controls can do more than ease a knee-knocking docking situation.
By Capt. Ken Kreisler — January 2002
By the time I sold my 42-foot Maine-built lobster boat, I had forearms like Popeye from not only hauling on my fishing gear but also constantly fighting with my mechanical throttles and gear controls.
Docking maneuvers under adverse conditions–when you’re a commercial fisherman, it’s a rare day when you’re not out–were usually accompanied by last-minute wheel swinging and frantic left- and right-hand clutching and arm waving at the controls to try and bring the old tub to rest in a somewhat dignified manner. And if I could have given a voice to my diesel engine during those times, what a conversation we would have had: "Forward! What, now you want reverse? Forward again? Ah, come on, cap, make up your mind. I been at this all day, you know, and besides, you’re tearin’ up my trannie. Hey, I’m torquin’ to you!"
All that changed with the advent of electronic controls. Ah, yes, gone are all the monkey moves so common with those old, slow controls as well as those knee-knocking, heart-pounding moments when you’re beyond the point of no return and wishing you never stepped foot on the deck of a boat.
Instead, with your fingers lightly touching these beautiful works of industrial art, you can smoothly, effortlessly, and instantaneously control your engines and your boat’s movement through the water and literally make your vessel do pirouettes around the dock while you heroically make yet another eggshell landing. "Oh yeah, okay, you can throw out that spring line now," you say, as you shut ‘em down and alight from the helmseat.
To get a handle of how electronic controls work, I spoke with Jeff Turner, technical advisor for ZF Mathers. While he says there are a wide variety of electronic controls to choose from, all basically work the same way. In its simplest explanation, the helm-mounted control head sends a signal–activated station, forward, reverse, throttle up, throttle down, neutral, and so on–to a control box. This box is a powerful microprocessor that interprets the signal and activates the engine and transmission to follow the proper course of action.
This article originally appeared in the June 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.