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Yamaha’s Helm Master EX brings autopilot, digital steering and joystick control to smaller, single-outboard boats.

When the email from Yamaha announcing a joystick control for single outboards popped up in my inbox, I immediately wondered how the heck can you move a boat sideways with a single engine? Well, that’s one bit of functionality this little marvel can’t do, but Yamaha incorporated plenty of other controls into the new Helm Master EX system that make this a very user-friendly system deserving of attention.

The redesigned joystick allows the operator to steer, shift and adjust the throttle with just one hand, which is very helpful when docking. You can also turn the engine from one side to the other with a slight twist, rather than cranking the wheel over six or seven times. It’s quick and responsive. StayPoint, which shifts and spins multiple engines to keep the boat parked in one spot, does not work with a single outboard, but other Helm Master functions do. FishPoint will maintain the boat’s position but not the heading while DriftPoint will hold the heading while allowing the boat to drift naturally.

The joystick lets the operator dock with one hand, control the autopilot and more.

The joystick lets the operator dock with one hand, control the autopilot and more.

To make this system work with one engine, Yamaha incorporated the Digital Electric Steering (DES) it debuted with the 425-hp XTO engine. Now available as a bolt-on steering system, DES is more responsive and smoother than hydraulic steering. It also does away with the pumps and hoses that clog up bilge space and require fluid checks, burping and purging. The company redesigned the Digital Electronic Control (DEC) box so your hand rests on the throttle with your thumb right next to the trim button. But with the built-in trim assist, you only need that button to raise the motor at the end of the day. The new DEC includes speed control buttons to adjust the RPMs by small increments.

Helm Master EX also adds autopilot to the equation, something that smaller, single-engine boats would not typically utilize. You can now set a course using a series of waypoints and the system will automatically decelerate as the final destination nears and slip into neutral or engage a pre-selected SetPoint feature such as DriftPoint when you arrive. It also comes with two pattern-steering functions, one which zigzags and one that moves the boat into an expanding spiral. These are handy when trolling or looking for a specific piece of bottom structure.

02-Single engine boat

Yamaha also changed up the ignition, which is now controlled by a wireless keyfob that you need not take out of your pocket. The fob (which floats) unlocks the engine and lets you start it up with a push of a button. If you happen to misplace the fob, you can still start the engine using a code.

Yamaha offers a 5- or 7-inch touchscreen to display engine data. The system is also compatible with Garmin and Raymarine MFDs. When you put all of the pieces together, you have a very robust system that fits in the palm of your hand.

VIDEO: Take an exclusive ride with Yamaha and see how the new Helm Master EX joystick controls a single-outboard boat ▶