Was it one of the worst kept secrets in the marine industry? Maybe. When I received an invite to Florida, USA, from Telwater (TW), Australia’s Evinrude distributor, the discussion went as follows. It may be paraphrased for simplicity and to not get in the way of a good story.
SM: Cool – new, smaller G2 E-TECs, huh?
TW: Nope. New technology for existing G2s.
SM: Oh, so it’s Evinrude’s version of Joystick control?
TW: ummmm… maybe. How did you know?
SM: They said at Milwaukee last year that affordable joystick control was the next thing that they were going to release to the market.
Of course, the G2 E-TECs are eminently suitable for the inclusion of this kind of system. Boasting power steering units included on each G2, there’s no need for bulky and expensive hydraulic pumps to be installed. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s step back a little…
WHAT’S iDOCK ALL ABOUT?
Let’s do Joystick Control 101, or iDock as Evinrude call it, fitting into Evinrude’s current ecosystem of products like iSteer, iControl, iCommand and iTrim. We all know how to use a joystick, right? Even those of us who are in the second half of our lives enjoyed a game of PacMan or Galaga in our earlier years at the local milk bar. Kids, of course, are experts and use one intuitively. On a related matter, you know when most bigger boat owners are nervous? It’s not driving their pride and joy around the bay. It’s when they’re docking – be it on their own dock, a public berth or in a marina. What iDock does is remove the decades of experience you needed to dock a big boat with precision and make it so easy that a kid could do it, with a joystick.
THE BIG REVEAL
It wasn’t an ideal day to launch this new piece of kit. With media from all over the world assembled, the rain came down. And I don’t mean a few showers, I mean it bucketed down, complete with thunder and lightning and a weather radar that looked like a plate of parma from the local pub. The Evinrude guys were looking a little nervous – plenty of the journalists were flying out that afternoon and timings were tight. The rain needed to stop by late morning, and it did. Like kids to a new toy, the media piled in the test boats and proceeded to use the iDock, without reading the instructions. Nowadays, that’t nearly the way I judge the user-friendliness of a new product: can media guys (who think we know everything about everything) jump in and make it work straight away? The answer is a definite yes. Within minutes the assembly of North and South Americans and even the lost Aussie and a Kiwi were docking the test boats like a pro – both the luxurious and seemingly overpowered pontoon boat and the eminently fishable Scout with twin 200s.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
If my kids were to ask how iDock works, I’d probably just tell them ‘magic’, but since Fishing Monthly audiences are usually a little more sceptical than my gullible youngsters, let’s go through the basics. Traditionally, twin-engine rigs are tied together with bars and rods that ensure that the outboards are always pointing in the same direction. The driver can differentially trim these outboards and apply the throttles independently to level the attitude while underway or to skid-steer the boat when manoeuvring the boat in close. Then came digital throttles and shift and power steering. ‘Fly by wire’ allowed the manufacturers to digitally control and maintain throttle, trim attitudes and steering. It’s how features such as iTrim work, substituting a computer and predetermined parameters to trim a boat more precisely and more accurately than a human being can, especially when they have more to think about than just trimming the boat, like fishing. The next extension, of course, was to use the ability to totally and independently control these outboards to allow some complex mathematical algorithms to move the boat in whatever direction you want – including sideways and spinning on its axis. And the best way to direct the computer controlling this? A joystick, of course. From a captain’s point of view, it’s ridiculously simple. You push a button to transfer control from the helm to the joystick. The button you push is the only one on the joystick. You then move the joystick in the direction you want the boat to go. It’s that easy.
Forwards and backwards? Easy. Sideways? Yep – it’s awesome. Spin around? No problems. And you can combine the directions when you get a feel for it. Additionally, there’s an extra boost available if you need an extra spurt of thrust to counter a gust of wind or a burst of current. You just push past the detent at the natural edge of control and you get extra rpm to get you out if trouble. Traditional outboard joystick systems tend to have the engines fight against one another with wind and tide, however iDock has an Integrated Aircraft Gyro Sensor, which locks in the heading off the boat. Whether there is wind or current, the boat will maintain its set heading adjusting the position of the engines to keep you on course. We got to test the iDock in a fairly confined space, with added current and wind – real world conditions under the supervision of the Evinrude staff that looked remarkably relieved that the rain had stopped.
My initial impressions? Apart from the awe you always feel when you drive a boat sideways for the first time was the fact that you needed to think and steer a few seconds ahead. It takes this time for the engines to move to the correct position and the gears and revs to get to where they need to be to get you where you want to go. It’s like driving an electric trolling motor. Spin the head round and hit the thrust and it still takes a few seconds to bring the boat to a standstill. It’s the same with iDock. If you want to change directions, it’ll take a few seconds to get the motors in order and to bleed off the speed you already have. Also, you’ll have to stop trying to grab the helm. Trust me, you’ll do it plenty when you’re transitioning to iDock. iDock will lock the steering while it takes control. When you want to take control again, just press the button and you’ll have your steering and throttles back. See, I told you a kid could do it!
BEHIND THE MAGIC
“Our goal with the Evinrude E-TEC G2 engines was to design a platform with unlimited potential for continued technological enhancement and innovation,” said Olivier Pierini, Evinrude Director of Global Marketing and Strategic Planning. “The intuitive nature of the technology will give even a novice boater immediate confidence in their ability to dock any boat equipped with Evinrude E-TEC engines easily. And by using technology that is already built into the engine, it is significantly more affordable than any other joystick system on the market.” And that’s the key to iDock. It adds very little to what already exists within the E-TEC G2 architecture and because of this, it can do it cheaper than any other system on the market. What’s the expected cost of the system in Australia? At the time of printing, it wasn’t yet available, however, the stateside pricing is very aggressive. We’ll be sure to let you know when we do. There are slight differences between the off-the-shelf G2 E-TECs and those used for iDock. Evinrude E-TEC G2 iDock model engines are sold in pairs and will be available in 2018. – Steve Morgan