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Author Topic:   Miami 2008: Mercury SmartCraft and DTS
jimh posted 02-19-2008 08:27 PM ET (US)   Profile for jimh   Send Email to jimh  
Mercury SmartCraft and DTS for 2008

At this year's Miami International Boat show Mercury had an excellent demonstration exhibit which had a replica of a large helm console rigged with DTS shift and throttle and elaborate SmartCraft instrumentation. There was a computer (somewhere) that was running a great simulation program, acting as three Verado engines, and you could move the DTS throttles and see realistic responses on the gauges. Engines would move in and out of gear, change engine speed, synchronize themselves--it was a beautiful set up and a great way to show off Mercury SmartCraft and DTS.

Photo: SmartCraft demonstration console at Miami International Boat Show, February 2008
Photo credit: Jeff Rohlfing

The console was made with large transparent windows so you could see all of the cables, connectors, junction boxes, and components inside. And, believe me, contrary to what some people have tried to say about SmartCraft and DTS, there is one helluva lot of "stuff" needed to hook all of these components together.

In the transparent console, which was rigged to simulate a triple engine installation, everything was in triplicate. There were three sets of black junction boxes where cables from the engine or from other helm locations would connect to this helm rigging. With DTS there is also a local "computer" or processor for each engine which connects into the network and talks to the engine and gauges, and thus there were three more black boxes. There were the dual handle DTS controls, a single Vessel View display, three SC1000 tachometers (one for each engine), and three new, just announced information displays (one for each engine)--more about these below. And there were plenty of harnesses which connected everything. If you are planning on rigging a pair of Verado motors on your Boston Whaler with the classic Montauk-size console, you're going to have a lot of harnesses and electronics to stuff under the console and keep out of the weather. Although everything is integrated by an arrangement of plug-in connections, you cannot install this system without access to a dealer or manufacturer. The initial set up of the system requires calibration using a laptop computer which has proprietary Mercury software (known as the Mercury CDS tool). It is not a do-it-yourself project.

Standing nearby the display was Ben Duke, Product Manager for Mercury SmartCraft, and he answered quite a few questions I had about SmartCraft and DTS. Ben went over the digital throttle and shift controls for me, explaining several function they offer which I was not aware of. I thought I was up-to-speed on these controls, but apparently I was not. There are more controls on the base of the DTS throttle and shift box than I recalled. These are called the engine control pad. You can also get the engine control pad in a console mounting form, not part of the throttle and shift control base. We investigated each of these.

The first button is marked TRANSFER, and, as you might expect, is used to grab control of the DTS for a particular helm station. Dual helm installations with outboard motors used to be almost unheard of, but with DTS they are much easier to implement. With most fishing boats having a flying bridge or tuna tower, a second control station is now a typical part of these outboard boats. Operating the TRANSFER button transfers control between different helm stations.

I think everyone already knows that DTS has an automatic synchronization function. As long as the throttle handles are within 5-degrees of being aligned, and the engine speed is above 1,500-RPM, the DTS system will try to synchronize the engine speed of the starboard engine to match the port engine. This seems like the best thing ever dreamed up by an outboard motor engineer, and anyone who has driven twin engine boats will appreciate it. However, if you push the SYNC button, you can shut this feature off. I asked Ben why you would want to eliminate this great feature. "When you are making a long run," Ben replied, "you might want to shut off the auto-sync to improve your fuel economy. The other one, two, or three engines will try to chase the primary engine, and this can lead to lower fuel economy in some situations." I would expect that sea conditions might also influence the choice of this mode. If you were making a run in large seas, the engine speeds would be varying all over the place, and it might not be best to have the constant hunting for synchronization.

A function marked THROTTLE ONLY allows you to advance the throttle while keeping the engines in neutral. This is useful for engine warm up.

I am not sure when this next function was added, but it was new to me and a great idea. It is called DOCKING MODE. When you engage DOCKING MODE the range of engine power is reduced to approximately half, but the throttle travel is still over the entire throw. In other words, it reduces the sensitivity of the throttle movement. This makes adjustment of engine power around the dock much safer and easier. "You won't lurch at the dock," said Ben. I told him a few of the dealers who took me on demonstration rides could have used that function!

This got us talking about the friction setting on the DTS controls, which I thought was universally set too low. Ben explained that there were friction controls to adjust the levers, and more drag could be added if desired. This was also news to me, as no one had ever mentioned this before. Most of the DTS controls I have operated have been set to almost no drag, giving them a feather light touch, which I always thought was too light. More friction was needed. The adjustable handle friction is very welcome.

The button marked 1 LEVER allows the throttle and shift function of all engines to be controlled by the port side control handle. This will be especially useful on longer runs or in rough water conditions. The helmsman needs to only move one lever and all two, three, or four engines respond in unison.

The TROLL CONTROL function is used to set and adjust trolling speed. There are (+) and (-) button for jogging trolling speed up or down in small increaments. I am not a fisherman, but I am sure those who troll appreciate this function.

In triple engine set ups, the center engine is run by "shadow control." If the port and starboard engine are in the same gear, the center engine joins them and runs at the average speed of the other two. If the port and starboard engines are in different gears, the center engine goes to neutral.

