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There are two main types of backhoe controls in common use; the following are those layouts as specified by the Society of Automotive Engineers International (SAE) and by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The control dynamics of each system are virtually identical with the only difference being the controls for operating the boom arm and dipper arm are mirrored. In very general terms, backhoes utilized in the United States more commonly use the SAE set of controls, while excavators used elsewhere in the world operate with the ISO layout. Many excavators and backhoes offer control systems that can be switched between SAE and ISO layouts, leaving the decision down to operator preference.
In both types of backhoe controls, there are two levers, one for each of the operator's hands. Common to both control systems, left and right movement of the left-hand lever controls the slew, or rotation, of the machine body. Similarly in both systems, moving the right-hand lever left and right controls the vertical rotation, or curl, of the bucket or attached accessory.
It is in forward and backward movement of the hand levers that the two control systems differ. Using the SAE layout, moving the left-hand lever forward and backward controls the vertical movement of the dipper arm, while the right-hand lever controls vertical movement of the boom arm. Under the ISO style of backhoe controls, these operations are reversed. As an example of this control method, moving both hand levers forward causes the dipper arm to raise and the boom arm to lower; this action has the effect of straightening out the entire arm of the excavator in front of the machine.
In addition to the hand lever backhoe controls, there are two foot pedals directly in front of the operator, which are used to operate the tracks of the machine independently. Attached to the foot pedals, usually, are two long control levers that allow the tracks to be operated by hand if desired. Moving both of the pedals away from the operator causes both track sets to move in the forward direction; similarly, moving both pedals toward the operator has the opposite result.
To rotate the machine, the operator can either move one pedal toward him- or herself and the other pedal away to move around the central point of the machine, while moving just one of the pedals toward or away rotates the machine around the static track position. As an example, moving the left pedal toward the operator and the right pedal away will cause the left track to move backward and the right track to move forward, making the machine rotate around its central axis in a counterclockwise direction. These controls allow the machine to be far easier to maneuver than many people would expect.
Some early versions of backhoe excavators employ an outdated three-lever system, where the levers only move in a front-to-back direction and separately control the dipper arm, boom arm, and bucket angle movement. These backhoe controls are more commonly seen on backhoe attachments where excavation is not the primary function of the machine and on nonrotating excavators. Backhoe operating training courses generally concentrate on the SAE and ISO variations described above.