Combined shift and throttle levers?

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Feb 24, 2008
St. Lucia, West Indies
Vessel Name
"Dragon Lady"
Vessel Make
DeFever 41
Sportfishermen produce sufficient horsepower at idle that it is seldom necessary to touch the throttles when manoevering. Trawlers and the like with smaller engines must often find need for a little extra "wellie". There you are trying to get her turned round in a confined marina with a strong cross-wind; one shifter ahead, one astern, both throttles forward a notch. Some serious coordination is called for and the opportunities for getting things horribly wrong are nearly endless: both shifters to neutral and the engines howl in outrage because you didn't pull the throttles back first etc, etc. How much easier and more intuitive it would be if the shift and throttle functions were combined in one lever: first notch selects fwd or reverse, further movement increases rpm. IIRC, Morse do/did manufacture a combined unit like this, but I have only seen it on sailboat auxiliaries. Am I alone in being throttle/shifter challenged? Are there reliability or technical problems in providing this feature with two helm stations?

BTW. I once had a ride on a crew-boat that had three engines with separate shift and throttle levers for each. The guy at the helm was as busy as a one-armed paper hanger, but he could make that boat walk sideways.

I think this is the standard on newer boats....especially boats with electronic diesels which usually have(obviously) electronic engine controls. My little single engine MS Pilot has a combined lever. It is only a single but it still makes things more convenient. It is a Morse, I do believe but I cannot say for sure. I guess I will look next time down there. One thing nice is after the "in gear detent", you have to put some muscle into it to add throttle which helps the helmsman from becoming accidently overzealous. Anyway, to summarize, I am pretty sure this is the standard on new boats.
Ditto....I also have a single lever morse and I love it!
We had one boat with a single stick control and hated it. There was no way to rev the engines without being in gear. I'll keep to throttle/shifters as separate entities.
ancora wrote:

We had one boat with a single stick control and hated it. There was no way to rev the engines without being in gear. I'll keep to throttle/shifters as separate entities.
Ancora, dunno if yours had it or you just didn't know it was there but you could "pop the lever" out by pulling it away from the mount which would allow you to move the throttle lever without being in gear.
Our '73 GB has separate throttle and shifter controls (Morse). Our outboard fishing boat has the usual single control lever as does Carey's 36' Cat-engined lobsterboat. I have no objections to either style--- they both have their advantages and disadvantages. One thing I do like specific to our boat is that the early GBs put the shifter control(s) on the starboard side of the helm consol and the throttle(s) on the port side. This was changed at some point to the reverse arrangement which seems to be the standard on all dual-control boats these days. But I really like the "old" arrangement because I can lean out the door to judge a docking or mooring buoy pickup and still work the shifters. If they were on the now-standard port side, I'd have to step back into the cabin to operate them.

With regard to reving the engine out of gear with a single lever control, I have used them where the lever "pops" sideways to disengage the shifter mechanism, or there is a pull-tab under the lever that accomplishes the same thing. On our Yamaha outboard there is a separate lever that can be lifted up to operate the throttle only while the main control lever stays in neutral.

Now here's a control setup for you. It's the traditional method of controling a narrowboat (canalboat) in the UK. Other than restored working boats, there are almost no boats left on the canals that use the traditional controls. But the boat we've used for years has them in conjunction with the traditional boatman's cabin and engine room in the rear of the boat. The polished brass wheel, called the "speedwheel" is the throttle. The wheel turns a long rod that runs forward under the overhead*into the engine room forward of the aft cabin. A lever in the engine room is driven back and forth by threads on the rod and this moves the throttle arm on the big three cylinder Lister air-cooled diesel.

The "D" handle on the left side of the hatchway is the shifter. It's a push-pull setup. Shove it forward and the long rod that runs to the engine room shifts the transmission into forward via a linkage. Pull back halfway and you get neutral. Pull back all the way and you get reverse. When you are steering a narrowboat with a traditional stern configuration you are standing on the top step into the cabin which puts these controls right in front of you at about waist height. You'd think this setup would be awkward to use but in fact it is very easy and fast. And the controls and linkages are so simple and heavy-duty that they give trouble-free service for decades, and in the case of the restored working boats, almost a century.*

A clever feature of the transmissions used with these Lister engines is that if they fail in any way they will always default to forward.* So you may not be able to shift to neutral or reverse but you'll always be able to move the boat.* The engine can be started*in gear if necessary (they can even be hand-started).* At the speeds these boats travel (about 4 mph), losing the ability to shift into neutral and reverse is not a major problem.* We know this because we had it happen to us once.

