Twin-inboard boathandlers! Here’s how to improve your docking visibility.

Look Ma, No Wires!

1 Scott Bell used the Yacht Controller manual for his DIY install.
2 The handheld unit is both light-weight and intuitive.
3 I found using the handheld to dock Bell’s Sea Ray was a snap. His dog approved.

There are two basic systems for maneuvering twin-engine vessels today. One’s conventional and somewhat old-fashioned—you simply use a couple of gear shifts to engage your propellers, sometimes in conjunction with a bow and/or stern thruster. The other is newer and decidedly slicker—you use a helm-mounted joystick that harnesses computer firepower and advanced propulsion technology (increasingly, a couple of pod drives) to, in a sense, do your maneuvering for you. In either case, you necessarily wind up stuck at a fixed control station with little or no opportunity to change your vantage points or deal with multiple mooring lines.

This last detail’s important. In large part, it’s the impetus behind development of a third alternative: a wireless handheld device called a Yacht Controller. Yeah, I know. For several years now, various engine manufacturers have offered handhelds that allow you to stroll around your boat while simultaneously governing engine and thruster operations. But while such gizmos address the vantage-point issue, they can often be too large and too unwieldy to allow for the simultaneous handling of dock lines, and they’re also usually encumbered by long unwieldy electrical cords that have plug-in connectors which are subject to damage and saltwater corrosion.

The Yacht Controller’s different. Because its transmitter is both RF-enabled and ultra-compact, it has no cords or plugs to fool with; and it is lightweight enough to be slung around your neck on a lanyard so you can easily push buttons with one hand and deal with lines and fenders with the other. I know because I did exactly that just a couple of months ago, first employing the device (hanging around my neck on a colorful lanyard) to back a 55-foot Sea Ray into a tight slip in a modest cross-wind. Then I used it to tweak the boat’s position by using the transmitter in my left hand while dealing with mooring lines and fenders with my right.

This transmitter, by the way, is dual-band-enabled. Unlike the original Yacht Controller that debuted a few years ago, it generates two frequencies, one in the 400-MHz range and the other in the 800-MHz range, so the receiver mounted inside my Sea Ray’s steering station received two signals simultaneously. Had one failed or become jammed by errant RF interference, the other would have been sufficient to get the job done.

My experience with the Yacht Controller was generally quite positive, although the four-function unit I used (two buttons for the engines and two for the thrusters) seemed a tad expensive. Base price for a dual-band- Yacht Controller with engine controls only is $7,495. Add bow thruster, stern thruster, and windlass capabilities and the price goes up for each extra, with a full-featured version (with all five functions) selling for $11,795. Moreover, doing your own installation cuts the price by only between $700 and $1,100, mainly because the job’s a pushover thanks to plug-and-play cables customized to fit whatever you have got for engines and other equipment. “It seems like a lot of money, I suppose,” observed the Sea Ray’s owner Scott Bell of Pensacola, who’d purchased his Yacht Controller to deal with visibility issues during backing into a slip due to his dinghy obstructing visibility. “But I’ll tell ya, Bill,” he went on, “it compares quite favorably with the cost of installing an extra fixed station aft.” I had to admit, he had a point there. PMY

CONTACT Yacht Controller (305) 667-5811.

This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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