Marine controls are an essential part of any boat (including auxiliary powered sailboats). After the wheel or tiller, there is nothing else that you touch as much. Your marine controls connect you to the thrust and direction of movement of the vessel whether docking or out on the open water at full throttle. A control may operate the throttle or shift or both; several choices and options are available. Reliability, smoothness, accuracy and response are all features to look for in a marine control.
Shift / Throttle Functions of Marine controls:
Single Function / Single Lever (Controls Only One; Throttle or Shifter) – This is the simple lever that controls just the throttle or just the shifter. Some typical applications are with a Berkley Jet, this lever is the shifter and a foot pedal is used for throttle.
Dual Function / Dual Lever (Controls Throttle and Shift for Two Engines) – This control sees typical use with a twin-engine vessel and offers the simplest to use setup. Like all dual function controls, the lever controls both the shift and the throttle. As you push forward on the lever, the transmission engages and the engine throttles up.
Dual Function / Single Lever (Controls the Throttle and Shift) – By far the most common controller available for virtually every inboard, sterndrive and outboard application. This control is suitable for only one engine. The mounting options for this style control can range from helm stations to the side box controls on an outboard to sailboat cockpit controls. Like all dual function controls, the lever controls both the shift and the throttle. As you push forward on the lever, the transmission engages and the engine throttles up.
Single Function / Dual Lever (One lever controls throttle, the other lever controls shift) – A more traditional approach to controlling the throttle and shift. Some manufacturers do not recommend this type of control because you could throttle up (first) then slam the transmission into forward while the throttle is high! For twin engines, you simple mount two of these. Not for novices and can be dangerous when operated in a panic situation.
Runabout, Outboard or Sterndrive Controls – Smaller boats typically use a side box mount controller, fitted to the right of the helm. With the exception of some jet boats, most of these controls are dual function, single lever. There are specific controllers made for Mercury / Mariner / Force as well as OMC / Johnson / Evinrude. You may be able to use a more generic controller by choosing cables that have end options that work with your system.
Sailboat Controls – Most sailboats use a flush side mount marine control. Older sailboats typically operated with Morse single function / dual lever controls. Most sailboat auxiliaries setup since the 1980’s use the dual function / single lever control to manage the throttle / shift in a smooth fashion.
Inboard and Larger Vessels – These controls are most often binnacle mounted controls that may have two stations (upper helm and lower cabinhouse) and twin-engine setups. The common traditional setup is a single function / dual lever control at the helm station. Owners often want more response and a ‘make sense system’ to help when maneuvering larger vessels with twin engines.
With the right controls, nearly anyone can take the helm* – note that the boat below is not under power!