RC boats might not be as popular of an RC Hobby as RC cars and RC airplanes, but this doesn’t mean they aren’t as much fun. In fact, some people are surprised to find that they actually enjoy RC boating more than the other, more popular RC hobbies. Sure, the cars and airplanes might have the lure of cool tricks and high flying, but RC boats have their own appeal. If you’re more of a water enthusiast than a track or air fan, then there’s no doubt you’ll love watching your RC boat glide–or shoot–across the water.
We’ve divided this guide into four helpful sections: boat types, power sources, hull types, and links. You’ll want to read up on boat types first, as there are all kinds of boats available for purchase and it’s important that you pick the best boat for your needs. But first, the question on everyone’s mind:
RTR or Build my Own?
Before deciding on a boat type, you’ll want to answer one important question, “RTR (Ready to Run) or build my own boat?” This is the same question RC car and airplane enthusiasts always ask and the answer is pretty similar across the board.
The RTR boats are ready to go–no assembly required–and are great for beginners who want to get out on the water as soon as possible. If you want to spend more time with your boat and you enjoy building models, you’ll want to get a kit so that you can work on your own boat. Buying a kit and building your boat means your RC boat will be more personalized than all the RTR’s out there. You can add details as you wish and don’t have to worry about every other RC boat on the water looking just like yours. If this doesn’t matter to you, go with the RTR. There are some great ones on the market nowadays and you’ll have just as much fun racing or gliding your RTR. But if an RTR doesn’t sound like your thing–if modeling is part of the hobby for you or if it just sounds like something you’d enjoy–definitely don’t be afraid to build your own, even if you’ve never done it before. Just follow the instructions and you’re sure to have a personalized, working RC boat in no time.
And now it’s time to decide to make the first important decision: what type of RC boat to buy.
Sailboat or power boat? A lifelike scale model? A mini? Zooming across the water at the speed of light (well, not quite, although there are some fast boats out there nowadays) or taking your sweet time going from shore to shore?
The type of boat you choose is going to make a major difference in your RC boating experience. Some people involved in the hobby choose to get a variety of different boats. They enjoy the versatility and want both the speed of a power boat and the detail of a scale. But if you’re just beginning, you’re probably wondering where to start. It can seem overwhelming, but it’s really not that difficult to determine what boat would be best for your needs. Let’s take a look at the differences between some of the most common boat types:
Power Boat – These are probably the most popular types of RC boats. Why? Well, they’re a hell of a lot of fun and pretty easy to operate. They’re powered by engines or motors and you can choose either a sport boat or a racing boat. Sport boats are great for beginners. They’re easy to use and aren’t so fast that you need much skill to maneuver them. So if you’re just wanting to see what the hobby is all about, you might want start out with a sport boat. Racing boats are typically faster and some people think they’re more fun for this reason. They aren’t as easy to operate as a sport boat, but to a lot of people, the speed is well worth it.
Sailboat – If calm water and a leisurely day of sailing appeal to you, you’ll definitely want to get a sailboat. RC sailboats are powered by wind, so there isn’t any pesky motor or engine to worry about. For this reason, sailboats have a long run time. They’re also great for beginners because there isn’t a lot of maintenance involved. And don’t make the mistake of thinking sailboats are always slow–you can buy both sport and racing models.
Scale – Scale boats are less about speed and more about authenticity. Sure, they do a great job on the water, but the scale boat enthusiast is typically more concerned with the look of the boat than the power behind it. From battleships to powerboats, there are all kinds of scale boats to choose from, which means you can choose a boat that really means something to you.
Airboats – Airboats are exactly what they sound like–both boat and airplane, a hybrid of the two RC hobbies. Airboats have a nitro engine on top which propels the boat across the water. They’re not always as widely available and typically come as kits, but they’re sure a lot of fun to operate.
Mini – If you don’t have a ton of room to play but want to get in on the hobby, check out a mini boat. They’re great for use in swimming pools or small ponds. The only major difference between these boats and others is that they’re, well, smaller. They operate similarly to other boats and some of them even have intricate detailing. So if you want an RC boat but don’t have a lot of room, go for the mini boat.