-- Edited by Marin at 14:16, 2008-07-24


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Very nice looking panel except for one thing, The red knob. Go to West marine and buy one of those sexy "Gold Knobs"....boy does that dress up the controlls!

I had a buddy that had an older Chris Craft and I liked his set up. Chris would arrange their quadrant by putting both throttle levers in the middle with fitted knobs(much like an airplane) and the tranny levers outboard of the throttles. It did make the operation of the trannies a 2 handed one but it also cause you to think and make deliberate movement of the levers. I thought it was the most logical way to do it.
Here's my old Chris Craft setup. Shifter on the outside for each transmission and throttles inside and can be run by one hand.



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Exactly.......makes perfect sense to me!
The best of the morse shifters was built in the 60's , really heavy duty and happy with the heavier cables than the usual outboard shifting junk.

The unit is probably 12 lbs , fine for a trawler.

Finlandia came to me with 30 some odd hours on it's replacement engine, a 4jh2dte (88 hp) Yanmar.* When we "sea trialed" the boat I found it odd that the broker was incredibly slow in bringing her in and out of her slip.* I thought that he simply wasn't used to how she manuvered.

Later I think I know why he was so careful.* The boat has duel stations, and these stations*were connected together by a combiner, so single lever controls can be used.* Unfortunately, the multi-plate clutch*on the gearbox*can (and did) over ride what the combiner does, so when you change from reverse to forward, you might still be in reverse (or vice-versa).

It took me most of a boating season to figure out what was going on, and after one very expensive "mistake", I switched out the controls to duel lever controls and have been happy ever since.

Now, with the "newest" replacement engine, a Yanmar 4jh4e (52 hp) with the cone clutch, the combiner probably would have been fine.* However, my take is this:* Single station - Single lever control is fine.* Duel station - duel lever controls for piece of mind.* I never want to be at the mercy of a mechanical combiner again
Charles, the premis of your "arguement" actually is in favor of the single lever control. You CANNOT shift a single lever without powering down first. I, like you, have owned both and can report having never shifted at a high RPM with a single lever control. I have shifted at a higher than normal RPM with the dual lever simply because I forgot and had to shift NOW.

On another note, I did have a sailboat with a 30hp Perkins(newer generation ice blue paint). I do not remember the model of transmission in it but it said in black and white that the tranny was more than hearty enough to handle A FULL THROTTLE SHIFT FROM REVERSE THRU NEUTRAL AND TO FORWARD. I had to read it several times over to make sure I was reading it correctly. It was written almost as if they were trying to encourage you to do it. Anyway, I know we all like our hardware and would not practice this. But I am willing to bet shifting at a too high RPM on a very rare occasion will not take life from your tranny.

And also, this is all hardware dependent. A 2000hp motor at 750rpms is putting out a significant amount of power. A single lever control guarantees you will not shift at a high RPM.....dual lever controls cannot guarantee you this. It is up to the operator to make that choice.
The point about having to pass through idle power on the way from forward to reverse witha single lever control is, of course, valid. But from what I've been told by the local folks who work on engines and transmissions, one of the most effective ways to wear out a transmission real fast--- at least the older ones like Velvet Drives and whatnot--- is to shift directly from forward to reverse or the other way with no pause in neutral to let the prop shaft stop. This is easy to do with either a single or dual lever control and I've found that it takes a conscious, or at least semi-conscious effort on the driver's part to make that pause.

While I believe that there is an advantage to keeping some speed on the boat while setting up for a docking to maintain rudder authority, once one is down to making the final maneuvering adjustments to get up against the dock this should be done as slowly as possible. And unless one is fighting a big wind or strong current, I've found that things don't happen so fast with a 27,000 pound boat that I don't have time to pause for a few seconds in neutral on the way between one gear and the other. From observation I have seen more people get into trouble during a docking by their own action, reaction, and subsequent over-reactions and over-corrections with power than have actually gotten into trouble by the wind or current condtions.

After we had our props reworked and a new shaft installed and new cutless bearings all around we experimented around out in the bay with the engine room hatch opened. We found that at an idle speed of about 3-4 knots, when the transmissions were shifted to neutral the shafts stopped very quickly. About a second ("one thousand one") my wife said-- she was the one looking into the engine room. However, when travelling at cruise speed, when the power was reduced to idle and the transmissions pulled into neutral, the shafts continued to rotate for as long as it took the boat to drift to a stop.* Which takes a lot longer than I thought it would.* *And when the transmisisons went into neutral the shafts continued to rotate at the speed they had been going when they were pushing the boat and with the new bearings the rate of rotation decayed very slowly.

