Improving boat performance
Could manually adjusting the trim of your outboard engine or sterndrive be going, going, gone—just like manual stick shifts in cars? Mercury Marine’s new Active Trim system uses GPS speed and engine rpm to efficiently trim your drives for the best performance. Boat trials at the 2016 Miami International Boat Show, where the product was launched, revealed consumers love it.
Hardly anyone requests a manual transmission in cars today, but manual trim in boats has been common. For outboards, adjusting trim is the process of tilting the entire engine and propeller up or down, which affects how the force of the propeller raises the bow out of the water for a more efficient and comfortable ride. For sterndrives, trim is adjusting the drive up or down. Trimming the engine improves fuel economy and allows the boat to take advantage of the engine’s horsepower propelling it. Mercury’s Active Trim works with both outboards and sterndrives.
“What makes Active Trim work is the patented GPS-based control system—we are the only company that offers it,” explained Rob Hackbarth, Mercury Marine’s category director for controls and rigging. “Unlike other automatic trim systems […] that use only engine rpm to control trimming, Mercury’s Active Trim controls the trim in accordance with boat speed and engine rpm.”
Mercury Marine is a $2 billion division of the Brunswick Corporation. Also under Brunswick are leading boat brands such as Bayliner, Boston Whaler, Meridian, and Sea Ray. At the Miami show, Active Trim was available for consumers to try on more than 20 boats from 15 brands.
“It’s a hard feature to describe to someone, because the boats don’t look any different,” Hackbarth said. “The driver has to experience it. That is when they really understand. Passengers out on a test drive will stare back at the engines. Yes, the engines are trimming up and down, just like they are supposed to, which is the whole point.”
A small information control pad on the dash that relays the Active Trim information allows the user to select profiles, and also contains the GPS unit. “Active trim is for entry-level and expert boaters,” said Hackbarth of the project that began in February 2015. “When we first started many people’s first thought was, ‘I know how to trim an engine and so do a lot of other boaters. Why would we need this?’ Then they tried it and got used to it fast. Active Trim simplifies boat operation, while improving engine performance and decreasing fuel costs.”
For new boaters, Active Trim allows them to immediately trim their engines properly with no intimidating learning curve, or monitor and adjust trim constantly upon changes in boat speed or turns. Because the system uses boat speed from the GPS to make its trim-sender adjustments, when the boat slows down in a turn Active Trim responds accordingly for the ideal ride. This feature solves problems with the engine or drive trimming up instead of down, if the propeller breaks loose in hard turns.
“Five trim profiles are available that accommodate nearly any boat application from small runabouts to cruisers to high-performance,” Hackbarth said. “There’s nothing complicated. At install you just run the boat and select the profile that is best suited for that application.” After installation the profiles allow the operator to further personalize Active Trim to their driving style and compensate for changes in boat load, operator preference and weather conditions, while maintaining complete auto operation.
Active Trim works great for boats with a wide trim range and can be overridden with the regular manual trim buttons, though auto mode can be easily re-engaged. Once the boat passes the 50-mph mark, Active Trim no longer moves the engine. It resumes automatically once below 50 mph. On faster boats such as bass boats in which the operator wants to get the last mile per hour out of their boat, Active Trim can be overridden so the engine can be trimmed out fully for top speed.
What does Active Trim not do? It can’t sense when you are in shallow water, so it won’t automatically trim up the engines to not hit bottom. It also won’t work if you don’t have GPS connectivity, such as going under a bridge or if the GPS conks out. In that case, you have to trim the engine manually.
The Active Trim panel is compatible with analog and digital gauges, and has been specially designed to accommodate mounting in a broad range of boat applications. It does not require use of a multi-functional gauge, and the only special tool needed is a 54-millimeter hole saw. Active Trim can be ordered with new boats or retrofitted using a kit as long as the engine is Mercury SmartCraft capable.
The Active Trim option is priced at under $500. “We wanted to keep the cost down but offer a complete kit,” Hackbarth said. “That’s why we include a GPS unit within the panel. It works with nearly our entire four-stroke product line [excluding 40- to 115-horsepower tiller models]. You are good to go with the kit and can even upgrade our 40- to 115-horsepower outboards that use analog trim—we include a digital trim sender in the kit for those engines.”
Even boats with quad 400-horsepower Mercury Verado outboards or surface-piercing drives can use Active Trim. “We have a kit for high performance boats called Performance Active Trim,” Hackbarth said. “In boats with surface-piercing drives there is not a big trim range, but it still works. Now if you have a Boston Whaler with four big outboards, then Active Trim is very helpful. It syncs all four outboards, so on a busy waterway there is one less thing to worry about.”
— By Doug Thompson, Southern Boating Magazine April 2016