Reviewed by: CAPT. MIKE SCHOONVELD
Most of the time the products in T&T are those I’ve had the chance to use personally on my own boat. Full disclosure, I don’t have a Yamaha motor on my boat, but I was on a slick as snot Skeeter multi-species boat last September equipped with a Yamaha 300 outboard and in particular, this Yammy had been upgraded with their Helm Master EX steering system.
The big motor would likely push the boat at 60 mph, but my reason for hopping on board wasn’t to paste some late season Michigan “skeeters” on my face; rather, to check out the steering system which is so much more than just pushing the throttle and spinning the wheel at the helm.
Until now, a well-equipped multi-species boat in the Great Lakes area needed to be equipped with a kicker motor on the stern, (maybe $2500); a high-end, bow-mounted electric motor (maybe another $2500); 36 volts worth of lithium batteries (maybe another $2500); an autopilot (maybe another $2500). Now, most owners of Yamaha outboards 150 HP or larger or future owners of Yamaha outboards won’t need any of these items when they purchase a new motor with the Helm Master EX steering system or retrofit their present Yamaha outboard with the system.
The system comes with a seven-inch screen, either in or on the dash, and integrates with most fairly late model chart plotters or plotter/sonar units, whether they are Hummers, Raymarine, Garmin, Lowrance or other brands. It comes with a joystick steering control, but the stick doesn’t replace the steering wheel, the user just picks which to use, depending on need. When we simulated fishing conditions, trolling, controlled drift or “e-anchoring,” as well as inside the marina in tight quarters as when docking or maneuvering in close quarters, the joystick was the way to go. At cruising speeds, use the steering wheel.
I’ve had autopilot steering on all my boats since the middle 1990s. I wouldn’t own a boat without it. Push a couple of buttons and the EX’s autopilot feature takes over to steer a straight or a gently serpentine route if that’s what is wanted. A few taps on the screen of the chart and the AP will steer a complex route to follow a contour or navigate a channel.
Speed control is amazing. Without activating the EX and after bumping the boat into gear the dead idle speed was 3.7 MPH – too fast for most Great Lakes trolling applications. So I just tapped the joystick back a few times and the speed decreased to 2.5. Not bad for salmon, what about walleye speeds? Tap the stick and it decelerated to 1.5 and could go lower.
To hit these low speeds, the motor simply bumped in and out of gear to regulate the speed. Bumped may not be the exact word, since the electronic shifting is smooth, more like the shifting of a car with automatic transmission.
Just as with anchor-lock systems on electric motors, the EX will auto turn left or right, forward or reverse to hold the boat in place. For walleye guys who like to drift, the EX will hold the boat 90 degrees (or at any other chosen angle) so everyone fishing on board will have their lines at right angle to the boat. If you have a good drift, punch a few buttons and the boat will move back along the same path and at the same speed up wind to the starting point.
Docking with the joystick was amazing. On our test trip, my friend at the helm (not a seasoned boater) slid the boat up next to the pier like a seasoned pro by using the joystick. It looked like the boat wanted to be parked.
This is one time I guarantee an “electronic” device will put more fish in your boat and definitely make your days on the lake more enjoyable while you are in pursuit of the fish. Check it out at http://www.yamahaoutboards.com.