In this beginner RC boat guide we cover everything from why you should get into the hobby to the different types of boats. You’ll also learn the best places to use them, whether you should build your own and whether to go gas or electric. Continue reading below…
RC Boats for Beginners
Whether you’re after a tranquil sail in your local pond, or you’re wanting to get competitive with a fast and furious RC speed boat, driving your own RC boat is a fantastic hobby that can bring hours of fun.
Searching for the perfect present or just want to try something new? Check out our ultimate beginners’ guide, containing all you need to know about RC boats.
Why You Should Get Into RC Boats
RC boating offers outdoor fun for the entire family. With such a range of boats available to suit an array of budgets and preferences, you’re practically guaranteed to find something to suit you.
With so much going on in our crazy world, taking a few hours to be outdoors and feel like a child again can only do us good. RC boats allow us to get out of our heads and back having fun.
With RC boats you can be as involved in the mechanics as you like; simple electric devices are ideal for some family fun, or building your own powerful RC for an adrenaline rush!
Being by the water is innately calming, and driving an RC boat on your local pond or lake provides a new way to experience nature. Or, if you’re competitive, races and regattas are commonplace all over the country and offer a great way to show off your boat and connect with like-minded people.
Where to Use an RC Boat
RC boats don’t have restrictions on their use like RC planes and helicopters (which can be dangerous in crowded areas), however it’s important to remember that powerful gas-powered RC boats can be noisy. Always check noise restrictions when using in public places and respect the needs of the public.
Ponds are ideal for beginners as there’s little chance of your boat getting lost. If it runs out of battery or capsizes, you can easily get it back. Ponds are also calm and quiet, making your RC easier to control.
If you have slightly more experience, a river is a great option. Ensure you judge the flow of the water and make sure you have adequate control, especially if the river flows out to sea.
For beginners and kids, swimming pools are ideal. If you have a pool yourself then great, otherwise you might need to ask a friendly neighbour! There is no chance of you losing your RC and you can play with it in the pool which is perfect for kids.
While lakes are static and usually very calm, they are large and you are more likely to lose your boat than if you play in a pond. Lakes are great for racing and having lots of boats at one time. For more powerful and noisy boats, lakes are the perfect play-spot.
Building Your Own vs Ready-Made
Like most RCs, there’s the option with RC boats to build your own or purchase one ready-made. Your choice will depend on a number of things: how experienced you are as the captain, how much you care about how your RC works, your budget, and whether you want to customize it.
Ready-made RC boats are usually able to be used straight out the box. They are seriously fun and can be bought for a range of experiences. Fast, gas-powered boats are easy to find as well as electric, more ‘toy-like’ boats which are perfect for beginners.
Build-your-own boats allow you to customize them, whether that’s switching up the motor or painting it an awesome color. They are great if you want to get creative and understand the mechanics behind how your boat works. Build-your-own boats usually come in a kit with a full set of instructions. There’s also a wealth of advice online to help you.
Gas vs Electric
Electric RC boats are best for beginners as they are relatively easy to maintain and little hassle. They’re easy to control and quiet, making them great for public areas.
However, these do have a short run time and these boats are often more fragile and less powerful. They are cheaper though, making them an ideal first model.
Gas boats are powerful, but with this comes noise! There may be noise restrictions in your area meaning you’ll be more limited on where you can run your RC.
Gas boats will go faster for longer but they can be messy. They can be difficult to maintain as if you flip them you will need to purge the motor, and they are also a lot more expensive. For more advanced RC drivers they are the better choice thanks to the seemingly endless power they offer.
Selecting the right hull is important but there’s a wealth of information online to help you. Your hull type will depend on your experience, as well as the body of water you will be driving on.
These are fast and work best on calm, flat water. They generally only turn well in one direction.
Often called ‘V hulls’, monoplanes are good on rougher water and can turn well in two directions. They aren’t as fast as hydroplanes.
Exceptionally fast and can turn well in both directions. They look impressive and are easy to steer. These are good in choppy waters but can be blown over easily.
One of the slowest hull types but good in shallower water. They can handle turns well in both directions and are easy to build and maintain.
Brushed vs Brushless Motor
Just the same as RC cars, RC boats can also have brushed or brushless motors. Brushed motors are cheaper but are generally a lot less powerful. They are good for beginners as boats with brushed motors are easier to control but still have a good runtime.
Brushless motors are more efficient and powerful, but they are also more expensive. They require less maintenance and are almost always used by drivers with more experience. However, boats with too much power can be harder to control.
You usually have two battery options for RC boats. Ni-Mh batteries are less expensive and are durable. They have a good power-to-weight ratio, although many find them not quite powerful enough. They are sensitive to overcharging.
Li-Po batteries on the other hand are lightweight and powerful. They are also sensitive to overcharging, and can even explode or catch fire if overcharged. They are ideal for extreme speed, but are much more expensive than Ni-Mh batteries.
Types of RC Boats – Scale, Racing, Sail or Airboats
While there’s a huge range of boats with varying power, speed and designs, in general RC boats fall into 4 different types – with variations within these types.
