BET­TER BOAT­ING

CON­SIDER AN UP­GRADE TO DRIVE-BY-WIRE CON­TROLS

Sport Fishing - - CONTENTS -

I have elec­tronic throt­tle and shift con­trols on my boat, and I never wish to re­turn to the good ol’ days of ca­ble con­trols for my sin­gle out­board.

That said, the pre­vi­ous sys­tem served me well for three decades. Given that ca­ble sys­tems still of­fer more-than-sat­is­fac­tory per­for­mance, is an up­grade to elec­tronic — or drive-by­wire — con­trols re­ally worth it? Here are fac­tors to help you de­cide.

TIM­ING IT

Mak­ing the switch from ca­ble to elec­tronic con­trols usu­ally co­in­cides with the pur­chase of a new boat or out­board. That’s be­cause you can’t just add elec­tronic con­trols to an older out­board. The en­gine must be de­signed and built with drive-by-wire ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

While nearly all new multi-out­board boats now come equipped with drive-by­wire con­trols, a fair num­ber of new sin­gle-out­board boats fea­ture ca­bles.

If you’re or­der­ing a new boat — ei­ther through a dealer or fac­tory di­rect — you will likely have the op­por­tu­nity to spec­ify the type of con­trols.

When re-powering an older boat, you can choose to stay with ca­bles or up­grade to drive-by-wire, which will dic­tate what type of en­gine you buy. Out­board brands such as Yamaha of­fer a choice be­tween me­chan­i­cal and elec­tronic en­gine con­trols on a num­ber of mod­els, in­clud­ing the pop­u­lar F200 four-cylin­der and the F225, F250 and F300 V-6 en­gines.

COST FAC­TORS

A new en­gine with driveby-wire con­trols costs more than one with con­ven­tional throt­tle and shift. Yamaha’s F200 with elec­tronic con­trols, for ex­am­ple, costs around 6 per­cent more than the me­chan­i­cal ver­sion. What’s more, the drive-by-wire price does not in­clude some rig­ging el­e­ments needed for elec­tronic con­trols, in­clud­ing a bin­na­cle and in­stru­men­ta­tion. Un­less you per­form

the rig­ging work your­self, la­bor costs for up­grad­ing to a drive-by-wire mo­tor will also in­crease ver­sus retrofitting with a me­chan­i­cal en­gine. That’s be­cause the in­stalling dealer needs to re­move the old rig­ging and add new el­e­ments, such as a new con­trol har­ness and sub-assem­bly ca­bles, en­ginecon­trol mod­ule, bin­na­cle, ig­ni­tion key and start/stop switch, and en­gine in­stru­men­ta­tion.

HELM CHANGES

A re-power can grow into a larger project than you might have orig­i­nally bud­geted when switch­ing to a driveby-wire en­gine due to unan­tic­i­pated com­pli­ca­tions. For ex­am­ple, there’s no guar­an­tee that the foot­print for the new bin­na­cle will match the old one.

When the foot­prints do not match, it leads to fiber­glass and gel­coat re­pair work to patch the old mount­ing holes. Also, newer all-in-one mul­ti­func­tion en­gine dis­plays oc­cupy a frac­tion of the space that old-school in­di­vid­ual gauges re­quired, often leav­ing a bunch of empty holes to fill in the dash.

Based on these pos­si­ble com­pli­ca­tions, some boaters opt to stay with me­chan­i­cal mod­els when re­plac­ing ag­ing out­boards, thus elim­i­nat­ing much of the ex­tra rig­ging costs. Usu­ally, the new me­chan­i­cal out­board will work with the ex­ist­ing har­nesses, con­trols and in­stru­ments, pro­vided you stay with the same brand of out­board.

EAS­IER OP­ER­A­TION

Shift­ing and throt­tle ad­just­ments be­come silky smooth with elec­tronic con­trols. That’s be­cause there are no ca­bles or com­plex mech­a­nisms in the bin­na­cle to bind up. In­stead, elec­tri­cal ser­vos un­der the out­board hood re­spond to shift and throt­tle in­puts.

At the press of a mere fin­ger­tip, you can ad­vance the throt­tle from neu­tral to full throt­tle. It’s that sen­si­tive; a marvelous tool in the hands of an ex­pe­ri­enced and at­ten­tive skipper.

For those who are unini­ti­ated or more ac­cus­tomed to me­chan­i­cal con­trols with more stiff­ness in the levers, such re­spon­sive­ness can re­sult in abrupt ac­cel­er­a­tion and lurch­ing, which be­comes par­tic­u­larly haz­ardous in tight quar­ters, such as a crowded ma­rina. It can also put un­pre­pared crew mem­bers at risk. They can fall to the deck or, even worse, go over­board.

The smooth­ness also leads to a ten­dency to shift com­pletely through the neu­tral po­si­tion and into re­verse when de­cel­er­at­ing. That’s rough on the gears and pro­pel­ler hub.

To mit­i­gate these is­sues, man­u­fac­tur­ers have in­cor­po­rated ten­sion ad­just­ments into elec­tronic bin­na­cles. This lets you add fric­tion to the con­trol lever to help elim­i­nate in­ad­ver­tent and abrupt ac­cel­er­a­tion.

MULTI-OUT­BOARD FEA­TURES

Elec­tronic con­trols ease the task of run­ning mul­ti­ple out­boards. With Mer­cury Marine’s Dig­i­tal Throt­tle and Shift (DTS), for ex­am­ple, a press of a but­ton on the con­trol box lets you use a sin­gle lever for shift and throt­tle of up to four out­boards. An­other but­ton on the DTS bin­na­cle syn­chro­nizes the rev­o­lu­tions per minute for up to four mo­tors.

Drive-by-wire sys­tems also fa­cil­i­tate the ad­di­tion of sec­ond helm sta­tions in a tower. A sec­ond bin­na­cle in­te­grates with the elec­tronic con­trols. A press of a but­ton trans­fers con­trol.

The ad­vent of elec­tronic con­trols has also led to new fea­tures, such as Suzuki Marine’s troll mode for fine ad­just­ments in the lower-rpm range, us­ing a rocker switch when slow-trolling.

The Evinrude Icon II and Yamaha Helm Mas­ter bin­na­cles fea­ture en­gine­speed con­trols that work like cruise con­trol in an au­to­mo­bile. With the Yamaha sys­tem, once you reach your de­sired rev­o­lu­tions per minute, press the speed-con­trol but­ton to hold that ve­loc­ity. Both sys­tems let you throt­tle up or down in minute in­cre­ments to fine-tune your speed for max­i­mum fuel ef­fi­ciency or achieve just the right trolling speed.

Some­day soon, the out­boards powering the vast ma­jor­ity of salt­wa­ter fish­ing boats will fea­ture elec­tronic throt­tle and shift. And ul­ti­mately, that’s a good thing. As I in­ti­mated at the be­gin­ning, once you ex­pe­ri­ence this tech­nol­ogy, you’ll never want to go back to the old ca­ble con­trols again.

Suzuki’s Pre­ci­sion Con­trol elec­tronic bin­na­cle alerts you to gear shifts with an au­di­ble beep and a sig­nal on the en­gine dis­play.

Me­chan­i­cal bin­na­cles for ca­ble throt­tle and shift sys­tems re­quire sub­stan­tial mount­ing depth and big­ger cutouts than do plug-and­play top-mount elec­tronic bin­na­cles.

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