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Old 09-24-2019, 04:25 PM   #1
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WARNING: Safety issues with Mathers controls

We took 2 months this summer with our new to us Tolly 43. All went well EXCEPT

Several times we lost control of our engines .. shifts and throttles, apparently due to malfunction of our Mathers controls.


I have since learned that these issues are common and well known. Engines can suddenly, with no warning, shift gears or go to high throttle extreme. This happened at least five times. Once this caused me to lose control during landing and damage my boat and the adjacent boat.

Mechanics in Canada and Anacortes worked on the problem and diagnosed battery issues .. replacing the starboard alternator. They told me (and I have since learned this is true, that low battery or high voltage could both cause dysfunction.

Getting back home, Seattle, I now learn this is a well known issue with mathers and not just Mathers and not just the old one.

Maintenance for these things is poorly described

The newer units have error codes but ONLY on the engine not at the bridge

The newer units do have an alrm to alert that ther eis a malfunction!

The install should include a voltage device that automatically selcts which batter has the best voltage.

Here are some facts.

1. Our controls are old, probably installed in the mid-nineties. Our engine date from 2006 so the controls must have been reinstalled then.

2. We have two stations, one on the FB, one below.

3. On these occasions I have
-lost control of the stbd engine.
-had stbd engine reve to max
-had one engine go into reverse
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Old 09-24-2019, 04:57 PM   #2
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The ZF/Mathers Microcommander electronic control has been problematic for a long while. Only once in the five years I owned the boat, the 2006 Mainship 34T would just shift into neutral and idle. A restart solved the problem.


Others have reported much more serious problems like the ones you mentioned. Some have even ripped them out and gone to cable controls. Kobelt is another electronic control system that doesn't seem to have these problems.


Mainship issued a service bulletin which said a solenoid was the problem and specified a replacement that I suspect had less voltage drop. The Mainship OEM installation did incude the voltage selector module but problems still occurred.


I believe the problem is high or low voltage related as you note. I would make sure that the voltage source powering the device is stable, ie doesn't have drops or spikes.


David



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Old 09-24-2019, 04:58 PM   #3
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Wow. Thanks for the heads up (although I don't have those controls). I'm really sorry that you had this experience. I hope no one was hurt.
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Old 09-24-2019, 05:51 PM   #4
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Electronic controls can misbehave and not always at the best time. I had Mathers controls on a 45 Tolly in the 90's. Mostly trouble free - wouldn't shift out of neutral a couple of time. Pretty benign. I had the DDEC electronic controls for 10 years. Rock solid, never an issue.

But issues do happen. Last year I saw a picture of a 70' Queenship high on the rocks in a harbor. The rumor was electronic throttle stuck at WOT/forward gear.

I'm also suspect of the wireless throttle and gear control gadgets and thruster controls. Did the design comprehend RF interference, is the signal digital with error coding or are they just using garage door transmitters? Caveat emptor!
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Old 09-26-2019, 07:08 PM   #5
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I had a Bertram going thru Cape May Inlet at full throttle and not responding to my pulling back on the levers. I quickly hit the kill switch and both Mannís shut down. When I let up off the button they started right up. The solution was to hold the kill switch and cutoff the fuel supply while dropping the anchor. FREAK SHOW!
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Old 09-27-2019, 06:20 AM   #6
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The solution was to hold the kill switch and cutoff the fuel supply while dropping the anchor. FREAK SHOW!
I cannot imagine the butt-puckering intensity of wrangling that kind of circus all at once. Glad you got through it.
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Old 09-27-2019, 06:36 AM   #7
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Reading this thread makes me really happy I have a transmission actuated with cable controls. Great peace of mind in knowing I can simply shift it into neutral. Keeping them in good working condition is clearly much simpler.

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Old 09-27-2019, 07:22 AM   #8
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If Mathers can't figure out a simple Hi/Lo DC supply issue, one can only wonder how bad they work with RFI, or surge events.
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Old 09-27-2019, 07:29 AM   #9
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I'm not sure if they were Mathers controls, but I had to move a boat from the travel lift over to a slip in an adjacent marina. It was the first time I've ever driven a vessel with electronic shifters.

I hated them. I when put the boat into FWD (1....2....3... transmission goes FWD). Put the boat in nuetral (1....2.....3..transmission goes into neutral).

About a year later I say a guy in a large mide 50 Searay flybridge horsing his throttles very hard around a gas dock and had to laugh. I strongly suspect he was dealing with the same issue. Only his solution was more throttle, until the tranmission kicked in.
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Old 09-27-2019, 07:36 AM   #10
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Why would anyone keep such a system in their boat ? I would immediately swap it out for a cable system.

If you are contemplating a purchase of a boat with electronic controls immediately knock the price of replacement off the price and explain why.

I had a friend who had an early auto pilot system which often malfunctioned whenever he got close to a large metal object (bridge, large ship, loading docks, etc.) It was a ticking time bomb !! same for these electronic controls, get rid of them.

