Back in the mid 90’s RC boats where the rage. On any given weekend there would easily be at least 50 racers at the lake all racing their boats in their respective classes.
Since then the hobby has matured and settled down a bit, but has been showing constant growth again in the last couple of years. Many of the hardcore guys that are mainstay in the hobby are still there and new bright minds are also taking charge and developing new boats, radio systems and engines. Apart from all this, the hobby has expanded greatly from mainly only nitro fuel to now gasoline and fast electric (also known as FE).
Back in the day electric boats where frowned upon for being slow. Nowadays, with the development of LiPo batteries and brushless electric motors, electric boats were given the name of “fast electric” or “FE” to differentiate them from the sluggish electrics of yore. In the internal combustion side of things, gasoline engines have gone a long way since the early weedwacker engines. Companies like Zenoah and RCMK are making gasoline engines dedicated exclusively for RC model boats. Some people are even putting together gasoline outboard boats rather than the more common nitro outboards.
Nitro engines have gotten much better as well. Back in the day OPS, Rossi, Picco and K&B were king. These days, companies that were once start-ups in the marine department, like OS Engines, now dominate large segments of the market. OS Engines is now the number one maker of nitro outboard RC boat engines. CMB is still around and makes some of the most expensive and sought-after racing engines. Other companies like NovaRossi are winning lots of races and pleasing racers with great high-performance engines that are also affordable. OPS, Rossi and Picco are still around, but their engines are a little harder to find in the USA as they don’t currently have solid distribution here. Maybe that will change soon.
Boat hulls have also gotten better but the changes don’t seem to be as dramatic as it has been with engines. For one thing .21 Cats are not very popular anymore. Racers now favor the Sport 20 Hydroplane Class. These models resemble traditional hydroplanes more than offshore catamarans.. There is also the very popular Open Hydroplane class which is mainly dominated by outrigger hydroplanes. The point is, that in the smaller sizes, hobbyists are favoring the speed of hydros over the look and rough water ability of offshore catamaran shapes.
For outrigger hydroplanes, the folks at Zip Kits have some amazing kits for popular JAE models. Other radio control outrigger and unlimited hydroplanes are very often built from RC boat plans rather than from precut kits. This adds to the complexity of the project and the challenge. Many experienced modelers go this route. Additionally, apart from buying RC boat kits that come complete, but in pieces, some modelers go the extra mile and not only build their boats from scratch, but they gather all the parts needed from all manner of different sources to create something truly unique.
Speed Tunnel Vision
RC tunnel boats look a lot like the full size F1 tunnel racing boats they emulate. Like their full-size counterparts, they are almost exclusively built with outboard motors. Stock 3.5cc powered tunnel boats (otherwise known as .21 tunnels) and .21 / .45 modified sport tunnels have gotten a lot more specialized, faster and better handling. Those tunnels classes are quite popular. A recent poll on Intlwaters.com, a very popular RC boating forum, revealed that modelers find .21 tunnel hulls to be the second most rewarding .21 powered boat to race, topped only by .21 outrigger hydros. Tunnels are some of the easiest and least expensive nitro boats to build, but setting them up to run at their best is very challenging, hence their appeal.
Some of the more popular RC tunnel boats right now include models by Lynx, HTB, Vision Craft, LeeCraft, ML Boatworks and Cobra along with the hugely popular Aquacraft Top Speed 3 (TS3) and VS1 models. As you can see, there are plenty of options. By the way, keep your eyes peeled for the FloatWays RC tunnel race boat. It’s an Aquacraft VS1.
Catamarans – Offshore Cats
AC Model Boats has some great offshore cats. The Aeromarine Sprint Cat is still a very popular catamaran hull but mostly for the large .45 and up sizes. It’s also, very popular for gasoline engines. The .21 Sprint Cat, as cool as it is, is not as popular anymore as guys tend to opt for the faster sport hydro and outriggers that run in the same class as the smaller offshore cats.
One thing we’ve noticed is that catamarans are quite popular when combined with gasoline engines. At a recent speed trial event FloatWays attended in Legg Lake, in Los Angeles, we saw some gasoline offshore cats running in the 70 to 85MPH range. They might not be as fast as some outriggers, but they are certainly more capable when the wind picks up and the lake gets choppy. They are also easier to set up and not as fragile as outriggers or sport hydroplanes.
