Joystick control for shaft drive boats

Dag Pike

Swedish marine engine manufacturer Volvo Penta has extended its reach into nearly every part of the marine propulsion sector with its engine ranges now supplemented by a variety of propulsion systems plus a wide variety of ancillary equipment such as interceptors and electronics.

Joystick control of the propulsion was introduced when Volvo Penta developed the IPS Drive over a decade ago, which is capable of 360° steering and they have since adapted joystick control for their stern drives. Now the company has developed a joystick control system for conventional shaft and propeller propulsion such as the systems used by many work boats.

Instead of performing complicated steering, gear shift and throttle combinations, the boat driver can now perform the same manoeuvres using the joystick and the boat responds accordingly. Unique to the inboard engine segment, the system not only communicates with the thrusters, but also coordinates the rudders, gear and throttle together.

The result is what Volvo Penta describes as ‘a world-class driving and docking experience.’ Both Joystick Docking and Joystick Driving functions are available, the former allowing the precise control needed to manoeuvre a boat into a tight berthing space. Joystick Driving is engaged when the boat is proceeding in the open sea and allows simple joystick control of both speed and direction.

Steering with the joystick is achieved by rotating the joystick knob and a push button in the top of the knob engages the auto-pilot so that any desired heading can be maintained. This applies at both low and high speeds. When manoeuvring in harbour the joystick electronics detect a balance between the propeller thrust and the rudder in order to achieve the desired turning effect and with the thrusters integrated into the system it is possible to make the boat have sideways movement under full control. Obviously the system works better when a stern thruster is incorporated so that bow and stern thrusters can help with control but the system can operate with just a bow thruster as fitted to many work boats.

This new joystick control for inboard engines can be fully integrated into the boat’s electronic systems resulting in movement displays on the dashboard. The system can also be retro-fitted provided that the engine and thruster installation have the required connecting capabilities. By having all of the propulsion components from the engine to the propulsion and control from one manufacturer allows for a single level of responsibility when things go wrong plus an extensive number of service centres which could be useful for boats operating on time-critical jobs.

This new joystick control for inboard engines can be fully integrated into the boat’s electronic systems