So when docking at idle rpm at very slow (or no) speed, I make about a 2 or 3 second pause in neutral if I need to shift from forward to reverse or visa versa. At cruise speed, unless it is required in an emergency maneuver, I will not go to idle, pull the transmissions into neutral and then shift them into reverse until the boat has come to a stop on its own. We have 35 year old Velvet Drives. It may be that the newer generations of marine gears can better withstand the shock of connecting something that's turning one way with something that's turning the opposite way.

-- Edited by Marin at 12:35, 2008-07-28
*I will still agree to disagree and hold my ground that the single lever is the most fool proof. Maybe on the newer ones like I have but finding the detent of neutral is very easy. To get the Power lever to move in idle reverse or idle forward is also very*easy. But anything beyond that is difficult and requires*conscious*and deliberate thought*to get it to move beyond idle in any direction. IOW, you are not likely to apply too much power because of the way it is engineered.* WIth all that said, I will defer to Charles's(is that correct puncutation) experience since he most likely has more than I.* I have only had expereince with a few different types and have found them very easy to use(except the one below).

Now, I have used electronic single lever controls that scared the hell outta me. It was on a 44ft Tollycraft(Cat 3208s with the popular electronic controls of that era). There is a slight delay in between shifts before the "computer" can figure out which gear you want. We had been out enjoying the day and were up a bayou that one could nose the boat into the shoreline without grounding the running gear. So the owner/capt did that and everybody got off the boat to do some very minor exploring. He put me in charge to make sure the boat stayed nosed into the bank. Well as people got off, the boat lightened up and we started to float. So I put it in forward with no desired results(due to lag). So I advanced the throttles and of course it hit in gear with lotsa power on and we almost ended up over the fence and into the pasture. Now with these types of controls, I will agree with Charles wholeheartedly and then some. I hated them. There was no feel to them and you had to get used to the lag. BTW, the day started out with us backing outta the slip and there were kids on board. They were being kids and running around and brushed the electrical panel and turned off the power to the elec controls right in the middle of our disembarking maneuver. We miraculously just drifted into the slip behind us which just happened to be empty on that particular day....WHEW!!!!

My first sailboat was set up for a tiller but it had a wheel. So the throttle lever(single control) was just about on the cockpit floor right next to the binnacle/wheel where it would be easily accessible if you were sitting in the cockpit seats with tiller in hand. But it was extremely unaccessible while standing behind the wheel....which is the way you do it on a sailboat. The cool thing was is that it was right next to your right foot and once you got the hang of it, you could shift with your foot while steering. It became VERY second nature and very this day the best set up I have had on a boat....

-- Edited by Baker at 16:47, 2008-07-28
A couple of summers ago I got to pilot a single lever controlled lake boat. I almost crashed us a couple of times. I would pull it backwards to put it in reverse. I'm sure the prop was spinning that way, but not much effect. A little more, a little more, then VOOM! LOTS of reverse... almost threw a person off the bow. This happened several times, both in forward and reverse. I guess I could get used to it, and maybe the boat I was on was mis-adjusted, but I'm perfectly fine with dual controls.
My wife runs the boat when we deploy and retrieve the anchor. We have a PA talkback speaker under the flying bridge overhang or we'll just open the center windshield panel. And we have easy hand signals I use for forward, neutral, and reverse.

If it's necessary to maneuver the boat with the props my wife uses a mental "image" that she learned from another boater's wife. She (properly) thinks of moving the stern around, not the bow, so she thinks of twisting her butt to one side or the other. If you want your butt (stern) to twist to port, you have rotate your starboard side backwards--- pull back on the starboard shifter. Or you can rotate your port side forward---- push forward on the port shifter. Or both--- pull the starboard shifter back and push the port shifter forward. It works for her.

I'd never driven a twin-engine boat until we got our GB, so I adapted the "image" the broker who helped us find the boat told me. He asked me if I'd ever run a bulldozer. I had, so he said think of what you're doing with the boat shifters as the same thing you did with the treads on the bulldozer. Slow port turn forward, starboard tread in forward, leave the other tread in neutral. Slow port turn backwards, reverse power to the starboard tread, leave the port tread in neutral. Pivot to port, starboard tread in forward, port tread in reverse. It did't take long before I didn't need this image, but while I was getting the hang of maneuvering it kept me from moving the boat the wrong way on a number of occasions.

The butt and bulldozer images work with single or dual lever controls on a twin. They sound silly when written up like this but they've eliminated confusion at some critical times for both me and my wife.