Monos – The Typical Vee Boats
Monos are what you would expect a boat to look like – a single hull, vee shape. Mono classes, which include surface mono boats (whose props work close to the surface of the water like on a hydroplane) and offshore deep vees are still very popular. Given it’s the traditional boat shape, they are likely to always be in fashion. Surface drive monos are by far more popular than deep vees, as they are faster. But deep vees still have strong fans thanks to their scale looks and rough water ability. Speaking of scale looks, some of the most popular deep vee boats are modeled after classic Cigarette, Apache, Fountain, Carrera, Scarab, P&D and Donzi offshore racing boats.
Overall, mono hulls have some very strong followers as well as guys that absolutely hate them. Some of the most popular RC mono hulls are made by Seaducer, Calcraft, Speedmaster and AC Model Boats. Of course, Aeromarine Laminates, who has been making fiberglass RC boat hulls since who knows when, is still a big player in the game. Among Aeromarine’s most popular monos we have the Challenger, Titan and of course the Apache. A far as Apaches go, they are very popular in large scale sizes 50 inches and bigger. For this reason, they are quite popular for use with gasoline engines. Apart from Aeromarine, various other companies and individuals have been making their own recreations of the popular Apaches hulls.
Check out this RC boat racing video of the IMPBA International Regatta by Me Time Productions:
The Shift to Large Gasoline and Small Nitro
One important thing to note is that in nitro classes, the smaller .21 and .45 engines tend to be more popular than the .67. .81 and .90 engines. Back in the day, I’m talking 15-20 years ago, it seems like it was the other way around. Thing is, the hobby has gotten quite expensive. A gallon of nitro-methane fuel can easily run upwards of $40 and the glow plugs needed to run the engines are around $5 each. (And they don’t really last very long). So obviously, the bigger engines drink up a lot more fuel making everything more expensive. A little .21 tunnel boat can run at speeds close to 50MPH while a .21 outrigger hydro can do quite a bit more than that. So in essence, you can get a good speed fix without having to spend more for a .67 or .90 engine – not to mention the extra gas consumption.
Due in part to cost, there has been a big developmental push in gasoline engines. However, these engines tend to be bigger than their nitro counterparts. For this reason, the boats are larger too. Many modelers have switched 100% to gasoline leaving some nitro classes nearly dead. Very sad since there are guys we’ve talked to that swear by nitro and claim they will run nothing else.
FloatWays is based out of San Diego – a perfect example of an area where nitro is nearly dead. We have a dedicated venue called the San Diego RC Model Yacht Pond next to Mission Bay. But even that is not enough to keep nitro racing alive. A phone conversation with the director of power of the San Diego Argonauts, Bill Bridge, informed us that most of the modelers in San Diego have either completely switched to gasoline or have moved away from the hobby entirely. Additionally, excessive insurance costs and city fees have also rendered the hosting of official races prohibitively expensive. Kinda of sad if you ask us.
This is a perfect example of why the RC boat community needs to stick together to promote the hobby. The amazing hobby of RC boat racing needs more followers, organized support and promotion. It is a wonderful hobby that can be practiced with the entire family. Additionally, more support can also mean that nitro-powered boats can stick around for a whole lot longer.
For those of you that are not really familiar with the hobby, below are a number of cool facts that will help you get familiar with the hobby of RC boating.
- The fastest RC boat is the outrigger hydroplane. When set up correctly, they are capable of reaching speeds up to 115MPH. At these speeds though, one small mistake and you’ll turn your RC model boat back into a model kit within a split second.
- Some radio control boats are designed to perform their best as RC boats, disregarding their looks. However, some are made to scale to look like their full-size counterparts. Good examples of RC scale models are the unlimited hydroplane scale kits and Apache offshore deep vee rc boats.
- Most RC boat models run on a single engine, but experienced modelers and racers often like the challenge of building and running a twin engine boat.
- These days, modern 2.4Ghz radio systems are hugely popular. They provide better reception and control of your model and also minimize interference with other nearby RC radio systems.
- The RC boat racing community is a very tight-knit community. Learn the ropes, be respectful and don’t be an idiot and you are very welcome to join. Not only that, but you will meet great people that are always willing to help.
