Wireless boat controls: what are they for?

Wireless Boat Controls: what are they for?

It’s a perennial truth among yacht insurers that most claims are the result of collisions incurred during close-quarters manoeuvres within the confines of a marina. And interestingly, that’s a trend that is quite accurately mirrored in the attitudes and behaviours of recreational yachtsmen. Fear of awkward situations in busy marinas, particularly where the elements are powerful and the water is overlooked, can prevent people from upsizing to the boats they ideally want – and in some cases, it can even dissuade people from using their boats altogether.

Clearly then, wireless remote control on a yacht has the potential to be very valuable. After all, while docking manoeuvres, particularly on non-fly models, can involve a limited view of a boat’s parameters, requiring you to place your trust in coded hand signals from your crew, a remote control frees you up to adopt whatever command position the circumstances demand. You can walk around your side decks, head for the bow or the swim platforms and be up close to the point of contact with the mooring buoy or the pontoon. You can even step ashore to complete the manoeuvre, with a full view of the operation, before holding it steady in complete control while the lines are all safely tied off. In terms of seamanship practicality, as well as helming confidence, it’s easy to understand why it’s becoming so popular.

What is wireless remote control?

 As the name suggests, wireless remote control comprises two simple parts – a buoyant, waterproof transmitter that is held in the hand and a receiver that is fitted at the helm. Designed to provide you with mobile and intuitive control of Pod drives, conventional drives, bow and stern thrusters and anchor windlasses, the handheld transmitter communicates with the receiver by means of a unique coded digital signal. The system then interfaces with the boat’s existing controls to provide reliable operation even if you’re several hundred feet from the helm. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should jump ashore and attempt to operate your boat from a quayside bar – but it does mean that you can circulate the entire periphery of even the largest yacht or step onto the pontoon during docking manoeuvres without the slightest trouble.

That said, stepping away from the helm might seem like a leap of faith for some, so as you might expect, there are various safety features integrated into modern wireless boat control systems to account for that. If the system fails, for instance, the immediate default is for your engines, thrusters and anchor to return to neutral, enabling you to head for the helm and to take charge with your wired controls. If the handset and receiver cease to communicate with one another, an alarm will sound on the handset and if the batteries begin to run low, again, you will be alerted. In addition, most systems also use multi-band transmissions or alternating frequencies to help mitigate the risk of interference or lost connections. And they also often employ an automatic cut-out facility that returns controls to neutral if contact between your hand and the handset is lost. This means that, if you happen to drop the remote, there is no chance of accidentally engaging propulsion with your foot or with the impact of the landing.

How is it fitted?

 A wireless boat control system requires little or no modification to your yacht, so it is unerringly simple to fit. If you use electronic controls, it can generally be retro-fitted, tested and signed off inside a day, before a short spell of on board tuition brings you fully up to speed with how it all operates. And as well as being easy to fit, the increase in popularity has made all-in package prices much more affordable than in the past. When the time comes to upsize, you can even remove a yacht controller from your old boat and reinstall it on your new one, so in terms of both time and money, the technology is extremely accessible.

What other features should you look for?

While there is a significant overlap in the nature of the technologies and in the variety of functions, the ergonomics of the remote control are particularly important. They should allow you to control several functions at once with at least the same degree of ease as you would expect at the helm. If, for instance, you want to operate forward and astern propulsion on twin engines, while also engaging a burst of bow or stern thruster, that shouldn’t be difficult to achieve; and if you want to retrieve your anchor while manoeuvring your boat, again, it should be intuitive. More to the point, once you know how you like to operate your boat in terms of the types of control you favour for a given type of manoeuvre, the best systems should also enable you to customise the hand unit in line with your preferences. Just be aware that user-friendly helming aids like joysticks, automatic trim tabs, autopilot systems and integrated digital navigation suites were never supposed to be replacements for seamanship expertise – and the same goes for wireless boat controls. You still need to have a grasp of wind and tide and of how the elements are likely to influence your vessel as you enter a marina and approach your berth. The job of the wireless remote is not to replace your skills but to enable you to apply them with enhanced safety and control.

The changing face of the remote handset

While wireless boat control systems may have started out as luxury accessories for high-end yachts, they are fast becoming must-have helming aids. There are now various brands involved in the creation of wireless boat controls – chief among which are Yacht Controller, Astel and Dockmate. But whichever you choose, their value for safety conscious boaters, short-crewed skippers or simply for people who want to eradicate some of the stress from their days out, has seen them surge in popularity over the last five years. Naturally then, insurance companies are following the trend with the utmost interest. And if these technologies enable us to see fewer insurance claims related to close-quarters collisions, who knows – we may even see reduced premiums for those who take the plunge and decide to free themselves from the helm.

If you are considering a wireless remote controller for your yacht, speak to one of our expert team at Princess Motor Yacht Sales Individual.  Call us on +44 (0)1752 39331 or email individual@princess.co.uk