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RC Boating Basics

  • Posted: 2012-06-07

While RC airplanes and cars tend to get the majority of modelers’ attention, there is another area of RC that can be just as much, if not even more fun than both. RC boats provide a totally different experience than flying a plane or driving a car on many different levels. There are boats for everyone from performance enthusiasts, casual sailing fans, those who love the detailed runabouts of years gone by and more. Besides the aesthetics of individual boats, there are other considerations to think about such as battery or fuel power, to build or buy a Ready-To-Run boat and more.

Hull Styles:
When talking about the performance and handling of a particular boat, the configuration of the hull will have enormous impact on the overall performance and handling of a boat on the water. When talking about the different types of hulls there are several different configurations commonly used in RC boats that we’re going to discuss. They are, in no particular order Deep-Vs, catamarans, sailboats and Minis.


Deep-V
Deep-V hulls

Deep-Vs are one of the most popular hull style for boats and are capable of tremendously high speeds. A Deep-V gets its name after the look and profile of the hull's distinctive V-shape. This hull configuration relies on hull strakes for improved stability and cornering ability, and its Deep-V design helps the boat absorb the impact of bigger waves on rough water. In addition, the V-shape causes the boat to bank in the turns to assist turning. When you jump on the throttle with a Deep-V, the nose will typically come out of the water and as the boat gets on plane, it will ride on the rear 1/3 of the hull.


Catamarans
Catamarans

Catamarans have been modeled after off-shore race boats and, due to their wider hull footprint acting as 2 sponsons, provide additional positive stability when compared to a Deep-V. The additional hull surface in the water provides the handling improvements and increased stability. While it is more stable, the fact that a catamaran has more of its hull in the water translates into increased drag and slightly reduced top speed.


Sailboats
Sailboats

For the best in relaxation, sailboats offer the lowest maintenance and are very fulfilling in regards to boat-handling skills. With no power other than the wind, skills must be honed to learn how to adjust the sails to take best advantage of wind currents. There is nothing like tacking into the wind, seemingly defying the wind direction.


Minis
Minis

When you want to drive a boat but you don’t have access to a huge piece of open water, a mini boat is the perfect option. Minis are smaller than other boats, but they feature similar handling and performance characteristics of their larger cousins. Minis are available as RTRs that require very little preparation time to get on the water and provide an inexpensive and economical way for someone to get their feet wet in the world of RC boating. Some mini boats can even be driven in swimming pools if you need to get your boating fix in a snap.


Power Systems:
Power Systems

While fuel-powered boats used to rule the roost recent advancements in motor and battery technology has swung the pendulum in favor of electric boats. Electric boats also provide simple, plug-and-play operation. When you want to drive your boat, all you need to do is charge up the battery pack, plug it in, and you’re ready to go. There are two different electric power types that a boat can use, brushed or brushless. Brushed motor systems provide a good place for people to get their feet wet in RC boating, so-to-speak, without breaking the bank. Brushed motor systems are a little slower and less expensive but still provide decent power and runtimes. Brushless motor systems provide more power, requires less maintenance than brushed motors and can handle a higher voltage level. With brushless motor systems you'll see an increase in acceleration and top speed while also being more efficient than their brushed counterparts. With some brushless motor systems they can handle over 22-volts! Now that’s some serious power!


2-Cycle Gasoline Powered
2-Cycle Gasoline Powered

Gasoline-powered boats use basically the same gasoline that your full-size car uses, making refueling relatively inexpensive and easy. There is one difference between what your car runs on and what an RC boat utilizes for fuel. RC boats run off of a gasoline and oil mixture, very similar to what you might use in a gas leaf blower or string trimmer. Boats that run off of gasoline engines are larger and use a larger displacement engine than their nitro-powered cousins. Regardless of whether you decide to go with a nitro- or gasoline-powered boat, you will find that, generally speaking, fuel-powered boats offer extended run times when compared to battery-powered boats. Fuel-powered boats also offer the intangible sensation of the realistic sound produced by the engine as it rips across the water's surface, adding to the experience and excitement. The engine noise could possibly eliminate some ponds and streams from consideration as areas to drive in.


Radio Systems
Radio Systems

Much like the advancements to the power systems we’ve seen some solid improvements in the realm of RC transmitters and receivers. 27Mhz and 75Mhz radio systems have, for the most part, been replaced with 2.4GHz systems. With 2.4GHz systems you will be less prone to interference from other sources and you don’t need to worry about frequency conflicts like in years past. Spektrum’s 2.4GHz Marine Technology also adds in the extra safety of an integrated cut-off to prevent runaways.




Support Gear:

Tools
Tools

As with all mechanical devices, inevitably some maintenance or repairs must occur. There are several key tools that you should have on hand at all times in case you need to perform basic maintenance, repairs and tuning. Whether it’s a kit, ARR, or RTR, there should be a small plastic baggie that includes a basic assortment of tools and Allen wrenches. These tools tend to work for a while, but the metal they’re made out of is relatively soft. After several uses, the heads of the wrenches can round off, making getting a good bite on a screw head a real pain. Invest in a good hobby-grade set of Allen wrenches and nut drivers. You'll realize their value the first time you use them. Dynamite carries a wide variety of hand tools to make these jobs go as smoothly as possible. These sets come in the most popular sizes used in RC and are as durable as they are affordable. From Allen wrenches and nut drivers to glow drivers and accessories, Dynamite has the right tools for the job. Other key tools for your box should include things such as a tuning screwdriver for making needle adjustments on your engine, needle-nose pliers, fuel bottle, glow igniter (also known as a glow driver) and extra glow plugs.


Chargers and Batteries
Chargers and Batteries

Both electric and nitro boats can make use of a battery charger. Obviously electrics will need to have their main batteries charged, but rechargeable batteries are used in nitro boats too. From the batteries for hand-held starters to receiver packs, having a good charger can make it easier to run your boat. Timer chargers will save you money, but don't provide quite as complete of a charge. Peak detection chargers cost a little more but feature circuitry to ensure your battery pack is brought to a complete charge safely.
If you are planning on purchasing an electric-powered boat, some RTRs may require you to purchase a battery pack and a battery charger. You may even need to purchase these items for a nitro boat as well, especially if your nitro boat includes some sort of electric or hand starter. There are several things to consider when purchasing a battery pack. One of the biggest things to consider is the type of battery you will use, be it LiPo or NiMH. NiMH batteries are less expensive and provide solid performance. NiMH packs do tend to have a sharper discharge curve, meaning the speed and performance difference between the start and end of a run tends to be greater. You also have performance declines from one run to another in a day commonly. Another option would be to go with LiPo battery packs. LiPo batteries are lighter weight than NiMH packs and have a flatter discharge curve, meaning the performance from start to finish is more consistent. LiPo batteries also don't have performance degradation issues like NiMH packs have.
Another consideration with LiPo battery packs is what is called the "C" rating. The C-rating of a battery refers to the amperage discharge capability of a particular battery. The higher the C-rating of a pack the more load it can handle without issue. You can always go with a higher C-rated battery for a boat but you never want to go with a lower C-Rating. For most boats a 30C rating or higher is sufficient.
Finally you'll want to consider the capacity of your battery. Capacity refers to the amount of run time per charge each type of pack is capable of. A higher milliamp rating, or mAh, will translate into a long time between charges. For example a 3300mAh battery would run out of power before a 4200mAh battery pack. You can adjust the capacity up or down without issue, the only difference would be how long the battery runs before it needs to be recharged.


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