ICON Controls for E-TEC

Re-fitting electronic engine remote controls to an existing engine

by James W. Hebert

This article describes the installation of Bombardier Recreational Products Evinrude ICON Electronic Throttle and Shift (ICON EST) remote controls. ICON is not an acronym, but rather a brand identifier for this line of engine products

ICON EST Remote Controls

Evinrude outboard engines have the option of using ICON Electronic Throttle and Shift (ICON EST) remote controls—modern electronically linked remote throttle and shift controls—in place of conventional mechanically linked remote controls. Certain models of E-TEC engines can be ordered from the factory with the electronic control option, and the electronic controls can also be re-fitted in the field to many existing E-TEC engines. In the case of my 2010 E-TEC 225-HP 3.3-liter outboard engine, the ICON EST remote controls were available as a field re-fit. The engine was converted to ICON EST remote controls in the summer of 2011.

Prior to the conversion to ICON EST remote controls, I also converted to ICON gauges. More details about ICON gauges are given in a separate article. The ICON gauges can be used independently of the ICON controls, and, indeed, I had the ICON gauges operating for two weeks with the E-TEC still using conventional controls. Making the conversion to ICON gauges first and getting all the bugs worked out of that step seemed like a good way to break up the project into more manageable segments.

This article will concentrate on the details of the actual installation process for the new remote controls. There are two major areas of re-work to be performed: at the helm and at the engine. The project is divided along those lines. I will undertake all of the rigging and re-work of the boat and controls up to the engine grommet. The conversion of the E-TEC engine to ICON EST remote control and the installation of the ESM module kit on the engine will be performed by my local dealer, LOCKEMAN'S HARDWARE AND BOATS of Detroit.

The Parts

I anticipate that there would be quite a bit of material needed to accomplish the conversion, but when several large boxes arrive I am a bit overwhelmed with the size, number, and diversity of parts. I carefully unpack and study all the devices, cables, brackets, and components in order to gain a thorough understanding of them. I read over all the literature several times, too. The ICON system is very well designed, and it can be scaled up from control of just one engine to as many as five. The ICON top-mounting helm controls come in two forms, single lever and dual lever, and there are many variations of ignition key panels, start-top buttons, and trim button panels to match the number of engines. For a single engine installation like mine, the new ICON controls consist of these ICON components:

Photo: Many ICON components arrayed on table

When converting to ICON remote controls and gauges, you will be using a rather surprising number of new parts. Our dinning room table becomes the staging area for the conversion for about a month. All photographs by the author unless otherwise noted.

The first step in sorting all the parts is to identify and separate the components for the engine conversion. These are set aside for later use by LOCKEMAN'S. Next, after becoming familiar with all the rigging components, a plan is formulated.

One Step at a Time

Keeping the boat operational during the conversion process is mandatory. I want to avoid putting the boat out of service as much as possible during the conversion process. At the end of each step of the project, the boat should still be ready to go to sea. The conversion is planned in segments, with the boat remaining fully operational at the conclusion of each step:

Each step in the process takes a surprising amount of time and effort. I begin with the instrument panel re-work. Since I am not much of a metalsmith, I do not want to fabricate a completely new instrument panel. Instead, I remove the existing panel, and replace it with a temporary panel from an older version of my instrumentation. This requires eliminating one gauge and having an extra hole or two in the panel on the boat, but it keeps the boat in operation while I work on modifying the instrument panel.

Re-working the instrument panel for ICON gauges requires only one hole to be enlarged to 3.5-inch from 2-inch diameter. I also repaint the panel to a medium gray color to better match the gray and white scheme of the ICON gauges. All this work takes place off the boat, so its operational status is not affected. We can still use the boat.

When the new instrument panel is ready with the new ICON gauges, it is fairly straightforward to remove the old instrument panel and install the new one. The ICON gauges are a simple connection to my existing NMEA-2000 network via a network T-connector, and all goes very smoothly—at first. After a long weekend of running the boat, the ICON gauges become intermittent in their operation. The next weekend is spent diagnosing the problem. Eventually, the source of the intermittent operation is isolated to a bad pre-molded cable in the network wiring. Once this cable is replaced the operation of the ICON gauges returns to being rock solid. This experience affirms my belief in planning the conversion in small steps. In this way, problems can be solved one at a time.