Now if I could just remember consistently to turn the rudder AGAINST the turn when pivoting backwards away from a dock I'll be in good shape.....
Good one Charles! That's an archive quality post! I had something similar, but yours is much better.
To me it's like the handlebars on a bike.* Left hand back and right hand forward= left turn and visa versa.
Who's driving the boat while you're twitching your butt, driving a bulldozer, riding a bike and typing out parenthesis? It seems so complicated I'm amazed anyone ever gets their boat to the dock.

What will happen with a single or triple screw boat?

Like flying a plane, it's not at all complicated to do, but it can be difficult at first for a person to visualize WHAT to do. So the twist-your-butt, drive-the-bulldozer, visualize-parentheses analogies are easy ways to convey to an inexperienced boater what to do with the shifters to maneuver a twin-engine boat around.

You only have two choices in a single engine boat--- forward or backward. You have to know about propwalk and you have to know about rudder function and effectiveness but there's nothing fancy you can do with the shifter.

The butt-bulldozer-parentheses analogies work for a three-engine boat. I don't know what the skippers of triple engine boats today do but the skippers of PT boats in WWII usually had the motor mac in the engine room leave the center engine in neutral or shut it down altogether and they'd do all their close-in maneuvering on the two wing engines only. The drawback there was that the three props on a PT boat all turned the same way and the rudders were so tiny they were all but useless at low or no speed, so the boats didn't have nearly the maneuverability you get with a pair of counter-rotating props.

-- Edited by Marin at 19:53, 2008-07-29
I simply choose to realize and understand the dynamics at work....
Charles wrote: The way I learned was this: Think of the two shift levers as parenthesies as the force of the thrust is in the direction of the parenthesies.
( )

If you want the bow to move to the RIGHT then shift the LEFT engine into FORWARD.
If you want the stern to move to the RIGHT then shift the LEFT engine into REVERSE.

If you want the bow to move to the LEFT then shift the RIGHT engine into FORWARD.
If you want the stern to move to the LEFT then shift the RIGHT engien into REVERSE.

Then he wrote: The parenthesies model works the same on single or double handle installations and any number or engins.

My boat is missing the second shift lever for the parenthesis model to work the same. My single engine turns the back of the boat to starboard every time. If I rev the engine it turns faster, propwalk. So it can't be the same if I don't have two or more engines.

And as Marin points out the PT boats don't maneuver worth crap because of all the props being the same style. A number of the triple screw Chris Crafts were "modified" by taking out the middle engine when one of the outboard ones broke. They sometimes wound up with two engines turning the same direction also. So again the parenthesis maneuver doesn't always work .

So, if one can't learn to mentally translate the shift lever movement into what the boat is going to do accidents will happen. Especially when doing that backing up thing we all get stuck doing every so often. Maybe thinking parenthesis, etc. will help some moving forward. If the person who has to think bulldozer treads when moving forward needs to make a rapid decision in reverse I'm not going to bet that things will go well. It's the think time when a gust blows them out of line that seems to make the difference. Fortunately here in the PNW with no wind and tide that doesn't happen often.

Just my opinion, yours may vary.

Ken--- I agree with everything you said except the think time when using an analogy like bulldozer treads. These analogies work because they elminate the time it takes to reason the situation through. You're simply substituting a process you're totally familar with for one you're not familiar with (yet).

When I was getting used to maneuvering our boat I didn't have to think bulldozer treads and then transfer this to the boat and then manipulate the shift levers accordingly. Maneuvering a bulldozer became automatic to me as a teenager and still is decades later even though I haven't run one since. It's not something I have to think about. So I simply treated the boat as a bulldozer in terms of how to use the shifters to move the back of the boat around or point it in the direction I wanted to go. It took something I didn't know how to do--- maneuver a boat--- and substituted an idential process than I did know how to do--- drive a bulldozer.

The whole thing doesn't work unless the operator is totally familiar with the analogy. I explained the bulldozer analogy to my wife when she was trying to learn to maneuver the boat and got a blank stare. An analogy like this doesn't work if you have to first think about how the analogy works and then think about how to apply it to the boat. But the "rotate your butt" idea was something she didn't have to think about.

Of course if one has any sort of aptitude for operating a boat at all it doesn't take much time before the analolgy is no longer needed. What to do with the boat's shift levers quickly becomes as much second nature as what to do with the clutch levers on a bulldozer (at least on the one I ran in the 1970s-- the new ones use joysticks). But analogies like bulldozers, parentheses, etc. can be very useful in helping a peson overcome their timidity and uncertainty of what to do with the shifters when they are new to twin-engine boats.
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