Aftermarket Joystick Docking for Twin Outboards

By Andy Adams

Teleflex Marine Introduces Optimus 360 by Seastar

Absolutely and without a doubt, the biggest advance in boating in recent memory has been the introduction of joystick docking. With these new systems, first pioneered in recreational boating by Volvo Penta in their IPS pod drive systems, docking a large boat in tight quarters, windy conditions, or in strong current was transformed from a task that would challenge the most experienced captain to something a child could do.

Children took to it almost immediately because joystick docking was so similar to their videogame controls and so intuitive to use; point the joystick in the direction you want the boat to go and it responds. Twist the joystick in the direction you want the boat to rotate and the boat responds.

With joystick docking, even older people with trick knees or other minor infirmities, can now continue enjoying their days out boating.

Behind the technology for joystick docking are great advances in computerized controls. The traditional throttle and gear levers attached to heavy mechanical cables have been replaced by drive-by-wire electronic controls. Typically, these come with failsafe and redundant systems to ensure your safety and owners are embracing the new electronic controls with enthusiasm.

But, what if you have an older boat with only mechanical controls? Is there any way to upgrade to a joystick docking scenario?

If your boat is equipped with twin outboards, there is now a joystick docking upgrade available and it works with the old mechanical shift engines.

This February, at the Miami International Boat Show, I had the opportunity to go out on an older centre console fishing boat rigged with older, two-stroke Mercury Optimax outboard motors with mechanical gear shift and throttle.

The boat had been rigged up by the tech guys at Teleflex Marine to demo what they call their new Optimus 360 joystick docking system. Before making you read any further, let me say that it was every bit as effective and every bit as impressive as any of the joystick pod drive boats that I’ve driven.

The feel of the system was excellent, shifts were quiet, smooth and positive and the test boat responded perfectly to every input at the joystick.

That was all the more impressive because the boat was a 32-foot SeaCraft that has a very deep vee bottom and a design that forces the engines to be mounted fairly close together, limiting leverage opportunities. Basically, this hull simply does not want to go sideways through the water.

But, no problem for the Optimus 360. Throughout the Miami show at the Sea Isle Marina, the Optimus 360 equipped SeaCraft and their other demonstration boat (which was a big Dusky centre console) spent the whole show going sideways up and down the channels!

The performance is simply stunning. It truly transformed both these boats but to be fair, it’s an $18,000 US upgrade. With that scale of investment, you won’t put this on just any boat. On the other hand, if you have a suitable subject boat that’s worthy of the investment and that has, or can be re-powered with outboards, the Optimus 360 deserves a closer look.

We know there are many sound and seaworthy older fibreglass hulls are out there, usually burdened with big heavy inboard engines, traditional shaft drive and rudder layouts, lackluster performance and heavy fuel consumption.

Today, all the outboard motor manufacturers have EPA-compliant, lightweight and powerful engine choices in the 150 to 300 horsepower range. New outboards could easily re-power a 28- to 36-foot flybridge or other desirable model and probably deliver significantly increased speed with reduced fuel consumption…plus joystick docking with the Optimus 360 system.

The components of the Optimus 360 system literally replace everything from the outboard engine forward to the steering wheel and control levers. Teleflex Marine has gained a great reputation for their SeaStar hydraulic steering systems available in regular and power-assist versions. The Optimus 360 system starts by replacing the old transom-mounted steering linkages with the Optimus electronic power steering system – one cylinder/pump combination for each engine and with no physical or mechanical connection between the engines.

Thus, each engine can turn independently of the other. That’s how they can make the boat go sideways, or spin.

Next, the system adds the new Optimus 360 joystick with its sophisticated performance features including what Teleflex Marine calls “guided feel”, a “boost mode” and “take command” mode. Guided feel helps the user to confidently control the boat both fore and aft, sideways, diagonal and even for rotational movements.

Boost mode increases the engine thrust for more docking power to overcome winds or strong currents. Take command mode is where a single touch button transfers control from the main to the joystick.

The steering wheel gets remounted on a new Optimus electronic helm with a wide range of adjustments. For example, you can adjust steering sensitivity and resistance for maximum comfort and most appropriate sensitivity while docking or at speed. You can change how quickly it responds in terms of the number of turns lock to lock and it can be speed sensitive, giving you fingertip low-speed control but increasing the effort required to better control a fast boat.

The system also includes the Optimus i6800 control head which gives full engine synchronization, allows slaved operation for one-lever control, has an integrated engine trim control and again, customizable feel.

The Optimus Smartcylinder is the actual steering mechanism that mounts to the engine. It’s designed to make installation simple.

Then comes the Optimus hydraulic steering pump that runs on-demand to reduce power consumption and has a convenient semi-automatic purge mode.

At the helm you mount the Optimus CANtrakDisplay that gives the captain visual information on the system status and is a simple interface for adjusting all the different controls like the engine turning ratio, joystick sensitivity and toe-in/toe-out of the engines.

Making the mechanical systems respond to the electronic controls is the Optimus pump control module. It uses a fault tolerant CAN Bus network design for ensuring system reliability, accommodating single-engine trolling operation and also isolates the cable connections from vibration.

The last component of the system is the Optimus i6800 control actuator. This reads the information from either the throttle levers or the joystick, integrates through the computerized systems and then provides independent shifting and throttle actuation for each engine, consistently delivering positive, but smooth shifting, even on the older Mercury Optimax engines on our demonstration boat.

Imagine somebody who can take their solid and much loved, but tired old flying bridge cruiser and re-power it with dramatically lighter, more economical and higher performance outboard engines mounted on transom brackets and controlled by the Optimus 360 system.

For an older twin outboard boat, you can add Optimus 360 for just $18,000 US. To re-power you older boat could wind up as a $60,000+ investment including new engines, but compared to a similar new boat (if there is a similar new boat on the market) that might be a great bargain. Suddenly, you get a new level of performance and convenience as well as years and years more boating.

You may feel that the math doesn’t work for you personally, but it certainly will for a lot of people and if nothing else, I bet all the OEM builders are looking at this as the ultimate upgrade on a new twin outboard boat. Well done, Teleflex Marine!

Photo Captions:
Photo 1 – Notice the patterns in the water and that the engines are angled in two different directions. The new Optimus 360 joystick docking system is moving the boat sideways into the fuel dock.
Photo 2 – Securely mounted in the dry, enclosed environment of the centre console underneath the helm, you see the two devices on the top left which are the Optimus i6800 control actuators to independently control gear shift and throttle, then below that the Optimus pump control module.
Photo 3 & 4 – At the helm, the handsome new Optimus 360 components include the electronic helm hub mounted under the steering wheel, the i6800 control head which are the throttle, trim, engine synch, throttle and gear levers and beside that, the joystick.
Photo 5 & 6 – In one photo the engines are angled the same way as you would normally expect, but in the other photo they’re angled differently. The different vectors and use of forward and reverse gears enables the boat to go sideways, spin and respond to the joystick.

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