JOYSTICK PILOTING: Safe, easy, one-handed control

Maneuvering a boat in tight spaces— especially a big boat with multiple engines — can be daunting for even the most experienced captains. But with joystick piloting from Mercury Marine, these chores become almost effortless and much safer.

Introduced in 2007, Mercury joystick piloting was originally paired with Zeus pod drives for larger sport cruisers, delivering the ability to throttle, shift and steer a multi-engine boat single-handedly with a joystick. Exceptional handling and improved maneuverability at low speeds were just two of the noticeable benefits.

The following year, the Axius system was introduced for MerCruiser sterndrive-powered boats. In 2013, Joystick Piloting for Outboards debuted at the Miami International Boat Show, offering virtually every boater effortless vessel control.

Joystick piloting can move a boat sideways or at an angle in any direction; it can rotate a boat on its own axis and maneuver safely in close quarters with just a push or twist of a single joystick. The key to the system is that each drive articulates and moves independently.

Among the advanced features of Joystick piloting is the Skyhook Virtual Anchor. Using a boat’s GPS system, Skyhook pinpoints its position and moves the drives independently to maintain the correct heading. It’s perfect for holding over a hot fishing spot or waiting for the locks or drawbridge to open. Auto Heading and Waypoint Sequencing is an integrated autopilot system that makes navigating to any destination — and safely back again — simple and easy.

The soul of Joystick piloting is Mercury’s DTS or digital throttle and shift. This “fly- by-wire” technology eliminated mechanical cables used for throttle and shifting while providing the electronic network necessary for an entire line of navigation and engine monitoring advancements.

Mercury’s racing roots

The Albany to New York Marathon was an annual 136-mile race down the Hudson River contested by outboard boaters simply for bragging rights.

In 1947, a 10hp Mercury Lightning won its division, igniting in Mercury founder Carl Kiekhaefer a spark that became a promotional and development flame. He soon convinced the American Powerboat Association to sanction stock outboard racing to increase crowds and media exposure, not to mention competition.

At the 1948 Marathon, a cold, soaking rain and thick fog didn’t deter 181 entrants — including a dozen driving Mercury 7.5hp Rocket outboards — from taking off at 9 a.m. Yachting Magazine called it “... a mass start that resembled the evacuation of Dunkirk without air cover.” 141 boats finished, with the top five powered by Mercury. Leading the pack was 16-year-old Indiana schoolboy Leon Wilton. Racing’s value in both technology and marketing would become both a blessing and a curse for the fledgling engine maker.

Ray Wittkop (Mercury years: 1940 - 1980)

The eyes of 93-year-old Ray Wittkop still shine like those of the 18-year-old lad who walked into Kiekhaefer Corporation in 1940. “It hadn’t taken me long to figure out farming wasn’t for me,” said Wittkop. He left the farm, attended technical school and started working at Kiekhaefer for 35 cents an hour, sometimes doing piecework for 13.5 cents per completed outboard.

“We’d ship those Thors in these big, wooden crates,” he said. “Cripes, the crates weighed three times as much as the motors.”

When World War II forced the company to shift production from engines to support equipment, Wittkop supervised the military chainsaw line. “’Mr. K’ knew I did some logging, and he always called on me to do demonstrations," he said.

Wittkop also conducted prop tests on the Mequon River across from the Kiekhaefer family farm when he wasn’t baling hay. In his 40 years at Mercury, Wittkop worked on every product the company made, including the ill-fated Mercury snowmobiles.

Wittkop retired in 1980 and lives with his wife in Fond du Lac.