Wyant says DTS uses triple redundancies: If you put a screw through a main bus wire, for instance, another wire takes over. When mechanical cables break or kink, they stop working.
Meeler says main connections on Command Link Plus are rubber-sealed with O-rings. Yamaha also rigs an electronic control module for each engine in the control box, so if one ECM fails on a multiple-engine setup, the other engines still function.
Suzuki's product planning manager David Greenwood says electronic controls require minimal rigging time and really simplify second-station applications. "You'd normally have to run control cables from the engine to a junction box then to the primary station and then to the upper station. It becomes a control-cable nightmare. Every time you make a link or junction, it introduces friction and cable slop," he says.
Suzuki offers its Precision Control on the flagship V6 DF300 for up to three engines and two stations. The system's control box allows boat owners to add friction to the throttles if they choose. Controls that are too sensitive can have the same effect as those that are stiff - our bow cast netter above still winds up in the water. However, once boaters get used to the controls, they usually dial the friction back, Greenwood says.
Evinrude says its new ICON system, introduced last year, accounted for the initial boater learning curve by adjusting the throttle to eliminate some of that jumpiness out of the box. Evinrude offers ICON with 250 and 300 hp DE (digital Evinrude) models; ICON supports up to five engines and two stations. Additionally, Evinrude sells a $1,300 actuator add-on kit to convert non-ICON outboards, 150 hp and up, built in model years 2008, 2009 and 2010.
Electronic controls also deliver key engine information, using digital gauges that come with the rigging. A captain can quickly see his fuel burn and adjust trim and speed to maximize efficiency. Some of the systems also offer warning lights similar to those on car dashboards that signal potential operating problems.
Most can also connect to NMEA 2000-compatible electronics, such as chart plotters, either directly or by using a device called a gateway. The system then feeds data to the plotter so the operator can see everything from current location to rpm on one screen.
"Once an operator uses the system ... well, I've never run into anyone yet who said 'I wish I had gone with mechanical,'" says Meeler. "It's so smooth and so noticeable that people just love it. It is the future."