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Radio Controlled Boats 101

Updated on August 19, 2014
Ladies and Gentlemen...the Wicked Angel!
Ladies and Gentlemen...the Wicked Angel!
The Venom Strait Jacket!
The Venom Strait Jacket!

Radio Controlled Boats -Three Key Types

Finding the right radio controlled boat is simple if you know a few basic things...You certainly need to know the types of radio controlled boats available and how they differ...For instance:

There are many segments within the radio controlled boats arena however the vast majority are powered by three main fuel types: electric, nitro, and gas. There are boats powered by diesel and steam but these are very much in the minority. The models on the market vary widely in speed and performance however some general statements can be made.

Electric boats are very popular because they are simple to use and easier to operate –without the fuel fumes or noise. They tend to be the least expensive, and there are a lot of low cost “toy” quality boats in this category. They are slower than their nitro or gas counterparts and reach 10-20mph. Electric engines operate with brushed or the more powerful brushless motors. They have a tendency to slow down as the run time increases as the battery runs down. Run time will depend on the power of the battery (or batteries) used but can be as low as 10 minutes. Additional batteries are needed to keep the boat going.

Nitro boats use nitromethane fuel and are mid price range. Nitromethane is used as a fuel in racing, particularly drag racing, rockets and remote control vehicles and is commonly referred to in this context as "nitro". Nitro fuel is made of methanol, nitromethane and oil and sold by the can or bottle in hobby shops. Nitro boats are fairly easy to operate and deliver 20 to 30 minutes of run time per tank. Nitro delivers more power so the size of the engine can be minimized. Full power is available as long as there is fuel in the tank. Nitro boats can hit top speeds of 30-35mph sometimes higher Also radio controlled boats with “glow engines” and a “glow plug” are also commonly classified as nitro powered. The standard nitro engine is different to the nitro engines on RC cars and planes because it is water-cooled not air-cooled. Water enters through a tube under the boat, passes through the cylinder head and then out, taking engine heat with it.

Gas boats use regular car gasoline with 2 cycle/stroke oil mixed with the fuel. The proportion of oil to fuel mix changes after the boat engine is “broken in”. Gas boats get the highest speeds as they are capable of hitting the 40 to 45mph range. They can cruise for up to 45 minutes on a tank of gas. Gas engines are much larger than the typical nitro engine so they tend to be put into much bigger (size) RC boats. For instance the Traxxas King of Shaves Gas powered boat is almost 6 feet long. This means they are too big for swimming pools and need the open water.

The Burning Question

Which type of radio controlled boat do you prefer?

See results
The "evil" Traxxas Villain!
The "evil" Traxxas Villain!

Radio Controlled Boats – Toy or Hobby Quality?

The world of radio controlled boats is a family-oriented hobby that allows people to come together and have fun racing their radio controlled boats. There are many types, shapes and sizes of radio controlled vehicles to accommodate anyone’s interest and budget. However this article is about how radio controlled boats are often divided into two large categories…”toy" quality or "hobby" quality. What does this mean and how should it guide your buying?

There is a grey area in this world of radio controlled boats. There is a type of radio controlled boat called “toy” boats. Now these are often not marked as “toys” by people who sell them as it makes it sound like they aren’t worth buying. And it does not mean that these boats aren’t great fun its just that they may not run for long before needing recharging, it may be prone to rolling over, or it may not go very fast. Toy radio controlled boats can generally be found in the low price segment…say below $50 and even that is complicated as $50 may be low or high for different people. They tend to be self contained and often you are unable to easily get at the workings of the boat as they are not designed to be worked on by the consumer.

On the other side of the coin is “Hobby-class” radio controlled boats. Higher quality hobby class boats offer better performance standards. They got this name because they are designed to have more of a sustainable performance that you can use weekend after weekend – a sustainable hobby. Unlike “toy-class’ boats, most “Hobby-class” radio controlled boats are engineered for maximum performance with sophisticated power systems and rudder control. They are made to be durable so that they can stand up to the extra abuse that results from their higher performance capabilities.