Fuel-powered or electric? This is the same question asked by nearly everyone who’s just getting started with any RC hobby, and there’s a good reason for asking it. Deciding on a power source is one of the most important decisions you’ll make when starting out in the RC boating world. There are benefits to either power source and for the most part it really depends on what it is you want out of the hobby as well as what regulations you have to follow. Let’s take a look at some of the differences between fuel-powered and electric RC boats.
Fuel-powered – These are generally considered more fun than electric boats for a variety of reasons. They’re typically capable of going at higher speeds and they also have longer run times (not always true, but generally speaking). The other thing people love about fuel-powered boats is the realistic sound it makes tearing across the water. If you’re looking for an exciting, realistic experience, you’ll probably want to go with a fuel-powered boat.
The fuel-powered boats are available in either gasoline or nitro-powered. If you get a gasoline powered boat, you’ll be using a similar gasoline to one you’d use in a regular car. For this reason, the gasoline powered boat is easy and somewhat inexpensive to maintain. Nitro-powered boats use a very specific fuel that can be purchased either at your local hobby store or online. This is a little more expensive than the gasoline powered boat, but it’s ultimately a better bet. The nitro fuel already has oil blended into it, so you won’t have to worry about mixing oil with fuel. It’s also generally considered safer.
Electric – If you’re a beginner or want a more simple experience, electric boats might be a good bet. They operate on plug-and-play, so the only thing required is to charge your battery pack and plug it in. Next thing you know you’re zooming across the water. The other reason electric boats are a good bet is that they’re quieter than their fuel-powered counterparts. As discussed, a lot of people love the sound of the nitro-boat ripping across the water, but some places won’t allow you to have loud boats (or maybe you want to sneak out at night and race RC boats with your next-door neighbor, but don’t want to wake the rest of the neighborhood). In this case, the quieter electric boat might be a better bet.
You’ve decided whether you want an RTR or to build your own boat, you’ve picked a boat suited to your needs, and you’ve chosen either an electric or power boat. At this point, you might be happy with your boat and don’t want to amp up your hobby. But if you’re getting pretty deep into the RC boating world and if you’re serious about RC boats, at some point you’re going to want to start thinking about the hull. If you’re wanting top performance and the best handling for your boat, the hull is going to be one of those things that will make a massive difference. There are three main types of hulls for RC boats: hydroplanes, Deep-V’s, and catamarans.
Hydroplanes – They’re typically for the more advanced RC racer, but hydroplanes are your best bet for racing. Why? Because they give the absolute highest level of performance. They zoom across the water at high speeds and they’re the closest you can get to the look of the full-scale boat. Hydroplanes are generally used for oval racing. They’re great at making tight turns around the race course because they feature a turning fin on the backside of one of the sponsons. If you’re thinking about getting into RC boat racing, consider hydroplanes. They’re the absolute best when it comes to reaching top speeds, making tight turns, and giving the overall best performance.
Deep-V’s – While hydroplanes are great for racing, Deep-V’s are considered best for the beginning RC boater. Sure, hydroplanes are known as being fast, but it doesn’t mean Deep-V’s aren’t capable of speed. They’re modeled after full-scale boats and their hull strake configuration means they can also take corners really well. They’re also great when it comes to handling waves, so if the water is rough you shouldn’t have to worry that your Deep-V can’t handle it. Deep-V’s are great for the first time racer because they’re both fast and also stable. So while hydroplanes are an awesome bet for racing, you definitely can’t go wrong with a Deep-V–especially if you’re a beginning racer.
Catamarans – Catamarans are a bit slower than a Deep-V, but it doesn’t mean they’re not great. There are benefits to each, of course, but it depends on what you’re wanting out of your hull. Catamarans are modeled after off-shore race boats and have more stability than other hulls. If stability matters most to you, go with a catamaran. Of course, this stability might come at the cost of speed since more of the hull is immersed in water. The increased drag is a downside to the catamaran, but they do offer great stability and are still a good option for your RC boat.