- NAMBA and IMPBA are the main organizations for RC boat racing. You will need a membership with one of them, plus an insurance policy to be able to race in a sanctioned event.
- A prop will make or break a boat. You can have a great boat, but put the wrong prop on it and it’ll run like crap.
- RC boats for sale can be found used online, for good prices. Join a popular online forum for RC boats to learn more. One word of advice though, there is nothing quite like building a brand new kit from scratch. But starting off with a used kit, or an “almost ready to run” kit can be a good way to break the ice.
- RC boat parts can be found through a vast selection of hobby shops and dealers across the world. However, given how tight the RC boat community is, again we recommend joining an online forum such as RCuniverse.com or Inltwaters.com to find out more. The folks in these forums know of boat parts sources that are not so easily accessible through a simple internet search.
RC Racing Champ Julian Conde on his RC boat racing experience – I have been racing RC model boats for 3 years in national and local events. I am Veteran of the armed forces serving 10 years in the US Army and deploying for 4 years and 9 months of combat duty in Iraq. Brought into the hobby by LTC James Beasley in 2008 at Chesapeake VA, I started racing Sport B and D tunnel and B Mono for the 1st year of racing. In 2009 I was limited to the events I could attend due to military service. I stayed active by helping the old dominion club in Chesapeake Va.
In 2010 I was deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in Baghdad Iraq for 15 months. Upon my return I rejoined my friends and family and continued racing model boats. Raced in 2011 a full racing season from the Orlando Winternats to the Fall Nationals at the end of 2011. In April 3, 2011 I set the LSG36 Mono 2 lap 1/3rd mile oval record along with Mike Whitley at 25.276s at 47.475 MPH and had my Roadrunner Twin CMB 80 Hydro going 89.9 MPH on heat trim straight away in the same event. I set a goal to attain the Twin Hydro Oval record and purchased a Roadrunner Extreme II with CMB 101RS Zoom Powered. On Nov 12, 2011 I was able to set the 2 lap Twin Hydro 1/4 mile record to a 17.141s and then in Nov 26, 2011 in Huntsville, AL resetting the 2 Lap Twin Hydro 1/4 mile record to a 16.670s.
Join an online RC boat community today… Here are a few…
Special thanks to:
Jerry Dunlap – A mainstay veteran in the RC boat hobby who I’m sure has built tons of boats but has particularly impressed us with his amazing tunnel boats. Jerry has written for RC Boat Modeler Magazine for years and helped with some of the edits in this article.
Me Time Racing – A site dedicated to broadcasting RC boat racing events via videos, photos and commentary. Thanks to Doug for providing some of the footage in this article. Check out: Me Time Live RC
Julian Conde – Yep, Julian Conde is a champion RC boat racer with a knack for twin engine screaming fast nitro outriggers hydroplanes. Even at a young age, he’s an atlas of all things RC boat. Thanks to Julian for the long telephone conversations pouring out all you know about boats!
Rodney Pierce – Rodney was kind enough to get me into the International Waters forum. Since then he’s been a friend and shared a lot of his RC knowledge.
Ron Olson – Ron’s a mainstay in the hobby. He’s the first guy who got me on the right track after my comeback to RC boats earlier this year. He’s also the guy who pointed out all the RC boats forums where I could research. Thanks Ron.
Wayne Johnstone from All Race Photography for providing some of the awesome action shots you see in this article. Check out the photo credits to see which are his. Some very impressive shots I must add. Check out his work at: All Race Photography
Other key people also helped with this article in some way or another – Directly and indirectly. You know who you are. THANK YOU.
Finally, this article is for you… The boater – The guy who loves boats and would love RC boating, no question. Get informed. Try out the hobby. Most of the people that get into RC boats do it for their love of boats first. This means you.
You might also be interested in the mellow art of RC sailing. In which case, check out the FloatWays article on RC Sailboats.
Shopping for an RC Boat: I admit, I’m constantly scouring eBay for rare RC boats, engines and parts. I even have custom automatic searches set up that update me by email when the part I’m looking for becomes available. There are plenty of unique RC boats and parts to be found on there, but searching is tricky because there are too many toys there as well. What I do is I run various specific searches. One of them, for example, is this one – it searches exclusively for nitro boats.