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The joy of anchoring: virtual anchor systems for accurate boat positioning.


Keeping a boat right on top of a reef with a conventional anchor and rode is difficult. Even if you motor up current and wind, and deploy the anchor with just the right amount of scope to be over your target, your boat will still swing to either side. Much like a pendulum, one moment you'll be over the fish, and then you're off. A distance of as little as 50 feet can put you in the strike zone or over barren sand. Also, recovering that anchor in deep water can take the fun out of a day of fishing in a hurry.

Enter the virtual anchor, a feature available on two of the outboard engine market's joystick steering modules.

Joystick piloting is available for boats with dual, triple and quad engine configurations. A typical joystick system allows an operator to effortlessly move a multiengine outboard-powered boat in any direction, including sideways, diagonally or spinning on its own axis. With a simple push or twist of the joystick, the captain controls the throttle, shifting and steering with one hand. The joystick works in conjunction with the independently steered engines to move the boat in the desired direction. Total control of the boat is the function of a joystick and now that same control can be had while at anchor.

The virtual anchor feature on a joystick control pinpoints the boat's position, within approximately three meters of a coordinate, using a GPS satellite antenna. The engines move independently to maintain the position and heading, automatically adjusting the throttle as needed. This "thrust vectoring" of the outboards counteracts the current and wind. It's ideal for holding a boat over a fishing spot, waiting for a drawbridge to open or maintaining position while waiting to refuel at a marina. A boater or fisherman can have hands-free operation of their vessels, not only for fishing but would allow the captain the ability to momentarily take his attention away from the helm without the fear of drifting off of a hot fishing number or worse yet, into an obstruction. The station-keeping ability is possible through the use of a dedicated GPS antenna and an electronic compass. There are three functions of the joystick's anchor feature: position hold, heading hold and combined position and heading hold.

Position hold is most useful for a bottom fisherman, providing the ability to locate an area of relief that's holding fish and position the boat right over the top. No longer do you have to interpret the effects of current and wind, motor up current, drop anchor and hope your calculations were accurate. Now it's possible to simply locate the structure on your bottom machine and touch a button on your joystick controller. In areas of swifter current you can position the boat slightly up current to allow your bait time to reach the bottom.

Heading hold keeps the boat facing in any desired direction but would let the boat drift down current and wind. This function would be good for an angler using live bait along a reef edge or rip. With the boat's bow positioned into the current or wind, live or drift baits could be deployed from the stern, this could be very useful when flying a kite for sailfish. If seas permit, you may want your bow facing down current depending on how you have your rod holders laid out.

Combining position and heading hold would let you point your bow into the sea, while maintaining your position over structure. Experienced captains know that you don't ever want to anchor stern to, in rough sea conditions. On these days it's best to fish with your stern down sea. On some vessels with less bow displacement, an anchor attached to the bottom may not allow the bow to ride up and over a wave, resulting in stuffing the front end of the boat through the wave. This could bean easy way to swamp a boat quickly.

A word of caution, which may seem unnecessary, but someone may attempt to use this joystick anchoring function while diving or some other water sport: Don't. Any time someone is in the water, the outboard engines should not be in operation. One joystick manufacturer has a set of lights that are installed on both sides of the transom as part of their system.

The series of LED bulbs are in a fixed position when the motors are not in gear, then rotate whenever the shifter is engaged. It's a great indicator of when the props are turning but still doesn't provide the margin of safety of a switched-off ignition.

On smaller boats, bow mounted electric trolling motors with a GPS receiver for position control have become commonplace. Now for larger offshore vessels, operators can enjoy the same station keeping ability and put a measure of joy into anchoring.

Two companies are presently offering a joystick with a virtual anchor:

SeaStation by SeaStar Solutions

1 Sierra Place

Litchfield, IL 62056


Skyhook by Mercury Marine

W6250 Pioneer Rd.

P.O. Box 1939

Fonddu Lac, WI 54936

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Title Annotation:FS SEMINAR: BOATING
Author:East, Dave
Publication:Florida Sportsman
Date:Jun 1, 2016
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