Written by Bob Arrington
October 2019

MANY BOATERS are proud to master the skill of handling a vessel at sea. But nothing compares to the confidence boaters gain when they can steer a vessel in close quarters — or the fear felt when they cannot. Anxiety over docking or maneuvering a boat within the confines of a marina is quite common for both new and experienced boaters. The concern may be well founded. According to yacht insurers, boating accidents in marinas are a leading cause of insurance claims. Wireless docking controllers may be the solution!

Evidence shows that distress over docking keeps some boaters from moving up to a larger boat. To address this issue, boat manufacturers introduced joystick controls to the market. Digital microprocessor technology, along with flexible thrust components, allow boaters to control their boat with previously unheard-of accuracy. Just move the joystick in the direction you want the boat to move and let the computer determine what to do with the props, thrusters or pod drives. This has not only increased handling confidence among boaters, but possibly boosted boat ownership.

Joystick docking is great if you’re considering a new boat, but what if you love your current boat and just want to dock it easily and with confidence? The answer may well be a wireless remote docking controller — essentially a portable joystick in your hand. What began years ago as a luxury accessory has become one of the most useful additions you could make to your boat.  Docking Controller on board | Wireless Docking Controllers | Marinalife

When you can’t see the stern and sides of the boat or must rely on your mate to tell where you are can create stress when docking. A wireless remote controller eliminates that tension by freeing the captain from the helm. Standing near the boat’s edge when approaching a pier or near the boat’s stern when backing into a slip bolsters docking confidence and accuracy. Wireless remote controllers are no longer just a convenient toy aboard high-end yachts. They now offer valuable assistance on any size boat.

Features & Benefits

When shopping for a remote docking system, consider a few important features. A dependable communication link between the controller and boat is foremost. Look for products that use multiple band or alternating frequency transmissions. This technology uses more than one frequency or rapidly switches frequency between the remote controller and base station, thereby reducing interference or the risk of losing radio connection.

Controllers interface with the boat’s existing control stations, as opposed to bypassing them. Through an electrical interface made specifically to match the boat’s onboard systems, wireless remotes actually operate the boat’s existing controls. This important feature relies on the boat’s control systems and does not attempt to replace them.

Well-designed units have touch sensitive switching, which requires constant contact to activate any component. If the controller slips from your hand while maneuvering, all systems go into neutral. You must maintain contact with the switch to operate thrusters, propellers or anchor windlass. Hand-held units should also have an IP-certified waterproof rating and float, so they’re easy to retrieve if they fall overboard.

Quality controllers allow simultaneous control of multiple items, allowing you to control a bow or stern thruster and the props at the same time. This also enables you to lift the anchor with the windlass while thrusting sideways to stay aligned with the anchor rode while retrieving. Some systems also have the ability to control Dynamic Positioning if installed on a boat.

Thoughtfully designed systems allow you to completely customize control settings and program switches to meet your preferences. You might want to use bow and stern thrusters to pivot the boat with the joystick instead of forward and reverse on the engines, or you may want to select which way the anchor operates with the windlass control button arrows. In a customizable joystick, you can program the system to offer varying amounts of throttle with engine control. High-quality systems should not only offer remote control of the boat but improved control as well.

Controllers are powered by built-in lithium rechargeable or standard AA/AAA replaceable batteries, and they should have visual or audible warning indicators of battery failure. The systems are designed to place all props and thrusters into the neutral position when batteries fail.

Insurance companies are closely monitoring the use of remote wireless remote controls. As they grow more popular, we may see fewer insurance claims from collisions within a marina as a result of their use. It stands to reason, if you can see better while controlling the boat, you are less likely to hit something. Insurance companies may offer discounts if the data show that boaters are safer using wireless remotes.

Dockmate Twist Controller | Wireless Docking Controllers | Marinalife
Dockmate TWIST

Realistic Expectations

A wireless remote controller will not make up for poor docking skills, so it’s still important to practice and perfect your skills. For example, predicting what wind and current will do to the boat before entering a confined area, or being aware of what happens to the boat when you dock are important skills to master. The three most important benefits of wireless remote controllers are:

  • Improve visibility from moving around the boat when maneuvering toward a pier or into a slip;
  • Allow you to be on deck to help with lines and fenders while still controlling the boat;
  • Help you gain a better view from the bow when anchoring or catching a mooring ball.

Wireless remote controllers are becoming popular, and advances in technology and increased competition are lowering the system’s installed cost. Maybe it’s time to get better control of your boat with a wireless remote docking system.

Here’s a handy guide to wireless remote control docking system makers: Example Controller | Wireless Docking Controllers | Marinalife

Astel Marine Wireless Yacht Control System


Hydronautica RMC


Yacht Controller