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Yamaha Helm Master EX Gear Review

Yamaha unveils smarter, smoother outboard-power vessel handling with the 2021 Helm Master EX

Yamaha Helm Master EX Gear Review

Yamaha Helm Master EX joystick: Push to move exactly where you want, twist to pivot, press one of the keys for SetPoint mode. 

It was somewhere around the year 2011 when I first played with a simulated version of a brand new Helm Master system from Yamaha. It left me somewhat skeptical. I looked at it as docking my boat with a joystick and roughly holding position over a piece of bottom offshore.

The 2021 version, Helm Master EX, offers vastly improved functions and performance. Through a system of double GPS antennae (one in the bow one in the stern), the system can hold your position and your heading regardless of wind and current. Incredibly, the “DriftPoint" feature will even hold your heading while you drift over a prime piece of bottom. I used “StayPoint” with a success I’ve never experienced before. Picture a 35-foot cat hull in the middle of St. Lucie Inlet, in Stuart. We had struggled to catch enough kite baits, so we pulled up to the sea buoy, with a hard falling, full moon tide. The situation was made worse by a 14-knot easterly wind. It was a washing machine.


Never having used the new generation Helm Master, I hit “StayPoint” but refused to leave the wheel. Looking back, I probably still wouldn’t ever leave the helm, while drifting only feet from a sea buoy, but I could have. The wind couldn’t push me to the west, and the tide couldn’t turn me around. Now I‘m not going to tell you the motors weren’t working hard. Both motors shifted often, but much more subtly than earlier versions of Helm Master.

Yamaha Helm Master review
Independent steering and guided shifting and throttle produce a surprising array of directional movement from outboard engines—with basically zero work for the captain. Also possible: Holding position and/or heading in countering wind and current.

“FishPoint” is the coolest function I’ve seen. It can set up a trolling pattern for you, by simply telling it what GPS spots you want to work. Now here comes what I think is the cherry on top. FishPoint will troll at any speed you want. You can even troll live bait at any speed you want. You can preset shifts in and out of gear to maintain “the crawl” necessary for live baiting sails or kingfish.

The system works because of the double GPS antennae, that feed info to the computer, that drives each engine independently. Man, does it look weird the first time you look back, and see your twin engines facing each other, sliding you sideways, by the computer telling which engine to turn and shift gears. There’s no more tie rod joining the motors, and you on the wheel turning the boat, using either full tight turns, or throttling one engine against another. Leave the motors straight, go to neutral, and push the button telling Helm Master to take over. Just like my old Play Station, it’s all in the joystick.


I’ve long been a proponent of trolling motors offshore. Helm Master showed me in one day how it can be more effective in all conditions.

Set the tension on the steering wheel to increase as speed increases?

Set the trim so boat is always at optimal handling?

Set the throttles to sync motors on a single throttle?

Game, set, match.

The technology that Helm Master is based on is not exclusively Yamaha’s. Mercury has “JPO” or Joystick Piloting Option, and Suzuki uses Sea Star’s Optimus 360, and all have similar features. Now that Helm Master is even available for single engines, you really do have to ask yourself the age-old question: “What will they think of next?”



Helm Master EX Photos

yamaha helm master ex review
Modern handling technology from Yamaha pairs traditional outboard controls with the latest joystick technology.
yamaha helm master ex review
The need for a wheelman to constantly pay attention to the controls is eliminated when these new functions are enabled.
yamaha helm master ex review
Full clutch and throttle controls can both be joystick activated with only your fingertips.
yamaha helm master ex review
Maintaining a position hold over an active piece of bottom can either be done with the joystick or by engaging the “StayPoint” function.
yamaha helm master ex review
Each of the custom function settings are available with the simple push of a button on the joystick control.
yamaha helm master ex review
Digital technology has made it possible to slide a large multi-engine vessel sideways onto the dock in tight spots with a single fingered nudge of the joystick.
yamaha helm master ex review
The twin Yamaha XTO 425s seen here at opposing angles work to execute a lateral move away from the fuel dock.
yamaha helm master ex review
The water settles and the engines return to even leaving plenty of space for you to ease away from the dock.

Published Florida Sportsman Magazine December/January 2022

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