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Old 09-27-2019, 08:12 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Shrew View Post
I'm not sure if they were Mathers controls, but I had to move a boat from the travel lift over to a slip in an adjacent marina. It was the first time I've ever driven a vessel with electronic shifters.

I hated them. I when put the boat into FWD (1....2....3... transmission goes FWD). Put the boat in nuetral (1....2.....3..transmission goes into neutral).

About a year later I say a guy in a large mide 50 Searay flybridge horsing his throttles very hard around a gas dock and had to laugh. I strongly suspect he was dealing with the same issue. Only his solution was more throttle, until the tranmission kicked in.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Pete Meisinger View Post
Why would anyone keep such a system in their boat ? I would immediately swap it out for a cable system.

If you are contemplating a purchase of a boat with electronic controls immediately knock the price of replacement off the price and explain why.

I had a friend who had an early auto pilot system which often malfunctioned whenever he got close to a large metal object (bridge, large ship, loading docks, etc.) It was a ticking time bomb !! same for these electronic controls, get rid of them.

pete
Nothing wrong with electronic controls at all- so the fear is unjustified. Countless cables have broken, and hydraulic lines break- so what is you solution for those with analog cables or hydraulic hoses that are hard to access/replace?

Electronic controls may have an engagement delay- like anything else, itís simply a factor of learning the system.

We went from cable to Glendinning, and would not go back to cable.
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Old 09-27-2019, 08:27 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Shrew View Post
I'm not sure if they were Mathers controls, but I had to move a boat from the travel lift over to a slip in an adjacent marina. It was the first time I've ever driven a vessel with electronic shifters.

I hated them. I when put the boat into FWD (1....2....3... transmission goes FWD). Put the boat in nuetral (1....2.....3..transmission goes into neutral).

About a year later I say a guy in a large mide 50 Searay flybridge horsing his throttles very hard around a gas dock and had to laugh. I strongly suspect he was dealing with the same issue. Only his solution was more throttle, until the tranmission kicked in.

The delay is adjustable and easy to get used to when you understand that it's deliberate.
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Old 09-27-2019, 09:31 AM   #13
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Sometimes we celebrate old-school technology here on TF a bit too much. I am guilty of this myself, but I have to interject here that based on our experience, not all electronic controls suck.

We have Glendinning electronic controls. Our power is two Suzuki 60 hp outboards.

Suzuki does not make dual helm controls for their 60's, hence we had to go with non-Suzuki controls, and Glendinning fit the bill.

We are very happy with the Glendinning electronic controls. No problems. Much less maintenance, too, than the all-cable systems we have had in the past.

And if we ever decide to sell our boat, we would be mystified by any buyer who demanded that we "immediately knock the price of replacement (of the electronic controls)" off the price.

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Old 09-27-2019, 09:37 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SeattleJew View Post
We took 2 months this summer with our new to us Tolly 43. All went well EXCEPT

Several times we lost control of our engines .. shifts and throttles, apparently due to malfunction of our Mathers controls.



1. Our controls are old, probably installed in the mid-nineties. Our engine date from 2006 so the controls must have been reinstalled then.

2. We have two stations, one on the FB, one below.

3. On these occasions I have
-lost control of the stbd engine.
-had stbd engine reve to max
-had one engine go into reverse

Your problem isn't that your controls are old, it's that they aren't old enough, meaning std. cable controls. Why would anyone risk their boat and others, their crew and others, to electronic controls when there is no reason to "improve" on what has worked for decades?
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Old 09-27-2019, 09:42 AM   #15
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My boat has ZF Mathers controls. The previous owner did a lot of research on them and documented all of it. He had the hardware updated at the factory to address the potential runaway fault as described in the first post. If you have them and are concerned, I would recommend that you contact the manufacturer and ask them if the hardware you have is subject to safety hazards. They have a lot of incentive to make sure the controls work and based on the printed emails I have for my boat, they are responsive. I love the shifters. Mine have their own dedicated batteries (2 6V GC in series) so that there is no chance of a voltage dip from some other load.
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Old 09-27-2019, 10:12 AM   #16
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As posted in a previous thread, I'm having synchronizing problems with my Micro Commander controls. I have the local expert scheduled for this coming Wednesday so I'll not comment as to the dependability of these controls. I will say that they do work extremely well and I can synchronize the engines manually without a problem, I just want the system to work as advertised. Having had Glendinning controls in the past, I must say that I liked them very much! (I also liked the Morse that I had on most of my other boats.)
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Old 10-07-2019, 01:56 PM   #17
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Mathers/ZF Controls

Sorry to hear about your control problems, I wanted to clarify any misconceptions about marine electronic engine controls. There are over 100,000+ vessels with the MicroCommanders worldwide (including Navy vessels and Coast Guard Vessels), commercial ships, pleasure craft and others. The MicroCommander is USCG approved, ABS Classed Approved and hold many other marine certifications. These are very reliable controls when installed and maintained properly. These controls have been on the market since 1987 and we have some of those first generation controls still operating in the field today.