The Mercury website is up to date with all these features. It has a nice visual presentation. See: smartcraftinaction/dts.php

New SmartCraft Information Gauges: Merc Monitor

Also shown at Miami (but not quite on the website yet) were the new SmartCraft information displays. These new gauges are similar in size and style to the existing SC-1000 tachometer gauge, but do not have any analogue style pointer indicator and fixed scale graduations. Instead, the whole gauge is an LCD display which can show the information previously presented on the much smaller LCD window of the SC-1000. Another feature of the new display is a tri-color LED illumination system which allows the gauge to be back lighted with any color desired. You can match the gauge lighting to other graphic elements of the helm or to other gauges. These new gauges are a sort of mini-Vessel View display. They match the size and style of the SC-1000 gauges, and can be dressed up with the usual trim bezels. The Merc Monitor gauges will be available in the Spring of 2008. At the boat show booth the gauges were set with red backlighting. I did not find them particularly easy to read in that configuration; it might be better at night.

Dealer and OEM Calibration

Another new feature of SmartCraft is only useful for dealers or boat builder partners of Mercury and won't appear until the Summer of 2008. At that time Mercury SmartCraft gauges will become flash-programable. This means that in a builder or dealer setting, a boat's SmartCraft system can be programmed from a stored set-up. For example, Boston Whaler will be able to set-up and calibrate a CONQUEST 345--which will have an elaborate SmartCraft system--and then save that set-up to be used to clone duplicates on subsequent boats built with the same system. Parameters like fuel tank volume, number of fuel tanks, number of engines, number of control stations, default gauge configurations, and so on, can all be set-up and stored in a master file. This will save the builder or dealer time, and it will also allow more consistent programming, with less chance for variations in vessel set up.

DTS Hardware

Mercury was also showing more variations of DTS hardware than I had ever seen before. Their DTS throttle and shift controls are now available in many styles, including side mount single lever controls. There are also some racy-looking billet-style controls often seen on high-style go-fast boats. And for larger boats using DTS there are now controls with a more subdued and traditional yacht look to them.

Mercury put a lot of effort into this great display. I hope they ship it to a boat show near you so you can see it first-hand. It really is a great way to demonstrate SmartCraft and DTS.

glen e posted 02-24-2008 09:33 AM ET (US)     Profile for glen e  Send Email to glen e     
Jim great report...I will direct readers at my site to this review...

I was not particualrly impressed with the LCD monitors either...they looked hard to read and what is LCD doing as a new product anyway? - that is last gen IMO....they should be like vessel view or any good chartplotter: daylight readable in TFT display format...

glen e posted 02-24-2008 09:36 AM ET (US)     Profile for glen e  Send Email to glen e     
Jim - here's a pic of the Merc Monitors:

Photo: Merc Monitor gauges with red backlighting

Jefecinco posted 02-24-2008 09:50 AM ET (US)     Profile for Jefecinco  Send Email to Jefecinco     

At the Mobile, AL Boat Show day before yesterday I looked over a 2008 Montauk 19 powered by a 135 HP Verado with SmartCraft and DTS.

What a nice boat. If I had a spare $41K it would be sitting next to my Dauntless now.

I'm impressed with Mercury for putting DTS on small engines like the 135 Verado. I suspect most buyers will want it.


jimh posted 02-24-2008 11:29 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Glen--Thanks for the image of the Merc Monitors. I think our perception of their readability is about the same.

Butch--Yes, the Verado with DTS option is apparently quite popular on the smaller Boston Whaler boats now that it is available, even with the added costs (of about $4,000).

By the way, on the DTS throttle control for a single engine, there is a change in the engine control pad. The engine control pad is simplified, and it does not have as many features available.

Of course, some features are not appropriate with a single engine control, such as the SYNC and 1-THROTTLE modes--you don't need those options with a single engine. However, I did not see the DOCKING MODE feature on the single engine control. I thought the DOCKING MODE was quite a nice feature. Perhaps there is some other way to engage it, but I don't recall seeing a button on the engine control pad for it.

Here is a page that shows the control variations, including the single engine control: smartcraftataglance/components/console_mounts.php

It is a little hard to see the details of the single engine control, but, as I recall, it has only an indicator for NEUTRAL position on the shift, a TRANSFER button, and indicator for STATION ACTIVE. (Yes, even with a single engine boat you might have a second helm station.)

glen e posted 02-24-2008 12:58 PM ET (US)     Profile for glen e  Send Email to glen e     
jim - Here's a pic of the dual/trip/quad binnicle pad control. One of the nicest advantages many like are the lights for neutral that make no mistake you are in that position. In querying many of my members, they report that when they set the friction to their liking and get used to it, they rarely use the docking feature.

jimh posted 02-24-2008 05:12 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Wait a minute! I wasn't looking very carefully at the DTS controls page. I see now that there are two styles available for a single engine control--the standard configuration with the full engine control pad and a slim configuration which has the abbreviated engine control pad configuration I mentioned above.

I was just looking at some Boston Whaler single engine Verado installations, and they were rigged with the slim single engine control.

Here is a closer look at the slim single engine control: smartcraft_manuals/Slim_Binnacle_guide.pdf

This document explains in more detail how the slim throttle works. The THROTTLE ONLY function can also be engaged by using the TRANSFER button by following the procedure shown. Of course, in a boat with only one set of controls, there is no second set of controls to transfer to, so I imagine the THROTTLE ONLY function is the only option available then.

There is also a new button on the slim single engine control which permits the engine to be started and stopped. This button is marked START/STOP.

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