Many manufacturers (Traxxas being one) preassemble and adjust the model for you at the factory often pre-painting the body and sometimes putting electronic self starters into their nitro boats.. A simple push of a button is all it takes to fire up the engine- as opposed to having a separate starter mechanism that you have to buy. As a result these are often referred to as "ready-to-run" (RTR) although that term is used very loosely…sometimes "ready to run" can mean only after you add boat batteries or fuel and transmitter batteries.

Hobby-class radio controlled boats can reach speeds over 40mph and have fully adjustable systems that operate just like their full-size big brothers. They are designed to be maintained by the owner with some basic hand tools. The materials used in manufacturing are very durable and can withstand crashes or rollovers – although some things do break given enough punishment.

So when you are looking to buy bear this information in mind. Often people will start with a “toy” class boat as that will teach handling and give a taste of what the sport /hobby has to offer. Have fun on the water.

Radio Controlled Boats at PLAY :)

The Twin Hulled Segad...a BIG boat!

Radio Controlled Boats- It’s the Hull Shape Stupid!

The hull shape of radio controlled boats is critically important as it impacts the speed, stability, and maneuverability of the RC boat. This will determine to a great extent how easy the boat is to control when you get it out on the water. This will affect how much fun you can have with you boat. Nobody wants to out of control with their radio controlled boat. There are three basic designs: monohull, flat bottom and hydroplane. Let's look at each.

Monohull Boats. Monohull or monoplane hulls come in several different styles but the most popular is the vee-shaped hull. This design maintains a single unbroken surface in contact with the water. The design known as deep-vee is generally used on sport boats for stability at speed. Basically the deeper it cuts into the water the more stability it has especially at speed. Some sport shallow-vee hull design put less hull surface in contact with the water which increase speed but losing some of the stability of the deep-vee design. It all comes down to ease of handling and the faster you go the harder it gets.

Flat-bottom boats. The two main types of this hull design are airboats or hovercraft. These have a flat or near flat bottom design. They float on a cushion of air and are propelled by a propeller or propellers that push them forward. On of the issues people have is that they can move around a lot and take some getting use to wit regard to handling. The lack of a hull means it requires the control you exercise to be more precise. On the other side of the coin they can go fast as there is little surface friction slowing the boat down.

Hydroplane Boats. There are several styles: the 3-point hydro, catamaran, tunnel hull, and outrigger are designs of radio controlled boats well known for speed. In this design the hull has more than one surface in contact with the water. This feature creates space for trapped air under the boat, this trapped air helps to lift the boat partially out of the water so that there is less drag because less hull is touching the water) and as a result the boat can go faster - and are pretty stable as well. Outriggers are the fastest of the hydroplane hull designs but the trickiest to handle. Catamarans and tunnel hulls provide a better balance of speed and handling for the beginning racer.

Find more info on radio controlled boats here.

Jet Radio Controlled Boats 101

Jet boats are a growing area of radio controlled boats. They are appealing to many as the propellers on regular radio controlled boats get entangled in weeds and line and can also hit the ground. All of which will bring you to a shuddering halt. How do they work?

A jetboat is a boat propelled by a jet of water ejected from the back of the craft. A jetboat sucks in water from under the boat into a pump-jet inside the boat, then expels it through a nozzle at the stern. Steering is achieved by motors that move the jet nozzle to either side, or less common, by small gates each side that direct the water. However given the boat relies on the flow of water through the nozzle for control, you must have the throttle open to steer it. The jet expels the jet stream above the water line as it is significantly more efficient as it provides a "clean" hull bottom to avoid drag, allows operation in even shallower water and has no effect on the amount of thrust generated.

Jet powered boats are highly maneuverable, and many can be reversed and brought to a stop quickly. From their larger brethren there is the well known Hamilton turn or "jet spin". This is a tricky high speed maneuver. The boat is turned sharply, the throttle cut which causes the back end (stern) to lift and spin quickly around with a large spectacular spray of water.