RC scale boats are designed to look as similar as possible to their full scale counterpart. These electrical powered boats will have long run times and often slower speeds. With scale boats, it is the design that’s most impressive.
They can be designed to look like mini versions of practically any ship, but the most common are tugboats and warships. These boats are impressive looking and intricate.
Racing boats are fast and powerful, designed specifically to be competitive in the water. They usually have flat bottoms and ride on a small surface area at speed. There’s a huge range of racing boats available for different types of water. Some are designed to withstand tough conditions, and others are only suitable for flat water.
Tranquil and ideal for those sunny Sunday mornings, RC sailboats bring out the leisurely side of RCs. While these can also be fast and furious, many people love them for their quiet sounds and they are perfect for beginners.
These are low cost as they are powered by wind, and the rudder is used for steering. Many sailboat enthusiasts compete in regattas and races which are a great day out for the family.
RC Boat Safety
As with all RCs, safety is paramount. These are not just toys and a powerful RC in the wrong hands can do a lot of damage. Remember to check the user manual and familiarize yourself with the controls before you start. Use fresh RC batteries and always test that the frequency is clear before you launch.
Fail-safe devices are commonplace on RC boats and a worthy investment. These can help you keep your RC in control and set the throttle servo back to position if you lose signal.
Make sure you inspect your RC for damage both before and after use, refuel according to the instructions and don’t refuel your boat from the water. Be aware of what’s going on around you. Other boats, weeds or plants can damage your RC, and don’t drive near animals or people. Boats can easily get out of control no matter how confident you are.
Finally, always obey any regulations and noise restrictions in your area. In following these safety tips, you can enjoy the hobby with little worry of a costly or dangerous mistake.
Using your RC in Salt Water
Salt water can damage your boat and rust is an unfortunate side effect of salt water driving. Ensure you thoroughly clean your RC afterwards using fresh water and a neutral soap. Dry it thoroughly.
Before you put your RC in salt water ensure all the screws are tight and seal any openings in the boat. Keep the receiver in a plastic bag and cut a hole for the antennae. If you capsize in salt water you will have a little more work to do than if you capsize in freshwater. Ensure you retrieve the boat out the water as soon as you can, then empty the gas tank, fuel lines and clean the engine.
The Engine Keeps Stalling
If your engine keeps stalling or doesn’t start there will be a problem with your fuel. It could be that you have a dirty screen filter, your fuel lines are clogged or you have leaky fuel lines.
If your motor stalls after one or two runs, the tank ventilation could be blocked – this will need to be cleaned. A stalling engine could also be due to air in the fuel lines or cracks in the gas lines. Check everything over and replace anything that has experienced wear and tear.
A Sluggish Acceleration
If your boat is hard to start up and accelerate, look for carbon deposits in the exhaust port. The spark arrestor may also have carbon deposits. Cleaning these areas should fix the problem.
Interference may cause you to lose control of your boat. External interference is difficult to control, while internal can be fixed.
Interference can be caused by a loose and unprotected receiver (which can be fixed by wrapping your receiver in protective foam), the spark plug (which can be fixed by using a resistor plug) and only half charged batteries which can make the radio more likely to receive interference.
Beginners to the hobby should enlist some help before you attempt to repair your RC. Basic maintenance will involve changing the battery, changing the motor and handling overheating.
If your RC flips over, you will need to rid the boat of water as soon as possible. Ensure you clean the fuel lines, engine and gas tank. A brown liquid signifies water in your engine, so continue to drain the engine until pure oil comes out.
Where To Find New Parts
Occasionally, you will need to replace a part. There’s a number of websites online to use or parts can also be bought second hand from RC forums.
As always, eBay and Amazon are fantastic provided you know exactly what you’re looking for, but if you’re confused there’s an array of websites online to help you out.
How to Improve Battery Life
A short battery life on an RC car is frustrating enough, but a boat is even worse! You can’t easily collect your RC boat if it runs out of battery in the middle of a lake, so it’s important you keep the battery running well.
Ensure your battery is cool before you plug it in to charge. They generally need a 15-20 minute break after draining before you charge it up again. If your battery becomes hot after use then it’s dangerous and should be replaced immediately.
An inflated battery should also be replaced as soon as possible. Inflated cells are at risk of exploding which not only will destroy your boat, it’ll also put you in danger. Be careful not to overcharge your battery, and don’t use your battery after 85% discharge.
Competitions, Races and Community
There’s RC boat races all over the US and Canada, predominantly organized by the International Model Power Boat Association (IMPBA) or the North American Model Boat Association (NAMBA). If you want to attend races with your RC, you will likely need to join one of these.
With these organizations, you can learn the rules, enter different classes and stay safe while racing. You will also get insurance, and can either join as a club member or a solo racer.
There’s an array of different classes for races, including those based on power, hull type and size of your boat. There’s a huge amount of information surrounding the preparing for the race and the race day itself, so ensure you check out the FAQs on the organizations’ websites.
With RC boats, ensure you don’t purchase more than you can handle – as an out of control boat on a large body of water can be costly! Start small and build up, checking out advice online if you need help.