Joystick Boat Control Innovations: What’s New and Noteworthy

Volvo Penta’s joystick technology continues to make boating safer and more fun.
Volvo Penta joystick
Volvo Penta introduced joystick technology in 2006, transforming boating. They’ve evolved features like Dynamic Positioning System and Joystick Steering, leading to the recent Joystick Driving innovation. Volvo Penta

In 2006, Volvo Penta launched joystick technology in combination with the Inboard Propulsion System (IPS) for powerboats. Having a joystick at the helm was a massive leap forward in technology, given that little had changed about maneuvering systems since the early days of boating.

Since then, the company has continued to prove that not all joysticks are created equal. While the first iteration helped only with docking, Volvo Penta continued to develop joystick features like the Dynamic Positioning System (DPS), which integrates with satellites and the Global Positioning System (GPS) to keep a boat in place. Joystick Steering, which arrived in 2012, lets boaters use the joystick in addition to wheel, allowing them to steer comfortably at all speeds with only one hand.

Volvo Penta joystick
Volvo Penta’s Assisted Docking system simplifies boat docking by removing the dynamics of wind and current, and improves your control for maneuvering tight spaces. Volvo Penta

More recently, there’s been Assisted Docking, which reduces stress when pulling into a marina slip. And now, Volvo Penta has unveiled Joystick Driving, which integrates shift, throttle and steering into a single joystick control that’s not on the dashboard, but instead in the armrest of driver’s seat.

All of these features were unimaginable with old-school steering systems, says Jens Bering, vice president of marine sales for Volvo Penta of the Americas.

“A joystick is an interface, just like a steering wheel is an interface,” he says. “A joystick gives you different features that you can activate, and it becomes more and more of an interface with the additional features we can add.”

Understanding Joystick Boat Controls

For decades, operating a boat required managing multiple systems at once. The wheel made the boat turn. Throttles controlled speed. GPS was in a multifunction display.

Joystick control brings all that technology into a single system that can be ergonomically positioned in the armrest of the captain’s chair. And customers need assistance with service and parts, they can take advantage of the complete solution offered by Volvo Penta — all features are designed, manufactured and supported by the company. 

“It’s all the same warranty because Volvo Penta is a single supplier,” Bering says. “That is a major benefit.”

New Features and Benefits of Joystick Control Systems

The newest feature in Volvo Penta’s joystick system is Joystick Driving. To increase the engine RPM, a captain pushes the joystick forward. Joystick Driving allows the captain speed up or slow down. Releasing the joystick makes the boat cruise at a certain speed. Pulling back the joystick stops the boat.

Each of these actions happens in concert with electronic gear shifting from the armrest of the captain’s chair, ensuring an ergonomic driving posture plus smooth acceleration and deceleration. 

“Boating is supposed to be fun and comfortable,” Bering says. “This is one of those awesome features that really delivers that.”

Autopilot Functions

Joystick Driving also automatically engages the boat’s autopilot. This feature means the captain no longer has to make constant course corrections.

“Whatever the vessel maintains the heading until the system receives a course correction from the captain,” Bering says. “If you want to change the heading 1 degree, 5 degrees, you can do it with the joystick.”

Volvo Penta joystick
Station-keeping–which has improved over the years along with other technology like GPS–means having the boat stay in one spot, even in the wind and current. Volvo Penta

Station-Keeping Options

Station-keeping means having the boat stay in one spot, even in wind and current. The Volvo Penta DPS Dynamic Positioning system works with satellites and GPS to compensate for those challenges. 

Fishermen can focus on baits once they find the fish. Cruisers can more easily wait for bridges to open.

“It also helps with docking,” Bering says. “If you come into the dock and are anxious about maneuvering the boat into the proper position, you can hit the DPS button and reset your brain, take a breather.”

FAQs About Joystick Boat Control

When switching from traditional steering to joystick control, here are frequently asked questions to consider:

  1. What is the most popular joystick boat-control feature? Assisted Docking as a docking tool. “Docking is the most nerve-wracking, stress-related thing that the average boater is going to encounter,” Bering says. “With this unique Volvo Penta feature, they can be in total control.”
  2. What boats can come pre-built with joystick controls? Powerboats starting at 25 feet and larger with electronically controlled engines. For gas-engine boats, it needs to be twin engines. For diesel-engine boats, it can be a single engine.
  3. Can you retrofit a boat with joystick controls? Often, yes, if the boat has electronically controlled engines. 
  4. What are some things to consider with joystick boat control? When the boater activates the joystick driving function, key driver information – the requested gear, speed, and heading – is automatically displayed in the Volvo Penta Glass Cockpit helm display. The captain can tailor the Joystick Driving view to show the needed information – for full control of the situation.
  5. Can joystick boat controls be customized? Boaters can buy only Joystick Steering or can add Assisted Docking and Joystick Driving.
  6. What type of boater would benefit the most from joystick control systems? Newcomers find the joystick intuitive and easier to manage, while the increased comfort lets older boaters can cruise for longer intervals.