With the ICON gauges complete, the next step is to pre-install as much of the ICON rigging as possible, while still maintaining the existing mechanical controls and engine electrical harnesses. The new controls will obviously be mounted in the same location as the existing controls, but a new location will be needed for the new ignition key, safety lanyard, and start–stop switch panel. The location of this panel is constrained by the length of cable provided to connect it to the throttle and shift lever control. After considering all options, the ignition key panel is located just below the throttle and shift controls, on the front face of the helm console. Careful measurements and estimates of clearances are necessary to be sure there will not be interference between this panel and the concealed portion of the helm controls. The site chosen is in a difficult area to make a rectangular hole cut out. I do not own a high–end electric jig saw, and I do not feel like buying one to make this single cut. This leaves me in the position of having to borrow this important tool. Unfortunately, I undertake this project on Memorial Day weekend. All of my handy–man neighbors are away from home for the weekend, eliminating my best sources of borrowed tools. My brother–in–law comes to the rescue, with the loan of his skill saw. Unfortunately, he has only one blade for it, and, at this point in the weekend, all the hardware stores are closed. I make the difficult cut very carefully, as a broken blade would have stopped the project.

Photo: New ICON ignition key panel.

Cutting the rectangular hole for the ignition key and start-stop panel is the most difficult carpentry task of the project because of the interference of other components in the area. The cut is made simultaneously through the aluminum face panel, the laminated console, and the thick plywood substrate. Some black spray paint is applied to clean up the appearance of the cut. Installation of this one panel takes up most of one day prior to the actual conversion. I used a razor saw to trim the square plastic nut that retains the ignition key switch. This reduces the size of the cut-out needed to fit the switch into the dashboard.

Mounting the ICON hub, the gateway module, and the auxiliary power relay requires adding some plywood backing panels to the laminate of the console to provide a base for attaching wood screws. I have to fabricate two plywood bases. For good measure, I give them a coat of epoxy as a sealer and finish. The plywood bases are attached behind the console surfaces using two flat-head self-tapping screws, threaded into the plywood bases from the exterior of the console. In this way on the underside of the console I can mount the various components of the ICON system, along with cable clamps and other wiring devices, with self-tapping screws and not worry about cracking the console laminate surface should the point of a screw go too deep.

Photo: ICON Gateway module and auxiliary power relay.

The gateway module and auxiliary power relay are mounted to a plywood base fastened to the side of the helm console. The laminate is very thin in this area and could not hold self-tapping screws.

The auxiliary power relay is operated by the ICON ignition key. When the key is in the ON position, the relay contacts close. A separate 12-Volt fused feed from the primary power distribution (or battery) is provided to the relay contacts. The output of the relay thus provides 12-Volt power to accessories when the engine is operating, in much the same way as the accessory circuit (VIOLET conductor from A terminal of switch) of conventional ignition key switches.

Photo: ICON network hub under console

The plywood base is necessary to raise the hub away from the console surface so that attaching cables will not bind on other surfaces.

I have installed all of the components of the ICON system that can be pre-rigged. The boat is still fully operational with the old controls. The next step will be to make the switch to ICON controls. This will require installing the new helm controls and converting the engine. Once this step is begun there will be no going back.

The Last Step

There remains only the last phase of the project: the conversion to ICON control for the motor, and the installation of the new helm controls on the dashboard. Arrangements are made with LOCKEMAN'S to make the engine change. Douglass Zammitt, the Master Technician who will do the work, is going on vacation in the next week. I am planning a boating vacation in two weeks. Our schedules dictate that July 15, 2011, will be the day to take the plunge.

I haul the boat to Lockeman's early Friday morning, and then set about finishing my portion of the work, tearing out the old rigging. For me, the first step was to remove all the old engine rigging. Pictures tell the story best.

Photo: Boat cockpit filled with old cables and wiring

Three large electrical cables and the two flexible mechanical cables are no longer needed and are pulled out of the rigging. Amazingly, all of these cables will be replaced by a single network cable from the console to the transom.

Photo: Helm area with old controls removed.

The existing top-mount remote engine controls are removed, leaving this rather oddly shaped hole in the console. The old controls also contain the ignition key switch. There were several electrical cables connected to the old controls, in addition to the two flexible mechanical control cables.

Photo: Helm console marked and ready to drill new holes for new controls.

The four corner holes of the old control mounting are used to secure a temporary backing board under the console to provide a stable center point for drilling a new circular hole. The hole for the new controls and the layout of its three mounting screws are marked. There is just enough console surface left to provide a good attachment.

Photo: Helm console drilled for new controls.

Thanks to a powerful handheld drill motor and the stability provided by the backing board for the pilot hole, a very clean circular cut is made in the console surface.

Photo: New ICON controls installed on console.

The ICON controls are installed. A large cover plate hides the holes from the old controls.

Photo: New ICON controls installed on console.

