The Mackay River flowed its customary 2 to 3 knots as an early August incoming tide flooded the coastal marsh near St. Simons Island, Georgia. Yamaha’s Ry Landry and David Ittner had already launched our test boat — a Robalo 246 Cayman powered by a single F300 outboard and equipped with Yamaha’s new Helm Master EX boat-control system.
I had been eager to try out Helm Master EX on a single-outboard boat — on salt water. In fact, in 2012, when Yamaha released the original Helm Master — for boats with twins through quad outboards — I posed this followup question: Any chance this will ever be made for single-outboard boats?
After all, one of Helm Master’s most dramatic demos involved crabbing the boat completely sideways to nestle at the dock. One outboard with one prop is incapable of generating the kind of opposing forces needed to move a boat sideways.
But I was thinking too small. Helm Master and this recently updated EX version deliver an expansive suite of features, many of critical interest to fishermen. This is far more robust than a simple steering trick.
Helm Master EX can supply many of the functions of a trolling motor, a shallow-water anchor and an autopilot. And while it can’t crab the single-outboard boat sideways, its joystick vastly improves close-quarters handling. The digital electric steering, which replaces hydraulic systems, gives even a small bay boat the handling characteristics of a luxury vessel.
In the video below, Landry — Yamaha’s product education manager — walks me through each overall feature of Helm Master EX. Each feature also comes with multiple functions. If we had taken time to test all the functions, we might still be on the water.
As Landry explained to me on camera, Helm Master EX is a component system that starts with the digital electronic control unit — essentially what you’d consider the throttle (MSRP $1,146.85 for a single outboard). To increase functionality, add the digital electric steering tilt helm ($925) and bolt-on steering cylinder kit ($3,019.21, though not required for 425 XTO outboards). If you want the autopilot, that’s $2,879.37; the addition of the joystick costs $4,193.35.
Purchased as an entire kit, EX costs $12,356.95 and includes the electronic keyless system and some of the required harnesses. Installation costs vary.
Of course, this second-generation version of Helm Master is also available for multiple-outboard-powered boats. Helm Master EX will be an available option for many new boats, and it can be retrofitted by a qualified installer on most boats with digitally controlled Yamaha outboards from the F150 up (with a few specific exceptions).