Boat Review by: Rick Layzell
In the summer of 2022 we had our first opportunity to dive deep into Yamaha’s newly released Helm Master EX technology. Fast forward a mere 14 months and the Yamaha team invited us back to proudly share their most recent advancements to Helm Master EX alongside some great new features on their 150 – 200 HP engines.
Having experienced the benefits of the Helm Master EX total vessel control system before, we were eager to see, hear, and experience not only the new features but also how this would continue to improve the boater experience.
The foundation of Helm Master EX lies within Yamaha’s commitment to what they call ‘CommandBlue.’ This philosophy converges engineering advancements with consumer desires -- the end goal being to deliver products that are easier to use, offer greater satisfaction, and build confidence on the water. Yamaha extended the reach of Helm Master EX and its new technologies across many of their 150 / 175 and 200 HP models. There are now 14 models in this horsepower range that can readily be connected to Helm Master EX.
As a lifelong boater with his fair share of challenging moments on the water, I am excited by the commitment made by brands like Yamaha to genuinely focus on improving the customer experience.
Let’s look first at the innovations housed within the new engines. Our test boat was equipped with a pair of F200’s (right and left-hand propeller rotation). These 2.8 L, 16 valve, double overhead cam engines land at a modest transom weight of 221 KG / 487 lbs. Variable cam timing yields exceptional acceleration and bumped up torque in the critical 2,000 – 3,500 RPM range. Plus, we can all smile knowing they are designed to be compatible with regular octane fuel.
A conversation with the Yamaha team uncovered that the brand owns their own hydraulics company (not terribly surprising) and the collaboration amongst the hydraulics team and the engine designers led to the release of a new integrated hydraulic steering system. Changes were made to the engine mounting bracket to accommodate the new system as well. The result is a more streamlined installation that saves space in the engine well, while also utilizing existing conventional hydraulic lines.
It stood out quickly that the new design also has no visible cylinder movement – the standard hydraulic lines are connected to the engine mount, and all movement is contained internally. Compared to competitive hydraulic steering systems, this is a very clean and spacious look in the engine well.
There are 14 new configurations of the F150 and F200 models that are DEC capable (Digital Electronic Control). Eight of these feature Electro-Hydraulic steering which takes the entire Helm Master EX experience to the next level. Yamaha has seven more models of F150 / F200 that use mechanical controls and now also incorporate hydraulic steering.
Also new on these models is the ‘TotalTilt’ feature. As if tilting the engine wasn’t easy enough, Yamaha raised the bar with a complete tilt system that is activated with a double push of the up or down trim/tilt button.
Helm Master EX itself is a total game changer when it comes to operating – everything from start up to docking is just plain better with this system. Our original report delved into many of the features, but for this report let’s look at a few of my favorites.
The easy-to-navigate joystick houses three Set Point options – StayPoint, FishPoint and DriftPoint. Avid anglers will appreciate how FishPoint moves the vessel while managing wind and current while DriftPoint keeps your desired heading on track. The standout for me is StayPoint, though. It has so many functional uses like holding the boat in position while preparing lines and fenders, or waiting your turn to proceed onto a fuel dock in a busy marina. Imagine the ease of holding steady as you arrive to the blue wall to experience the Trent-Severn or Rideau Canal waterways.
There’s also a handy ‘Distance Remaining’ feature housed within the system. Once you’ve established your target, the CL5 or multi-function display gives you real time remaining distance updates. New for this year is the addition of up to 9 different colour options on the binnacle control and the joystick. This is a brilliant idea that should be utilized, especially for in-gear situations - red for neutral, green for forward or reverse.
The highlight for me was the new ‘Start/Stop’ button on the binnacle. Simply power up the system and tap Start/Stop and listen to both engines come to life. No more key switches on the dash (or keys to be forgotten at home), and more room for additional helm electronics.
With all this in mind, we eased the Zodiac Hurricane away from the docks onto very calm waters with fall temperatures hovering around 8 degrees C (50 F). Yup, it was chilly, and I was thankful for the full windshield.
First impression for push button starting - I love it.
Second impression for Electro-Hydraulic steering – there is a unique and comforting sound that gets emitted from the system, alongside the soft growl of the twin 200’s stacked on a rigid hull inflatable. I knew we were in for some fun. Just pulling away from the dock the sensation of the new steering system was immediate – the feeling at the wheel is incredibly responsive and smooth. As we headed towards our open test grounds, my first take off had me gripping the wheel as I typically would when managing 400 HP. I admit, I actually oversteered a little. That’s all part of testing and with a small mindset (and grip) adjustment acknowledging the benefits of this new technology, we were quickly and safely underway.
We put the pairing through our standard array of performance testing including hole shots (exceptional at an average of 3.66 seconds), cruising speeds (endless range with our preferences recorded at 3,200 RPM at 24 MPH and 3,500 RPM at 28.5 MPH). Our top speed trial had us ripping down the lake at a blistering 5,800 RPM at 53.3 MPH.
I took a few moments to test each of the Set Point options on the joystick, as well as the ability to bump the RPM in increments of 50 with a single button push. StayPoint, FishPoint, and DriftPoint all created noticeable differences in vessel control with the engines automatically moving in and out of gear and utilizing varying RPM to adjust for the desired setting. There is so much user-friendly functionality here.
As our camera crew worked tirelessly from the photo boat, I had the opportunity to put the package through cornering maneuvers and this is where the Electro-Hydraulic steering system really shines. Steering, cornering, and handling was effortless. I cannot say enough how much of a game changer this is.
Boating is all about experiences. Whether your passion is angling, cruising/overnighting, or dayboating, Yamaha’s dedication to improving the on-water experience is a benefit to us all. The new integrated hydraulic or Electro-Hydraulic steering packaging is a slam dunk. The continuing advancements in Helm Master EX will make our sport easier and more accessible to all. Kudos to the thoughtful and passionate engineers on a job well done.