Race a Smaller Boat… Try Radio-Controlled (RC) Model Boats!

It’s your fingers on the radio controller (RC) that will tell whether your boat successfully wins, sinks before the finish line or skyrockets off the course
Radio Controlled (RC) boats race in Florida
It’s your fingers on the radio controller (RC) that will tell whether your boat successfully wins, sinks before the finish line or skyrockets off the course and into a stand of nearby trees

Picture this: You’re standing on an elevated platform with five to eight other racers overlooking a large pond or small lake. The track out on the lake is marked with buoys and soon each racer’s model boat hits the start line traveling from 40 to 60 miles per hour (mph). The fate of what happens next is literally in the palm of your and your fellow racers hands. That is, it’s your fingers on the radio controller (RC) that will tell whether your boat successfully wins, sinks before the finish line or skyrockets off the course and into a stand of nearby trees. This is the heart-pumping, adrenaline-thumping excitement of RC model boat racing. It’s an inland water sport that’s popular world and nationwide, and closer to home, most especially in Florida thanks to the state’s year-round temperate climate and perfect venues in its three million acres of lakes.

Model Boats are great for the Whole Family

“RC boat racing is attractive to men and women who have been involved in any type of competitive racing,” explains David Vollmers, public relations member for the Castaways Boat Worx Fast Electric Club, in Fruitland Park, Florida. “As a result, we have a wide variety of talented people building and racing the boats. I say building because almost everyone starts out with a factory-built, ready-to-race boat. Shortly thereafter, someone suggests installing a larger prop or a more powerful motor to get a few more mph out of their craft. The modifications go on and on, until every component on the boat has been pushed to it limits.”

There are four main types of RC model boats

  • electric
  • nitro
  • gas-powered
  • combat
Busy at work in his mobile trailer modifying his collection of RC Boats that are ready to race
Almost everyone starts out with a factory-built, ready-to-race boat. Shortly thereafter, someone suggests installing a larger prop or a more powerful motor to get a few more mph out of their craft. The modifications go on and on, until every component on the boat has been pushed to it limits.

Electric RC model boats are a great entry point to the sport because, with technology advancements over the years, it is easy to buy a relatively inexpensive race-ready boat at a hobby shop or online dealer.

What are the Different Classes of RC Model Boats?

“There are several electric classes to race in, from 2-cell (LI-PO or Lithium Polymer battery packs) and 27-inches long to 10-cell and up to 60 inches,” says Ken Haines, president of the Wave Blasters of Florida Fast Electric Club, in Fort Pierce, who purchased his first model boat on eBay, enjoys traveling to race throughout Florida and the U.S. with his wife and son, and says he most enjoys the competition, camaraderie and boat building (he hauls a trailer transformed into a workshop stocked with up to 20 race boats).

Nitro powered boats are unmistakable for the sound of their high-pitched RPMs when racing. There are low-cost entry level nitro boats, but it’s the trickier more expensive high-performance craft that are huge fun due to attaining speeds over 100 mph.

“Nitro and gas builds are similar, but the learning curve in motor maintenance on the nitro boats is steeper,” says Ray Kindred, president of the Space Coast Rudder Busters club, in Melbourne, Florida, whose members, including Kindred’s son, own and operate either nitro or gas boats. “The big thing with nitro is making note of the barometric pressure, temperature and humidity in the venue where you’re racing to tune the carburetor appropriately. I’ve always been mechanically inclined and enjoy the challenge.”

Gas-powered boats use less costly fuel than do nitro boats. They also tend to be simpler to maintain.

“Gas is the easiest; it is more forgiving. Just fill the tank and run the boat,” says Wayne Farrow, director of District 3 for the North American Model Boat Association (NAMBA), which includes Florida.

Combat type model boats attract scaled down warship enthusiasts with a chance to do true to life battles.

How widespread is the popularity of RC Model Boats?

The ties that bind many RC model boat racers is local, regional and national competitions. For example, at the Orlando Winter Nationals in Melbourne, Florida, at the end of January, there were 103 racers representing 10 states, plus Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“My son and I have two boats apiece, but some people run up to 6 to 7 different boats. Heats in the different classes take place throughout the day with 6 to 8 boats to a heat. Most of these events are two or three days. To me, it’s an adrenaline rush. You work on your boat to make it its best, you’re up against people who are doing the same thing, and winning means a lot, as well as trophies and bragging rights. It takes a lot of strategy to drive and place your boat in the right position on the course. At the same time, when the racing is done, its common to go up to the winners and pick their brains. They are more than happy to help. After all, it’s more exciting when everyone is at the same level,” says Kindred.

For those interested, Farrow suggests going on the NAMBA or the International Model Power Boat Association (IMPBA) websites to find out what clubs and events are close to home. This offers the opportunity to get tips from club members and see what competition is about. Events are a good place to connect with fellow competitors for tips later and manufacturers to buy boats or equipment needed to build from scratch. There are also a few forums online for electric, gas, nitro-powered enthusiasts. www.namba.com, www.impba.net

Carol_Bareuther
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.