The problem you describe could be caused by a couple of different issues. The first is a worn control head, these units are a wearable item and depending on the usage and weather exposure will need to be replaced when they start showing symptoms. The second cause of this problem could be your battery voltage. These units require 12 volts or better to operate properly, if you have low voltage going to them (such as bad batteries, corroded wiring, etc) then that will effect the operation of these units. We require a APS (auto power selector) to be installed with these systems which take battery voltage from two different battery banks and provides constant power to your controls. I have found a lot of installations that did not include these into the system which can be a problem.

The processor (MicroCommander Box in engine room) is the brains of the system, it sends a 5 volt signal up to the control heads which is controlled by a potentiometer in the levers. This pot is a 5k unit that basically cuts the voltage in half and returns it to the MicroCommander, telling it that you want neutral. As you push the handle forward you increase the signal down to the processor telling it you want ahead, continuing to move the lever increases the signal more which then increases the throttle. The same thing happens when you go astern (except voltage decreases) which tells processor to command reverse and throttle as requested.

If your battery voltage drops below the 12 volts then the power going to the control heads could vary as well causing vessel to shift astern, this is why we require a APS to be installed on all systems.

I have seen numerous postings about MMC (now ZF) MicroCommander Problems on Mainships and some other vessels so I thought I would clarify the most common problem I find with the installation of these controls. My company is Control Masters Marine Systems and we are the top US distributor of ZF Mathers Engine Controls. I have been installing and servicing these controls for over 35 years so my back ground is very extensive. I also have these controls on my 50ft motor yacht and they were installed in 2000 operating with no problems.

Also to note that even mechanical, pneumatic and hydraulic control systems can and will fail at some point with depending on use and age.

I posted on this forum (see below) a year or two ago about the problems with MicroCommanders on the Luhrs Mainships and have pasted that below.

Luhrs/Mainship

I installed the first MicroCommanders for Luhrs Mainship at their plant in St. Augustine. These were installed using a 10 amp breaker for each MicroCommander, to power up the MicroCommander you turned on the breaker (simple and safe). When Mainship began installing these units themselves they installed an ignition relay (if your controls power up when you turn on your key or activate the ignition circuit then you have a relay). This relay is the number one issue I have seen and corrected on the Mainships as the relay can fail causing the power to the processors to be lost.

What I do and recommend to all Mainship owners with electronic controls is to rewire the MicroCommanders to 10 amp breakers and eliminate the ignition relay, this will solve about 90% of the control problems on the Mainships.

The other thing to keep in mind is the control head (lever you push to shift and throttle) is a wearable item and over time may need to be replaced. Under normal conditions they will last 15 years or more. Those exposed to the weather may not last as long as it all depends how they were installed.

I have also noted where some believe the MicroCommanders may be causing their engines to shut down. That cannot happen with the MicroCommander as the main things these controls do is provide a neutral safety interlock if you try to start in gear, shift the transmission, increase or decrease throttle, and provide auto synchronization on twin engine vessels. They do not control engine shut down and even if you turned off the power to the controls the engines will keep running.
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Old 10-07-2019, 02:25 PM   #18
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First off, thanks for this discussion. Very interesting.

I have owned my 38' vessel for three years. Not sure how old my ZF controls are but I love them. Been running boats for almost 60 years. I find these controls very responsive, easy to use, visual instant knowledge of positions re: neutral, forward, aft (not always visually accurate in past cable controls I've used). I would not change them out without real problems encountered.

However, it is sobering to hear of issues with these controls that some have had. It leaves me thinking about changing how I start my engines as I start them from the house station but run the boat from the bridge. It appears I must stop the engines from whatever helm position I start them with. This could cause me a real problem if the controls did fail?
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Old 10-07-2019, 02:39 PM   #19
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Actually you should have stop buttons at each station where there is a control head. I start from my pilot house and run the boat from the flybridge. I have start & stop buttons at the flybridge location but the master switch is in the pilot house. Most of the time you will get a warning about a control head becoming worn (hard to take control, lever position not equal, shift point not the same) before you have an issue. The problem is most people ignore this issue until things get worse. Just for your comfort my control head in my pilot house is 19 years old and works fine. I have replaced my flybridge once since new but I have also been in 3 hurricanes with this boat so the flybridge control took a beating.
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Old 10-07-2019, 03:34 PM   #20
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I have the Mathers Controlls on my GB49 classic. I have problems shortly after purchase of the boat in 2015. I had problems with the controls first and replace the old twin engine control with a new unit due to wear on the wipers on the throttle advance. A month later I had a control box failure and replaced both engine units with the new Micro Commander after the unit would not respond to shift commands. The old unit failed in the neutral position and would not shift. The new control boxes and control heads have work flawlessly since replacement. I like them much better than the back up morse controls on the boat. The old control boxes were 1995 vintage, which replaced a 1990 vintage unit. DennisB1
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