• Published:June 17, 2019
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You might think you don't need nor want them, until you try them.

After several fishing trips with joystick-equipped boats, I have a whole new outlook because these systems can help you catch more fish.
At first, the idea of a joystick steering system on a boat seemed a bit like cheating and unnecessary. But once you have an outboard-powered joystick installed on your helm, you’ll never look back. Simply put, the features and functions these systems will help you catch more fish.

The big selling point for anglers isn’t the easier docking or the ability to move your boat sideways at the mere push of a joystick. Rather, it’s the ability to enjoy virtual anchoring.

Each of the manufacturers has its own name for these features (Yamaha calls it SetPoint, Mercury calls it Skyhook, Evinrude labeled it iDock and SeaStar calls it SeaStation). These systems function in a manner similar to Minn Kota’s Spot Lock feature, which integrates GPS with an electric trolling motor to hold a boat in place despite wind or current. Spot Lock came out long before these outboard systems, but obviously, most large offshore boats don’t have a trolling motor on the bow. What many of them do have, however, are multiple outboards. The joystick system allows your engine and GPS to remain in constant contact, steering, shifting in and out of gear, and applying power as necessary to hold the boat in position.

Being able to hold station has the obvious advantage of letting you fish in one specific spot without the hassle and time it takes to drop anchor, but it also allows you to incrementally move the boat in an analytical fashion. Thus, you can thoroughly work an area, temperature break, or wreck. Simply nudge the joystick one way or the other, and the boat shifts 10 feet in that direction. Nudge it forward or aft, and again, you can make a minute adjustment in positioning.

This ability became very clear to me when fishing on the new Grady-White Canyon 456 powered by quad F425 XTO Yamaha outboards and rigged with a Helm Master system. We ran 20-pus miles offshore and fished a wreck for a mix of grouper, triggerfish and beeliners. Whenever the bite seemed to drop off, strangely, it would suddenly pick back up again. It was several hours before I realized that the consistent action came thanks to the captain and his use of the Helm Master. As the action slowed, he would jog us 10 feet in one direction, and then forward and to the other direction. We zig-zagged the entire length of the wreck over the course of the morning, working fresh territory with every second or third drop and as a result, the bites simply never stopped.

The boat shifted position slower than it might when swinging at anchor, and not only was it imperceptible to the anglers, it also reduced the number of snags. We only lost a couple of rigs over an entire day of fishing. This opens up new doors when catching bait, working new areas and fishing a piece of structure. 


The joysticks also show their merit when kite fishing, or live-baiting along the edge of a rip. These systems enable you to control the boat’s drift in a way that was unimaginable a few years ago. No sea anchor needed. At the press of a button the engines will maintain the boat’s heading, while still allowing the vessel to drift. So you can keep the bow up-wind, down-wind, or cock the boat at whatever angle you’d like as you drift along a specific piece of bottom or a rip line.

While the abilities to control drift and position the boat on top of fishy water will inherently improve your end game, you still get to enjoy easier docking, close-quarters maneuvering, and the ability to spin your boat on a dime. Yes, we are sold on joysticks.


Mercury Joystick Piloting 
SeaStar Optimus 
Yamaha Helm Master 
Evinrude iDock