One very important feature of the jetboat is that it has no external rotating parts; it is essentially safe for swimmers and marine life, (if you disregard the possibility of being hit by the hull). This in itself is reason enough for some to use this type of propulsion.

Reversing is a bit trickier than a prop. A water jet will continue to pump normally and a deflector aka scoop is lowered into the jetstream after it leaves the outlet nozzle. This deflector pushes the water forward to provide reverse thrust ideally though slightly away from the intake ducts to avoid aeration. Because steering is still available in reverse, you can turn the boat on the spot once you reach a “balance” point with forward and reverse thrust.

Jet boats use a hull shape designed to plane across the water ie the front of the boat lifts out of the water, this reduces drag, boosting speed and maneuverability. Jets have to be operated at speed because at lower speeds, less water pumps through the jet so you lose some steering control and maneuverability. They quickly slow down as the hull comes down and hull resistance is increased. However, loss of steering control at low speeds can be reduced by lowering the reverse deflector slightly and increasing throttle - so you increase thrust and thus control without increasing boat speed itself.

At this point unless you are pretty advanced I would recommend prop driven electric, nitro or gas boats.

Boat dead in the water
Boat dead in the water

5 Ways to Retrieve a Dead Radio Controlled Boat.

What a pain this is. For any number of reasons if you have radio controlled boat, one day you will be watching your boat float with no power and realize you need to somehow get it back. I fantasize about using a RC helicopter with a big hook but so far I have had to resort to less exotic methods. For me there is no method that doesn’t involve some hassle but at least you’ll be prepared.

First safety is paramount. Remember, there are moving parts that can cut, engines that get hot and can burn you and you have flammable, ignitable fuel that could be a hazard. You should have picked an area where no one else is boating or swimming. When a boat is going 25 mph (or more) it can hurt and do you or someone some serious damage. So you should be in an area where no one else can get hurt no matter how you try and retrieve this boat (that is acting as a buoy)

OK so here are a few methods that people use, some are more practical than others. I assume too that the boat is too far out to be retrieved by wading or the use of a long stick.

1. Swim for it. I know this one is possibly way too obvious but it clearly works and is simple. All you need is a towel and not much else so it’s relatively convenient. Of course the closer you are to winter the more of a challenge it will be or if you aren’t a swimmer. However this for me remains the best, simplest method. Sometimes the local kids will do it for you if you ask…I find that a promise to let them drive a little when its retrieved gets all sorts ready to jump in.

2. Use a Rescue Boat. Sounds simple doesn’t it…simply launch the boat that you obviously take everywhere with you and paddle or row out to it and voila…boat is back in biz. This I think works best when you are on your own property. I for one don’t take a boat or dinghy with me when I go out.

3. Use another Radio Controlled as a Rescue Boat. A variant on my helicopter fantasy but you probably /hopefully have another boat. Attach a hanger or a light piece of wood to the front of the rescue boat and use it to shove the dead boat into shore. Some people I know who really plan ahead have added a loop to their boat and the hanger can hook on. The downside is…that boat needs to be ready…with batteries or fuel or whatever…and it must have enough power to be able to push the dead boat. An 18” electric may have a problem with the King of Shaves Gas boat that is 6 feet long.! .

4. Fishing Rod and Tennis Ball. There are variants on this…and you’ll find that it takes practice. But it is most definitely light and portable. Your ball is attached to the line and you “cast” for the boat. So realize you have to cast out to a boat 20 yards away, so aim is critical and you have to hope the ball stays wedged on the side of the boat…sounds easy…really isn’t. I have seen a variant on this with one of those dog ball throwers. It has the same issues but maybe offers a bit more control. It generally involves running up and down the beach trying to angle the line so it “hooks” on.

5. Que Sera Sera. Simply let the boat drift in the current / wind and eventually it will hit the shore…very hit and miss as it could be becalmed if it’s a lovely day or you are on a pond…and you may have to go foraging across the shore to reach it.

So when the dead boat problem strikes…and it will…be ready.

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