Another view of the new controls. The cover plate aligns nicely with the right edge of the raised area on the console. As an amateur carpenter, I take pride in small details like this.

Photo: View from rear of dashboard showing new throtle and shift control and new ignition key start-stop panel.

After cutting the holes for the ICON throttle shift controls, there is just enough material left to provide an attachement point for the forward mounting screw. The close clearance between the concealed workings of the throttle-shift controls and the wiring to the ignition key start-stop panel can be seen. The cables to the key panel do not have much strain relief and are secured with a cable clamp to stabilize them.

Photo: ICON network hub at transom.

The rigging at the transom is simple in the extreme. This six-port hub serves the single engine. Adding a second engine will require only connecting it to this hub with a single cable.

The Engine Conversion

While I work in the boat, Douglass Zammitt works on the E-TEC engine. Evinrude has skillfully designed their electronic controls to fit into the same space occupied by the mechanical controls.

Photo: E-TEC Engine Starboard side view, shrouds in place

The upper cowling of the E-TEC engine has been removed, but most of the inner workings are still concealed by these attractive shroud panels. Photo by David Zammitt.

Photo: E-TEC Engine Starboard side view, shrouds removed

With the lower cowling and shrouds removed, the electrical center, the throttle cam, and the gear shift actuator rod are visible. This area is the focus of the modification on the engine. Photo by David Zammitt.

Photo: E-TEC Engine Starboard side view, mechanical rigging for shift and throttle removed

The linkages between the throttle and shift levers and the old mechanical actuators have been removed. The engine is now ready for installation of the ESM module. Note the reduction in the number and size of cables coming through the rigging grommet. Photo by David Zammitt.

Photo: E-TEC Engine Starboard side view, ESM module installed.

The ESM module (partially shown on lower right), shift actuator (lower), and throttle actuator (upper) are installed. In addition to controlling the servo actuators, the ESM re-generates many of the electrical signals from the conventional rigging. For example, the trim relays are now operated by the ESM module. Photo by David Zammitt.

Meeting of Minds

By late Friday afternoon the rigging conversion and engine conversion are both complete, and we are ready to connect the E-TEC to the controls and apply some power. This step is accomplished in a monstrously simple way: a single cable connects the E-TEC EMS module to the transom ICON hub. That's all there is to this modern electronic engine control wiring between engine and helm.

The E-TEC engine firmware must be informed of the new devices attached to the engine management module (EMM). A special diagnostic software and EMM-to-laptop serial data connection are used. Next, the ICON actuator servo mechanisms need to be carefully calibrated so their movement precisely matches the motion needed by the throttle and shift. Again, the diagnostic software provides a set-up wizard to accomplish the calibration. Finally, a few tests from a cold start, some engine F-N-R shifts, and some limited throttle run-up's are attempted. All goes well. It is late Friday afternoon, but the project is complete. The ICON conversion has been accomplished. In two weeks the boat will be on a week-long cruise where the ICON controls will get their sea trial.

Photo: Happy E-TEC Engine owner.

At the end of a long project it is gratifying to see it all work properly. Photo by David Zammitt.

ICON Power Distribution

The sketch below shows the power distribution and fusing for the ICON controls. Several new fuses are added to the power distribution.

Schematic diagram: E-TEC and ICON power distribution.

B1 = 12-Volt battery, engine starting
F1 = 30-Ampere, ATM; power for ESM module; under engine cowling,
F2 = 10-Ampere, ATO; power for Gateway module and key switch; at battery
F3 = 3-Ampere, ATO; power for key switch; at helm
F4 = 10-Ampere, ATM; auxilary switched power; at battery
S1 = Primary power distribution disconnect; at battery

Troubleshooting Guide for ICON Controls

The Evinrude publication "Evinrude ICON Troubleshooting Guide" is available in electronic form as a PDF file. This is a very helpful document in the event of problems with the installation or operation of an ICON electronic shift and throttle (EST) control system using the legacy ICON controls. The guide does not cover the later ICON II EST controls as used on the E-TEC G2 engines.


This article is part of a trilogy of articles on Evnirude ICON products. The general design and configuration of the ICON remote control system is carefully explained and illustrated in an earlier article. The details of the ICON gauges and their configuration is similarly shown in another article. This present article concentrates on the planing and re-fitting of ICON controls to a particular boat and E-TEC engine previously rigged with conventional gauges and controls, and illustrates that process.

DISCLAIMER: This information is believed to be accurate but there is no guarantee. We do our best!

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Copyright © 2012 by James W. Hebert. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited!

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This article first appeared February 5, 2012.