and perfect control for my baits as I make a perfect circle around the rig.
If at any time I feel something is not right, I can easily grab the steering wheel and turn it, and that will disengage the autopilot and let me manually steer the boat. If at any time I don’t like the speed, I can touch the controls and go faster or slower or just sit at idle ‒ whatever I want to do.
That’s the beauty of digital steering. Everything communicates and works together to make boating and fishing easier, safer and smoother. It really doesn’t get any better than this.