The small town of Bridgeport, Ala., became ground zero for some of the biggest writers in the outboard and boating business Tuesday.
Bridgeport has long been home of a semi-secret Yamaha Marine Division Testing Facility. Every year, Yamaha bigwigs come to Chattanooga and Bridgeport to show off the next season's latest and greatest Yamaha innovations to writers and editors.
This year, the biggest news out of Bridgeport is what Yamaha calls Helm Master.
You won't be using Helm Master on your run-of-the-mill fishing boat. It's designed for larger vessels at least 30 feet in length with either twin or triple engines. But if you own a boat like that, you'll definitely want to learn about Helm Master, an amazing new boat control system.
Let me sum it up this way: You arrive at Chattanooga's Riverfront, and there is only one "parking spot" left at the Marine Max Dock, and it is just barely longer than your boat. Even for the most experienced captain, parallel parking in the Tennessee River current just doesn't work very well.
However, with Helm Master, you can literally move your boat sideways in the water, easing point-blank into your assigned spot.
At the touch of a button, the joystick-driven system integrates all boat control devices while eliminating the need for bow thrusters in most boats. It is based on steering from the boat's center axis, rather than on a stern axis ... what Yamaha engineers call the "ring of motion." In tight quarters, it allows movement of the boat in any direction with the simple touch of a joystick—not only fore and aft and port and starboard, but the joystick can be rotated for turning and positioning the boat.
That's just one of many innovations Yamaha says Helm Master brings to the plate.
Don't ask how much it costs. Yamaha hasn't decided yet. The company is still working with 15 or 20 boat manufacturers to determine whom they will and won't give it to.
The announcements Yamaha made this week won't be available on showroom floors until at least March 2013. Company officials say they'll be ready to release more detailed information at one of the country's largest boat shows in Miami, which begins Feb. 14.
But whatever folks hear about out of Miami, remember you heard it first out of Bridgeport, Ala.