Why You Should Consider Switching to a Boat with Joystick Piloting

Published on March 28, 2024


Sea Ray uses Mercury Marine’s Joystick Piloting system to give even new boaters the ability to look like pros.


How Does Joystick Piloting Work?

Most boats with multiple engines have steering systems that link the engines together, so when you turn the wheel, the engines always moves in unison. With Mercury’s Joystick Piloting, when the system is activated, the outboards or outdrives can move independently in any direction necessary to execute a wide range of manuevers. A joystick knob controls the system the driver can tilt or twist, which activates an onboard computer to turn the engines in a way that moves the boat in whatever direction the driver chooses. It also allows each engine to shift and throttle up or down, allowing the boat to make manuevers that were previously deemed impossible, such as moving laterally.  


What Sea Ray Models Have Joystick Piloting for Outboards?

Nearly all Sea Ray models equipped with multiple outboard engines have the Joystick Piloting for Outboards (JPO). Models with twin engines with JPO as a standard feature include the SLX 280 Outboard, SLX 310 Outboard, SLX 350 Outboard, SLX 400 Outboard, Sundancer 320 Outboard, and Sundancer 370 Outboard.

The SDX 290 Outboard is a model that offers the option of adding the JPO system on its twin 250 Verado® FourStroke outboard-equipped models.  

The SLX 400 Outboard includes JPO as a standard feature on its triple Mercury Marine 300 Verado® FourStroke configuration. In addition, the SLX 400 Outboard offers JPO as a standard feature on boats equipped with twin Mercury 600 Verado® 7.6L V12 outboards. What’s unique about these flagship 600 hp outboards is that their lower units turn independently of the parts of the motor above the waterline, which remain fixed in position. So, when the boat performs an advanced maneuver like moving diagonally to a dock in a constricted area or spinning on its axis, onlookers unfamiliar with these motors won’t know how it’s doing it.


What Sea Ray Models Have Joystick Piloting for Sterndrives?

Joystick Piloting for Sterndrives is a standard feature on all sterndrive models with twin engines. These include the Sundancer 320, Sundancer 370, SLX 310, SLX 350, and SLX 400


What are the Benefits of Joystick Piloting?

Docking in Extreme Conditions

Historically, maneuvers such as docking in a tight slip required the driver to undergo a steep learning curve to become proficient. Even experienced drivers find it difficult when variables such as wind and current try to move the boat in an unexpected direction. For many drivers, docking a boat — especially when other people are watching — can create an elevated level of apprehension, and for many boaters, it’s one of the least enjoyable parts of boating. Most boaters enter the sport to seek relaxation and enjoy a mental vacation from stress. But beginning and ending a day on the water with anxiety is at odds with the reason most people do it. Joystick Piloting turns the most stressful parts of the day into times when even new boaters can shine and demonstrate complete control over their boat, even in challenging conditions. It not only makes everyone look like better boaters, they are better boaters.


Holding a Boat in Place Without Using an Anchor

Many circumstances require the driver to hold a boat stationary for extended periods, like when waiting for a bridge to open or queuing up at a busy fuel dock. A Joystick Piloting feature called Skyhook® makes this easy to do. The driver presses the Skyhook® button on the joystick controller’s base, and the system uses the boat’s GPS to act like a virtual anchor to help maintain its position without dropping a real anchor.  

Bowhook mode unlocks a boat’s heading and maintains position, allowing the bow to point in whatever direction winds and currents dictate. This setting reduces the number of shifts and the intensity of the throttle needed. Drifthook maintains the boat’s heading and unlocks its need to maintain its position, perfect for situations like watching the sunset in open water. Drivers can fine-tune the boat’s heading while drifting by simply jogging the joystick, which changes the heading by one degree each time it’s toggled. To adjust the heading 10 degrees, twist the knob once in the direction you want the boat to point.


Using Auto Heading to Steer the Boat

The Auto Heading mode is activated by another button on the left side of the joystick’s base with an icon that looks like a boat and can be engaged while the boat is in gear by pressing the button once. So, if you are heading towards a distant lighthouse or down a long, straight, no-wake zone and don’t want to keep your hands on the wheel at all times, steer the boat to your target and engage Auto Heading, then go hands-free. Make corrections like in Drifthook mode: one jog of the joystick left or right equals one degree of heading, and one twist equals 10 degrees. Drivers can quickly disengage Auto Heading by grabbing and turning the wheel slightly. 


Pro Tips for Using Joystick Piloting

When familiarizing yourself with the Joystick Piloting system, head out into open water to practice. The joystick is pressure-sensitive, so it will slowly move ahead if you barely tilt it forward. The intensity of the throttle is shown as an amber light at the base, which will shine brighter as the joystick is moved all the way in any direction. Increasing the joystick tilt causes the engine rpm to rise, and the boat goes faster. Avoid suddenly pushing the joystick hard over, which could cause the vessel to lurch. Conversely, inexperienced drivers sometimes barely engage the joystick, and the engines will bounce between being in gear and neutral (indicated by a green light), causing the engines to shift more than necessary.

The goal is to be smooth with the joystick control and slowly tilt the joystick, which will cause the boat to go in that direction. Gently increase the amount of tilt until reaching the desired speed. Twisting it will cause the boat to spin in the direction you turn the joystick, and the more you twist it, the faster the boat will spin. Start the spin slowly and increase as needed, then gently ease the joystick back to neutral when near your desired position.

Use combination movements of the joystick to reduce the amount of shifting needed to move the boat where you want it. Say you tilt the joystick sideways to make the boat move laterally to a dock; sometimes, the bow catches the wind and goes a little faster. Instead of letting the joystick go and having it shift into neutral before twisting the joystick to correct the bow, gently twist it while keeping the side pressure on, and this will allow you to keep the boat moving parallel to the dock.

When backing a boat into a slip, instead of trying to immediately put it next to the dock, which can cause damage if you misjudge it, aim for the middle of the slip. Then, when the boat is far enough in, move it sideways.


The beauty of the Joystick Piloting system is that even new boaters can have the confidence to buy a boat that matches their lifestyle, not just the one they think they can dock.


This is for general information purposes only. Your use or reliance on any of the information in this Blog is solely at your own risk. Under no circumstance will we have any liability for any loss or damage of any kind incurred as a result of the use of any of the information provided.

Options and features mentioned subject to change. Please confirm availability of all accessories and equipment with an authorized Sea Ray dealer. 

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