Manoeuvring your boat via a joystick docking system is available for almost every type of marine propulsion, and this includes outboard motors, sterndrives, pod drives and inboards. Joystick operation provides boaters with extra confidence around the dock as well as offering lees inexperienced boaters the opportunity for easier docking. Joystick docking offers us the ability to accomplish complex manoeuvres such as sideways movements that may not be possible in conventional boat steering. That being said, joystick docking still takes a little practice to get the hang of and hone your docking skills.
EYE THE DESTINATION
It is very common for captains to keep a bead on their engine cowling angles when docking, as this gives the captain a better idea of the angles required to complete the docking manoeuvre. But beware, with joystick docking systems the lack of a tie rod means that the engines steer independently of each other. This then means that you cannot take a reference from the angle of the motors. With the joystick docking system, you simply need to look where you want to go and use the joystick to get you there.
Joysticks in general are very sensitive and respond to a very light touch of the hand. It is important to get to know the neutral position of the joystick and to remove your hand once the boat has stopped. Some joystick docking options incorporate LED lighting to indicate the operation mode being used.
Just because you have a state-of-theart joystick docking system linked to your GPS to hold the boat in one spot, it doesn’t mean you can leave the helm unattended. If there is an electronic glitch for some reason, you need to be able to take action quickly. The likelihood of this happening is slim, but the captain needs to always remain at the helm to keep an eye on proceedings. Also, there are often fishing lines, dock lines, shore power cords at the dock and many others. Keeping is the generic term for the ability to push a button and allow a joystick system, when interfaced to GPS, to hold a boat in place without operator input. This is not your cue to leave the helm. For one thing, if an electronic glitch occurs, safety would be compromised. Also, the props are still turning in this mode, so take care with fishing line and watch for stray lines and hoses around the dock.
ROCK THE BOAT
Sometimes a rocking motion can occur when the boat is in sideways movement. This rocking motion is more prevalent in cruisers with high profiles than in centre consoles. When you release the joystick, there is the possibility that the boat can rock into the dockside. Practice how your boat reacts when put into sideways motion and being attentive to its rocking motion is key to better docking.
As is the case when operating conventional boat steering for docking, short bursts of power and then a return to neutral are best. Again, understanding how much your boat moves in the water after being returned to neutral is important for sharpening your docking skills. Our technical team here at Leisure Boating have tried out various joystick control options that all offer great manoeuvrability and improved docking, but the question remains whether it is a viable financial outlay when factored into the comprehensive cost of boat ownership.