A boat glides effortlessly around a glassy pond. Another screams across a lake at rocket speed sending a plume of white spray into the sky. This is RC boating and these boats are, without a doubt, some of the most exciting radio-controlled machines around.

Are you looking for a graceful boat that shows off your carpentry skills? Would you prefer a high speed boat that crushes the competition? RC boats are whatever you want them to be. Regardless of your preference, this popular hobby allows you to develop your style and show off your skills. Your imagination is your only limitation.

A radio-controlled boat is a boat controlled remotely with radio control equipment. As the operator does not need any special licensing to operate the boat, this is an excellent hobby for the inexperienced. While it may take some time to get the hang of steering, RC boats are fun to learn and more fun once you understand the basics.

From building RC boats to sending them off across the water, RC boats provide hours of indoor and outdoor entertainment. Whether you take pleasure in the personal aspect of boat building or you prefer the adrenaline rush of a high speed chase, RC boating has something to offer you.


RC boats evolved from the classic boat model. Many of the same construction techniques and concepts remain the same. The primary difference between a model boat and an RC boat is movement. A model boat is not necessarily seaworthy and does not have a motor. An RC boat must be seaworthy and will include a motor of some sort. Though the two are in different categories, their history is shared.

While model boat history reaches back for thousands of years, radio-controlled boat history is short. In 1898, the first radio-controlled machine of any sort was used. This machine was a model boat. However, it was not until the mid 1940s that the public had real access to radio-controlled boats.

The history of RC boats is divided into two sections. The first, model boat history, includes the origins of our fascination with model boats. The second, radio-control history, shows the evolution of radio-control technology and its many applications throughout history.

History of Model Boats

From Ancient Egyptians to 20th century boat fanatics, model boats played an important role in society. Whether the model boat served a ceremonial purpose or preserved war memories, each and every model boat throughout history plays a role in our understanding of history and culture around the world.

History of Radio-Control

While the original radio-control boat was simple and lacked the technologies of today, the concept changed war, toys, and history forever. Radio-control remains a core component of many military maneuvers. Few toy vehicles are manufactured without radio-control.

Getting Started

Now that you know the basics, it is time to begin your RC boat adventures. From the perfect spot to the right boat, there are several factors to consider before you send an RC boat off across the water.

Location, Location, Location

The body of water you choose to use will determine which type of boat is best for you. Every RC boat feature works well with a different body of water. For example, the size of the body of water greatly affects the RC boat`s ability to function.

- Large body of water (river, lake, ocean): Large and powerful boats can navigate waves and choppy conditions well. Small boats are difficult to control in large bodies of water.

-Small body of water (pool, pond, small lake): Small, less powerful boats navigate well on smooth water. Powerful boats cannot generate enough speed if the body of water is too small.

Other factors include population density, water type, flora and fauna, as well as regional weather. For instance, an RC sailboat will not perform well in an area with no wind and an RC submarine might not survive a trip through a lilypad-infested pond.

Choose Your Vessel

There are a myriad of choices to make when choosing your first RC boat. Beginner boats are not too expensive so you are not necessarily stuck with your first boat choice forever. However, making good choices will lead you to the boat that is right for you.

Your first choice is the most simple. Do you want to build your boat or would you rather buy one that is already built? If you would like to build your boat, look for BYOB kits (“Build Your Own Boat”). For those who would rather skip the construction process, look for RTR (“Ready To Run”) boats.


The radio control unit is a key feature of your RC boat. The onboard receiver should be waterproof and powerful. The handheld controller, or transmitter, can be selected based on your personal preference. The controller is either a stick control or a pistol control. Both allow you to control the steering and speed of your RC boat.


There are several fuel options for your RC boat. RTR kits are more limited but all three types are available.

- Electricity – Variable in power. Great for beginners and smaller boats. Many of these boats are extremely powerful.

- Nitro – provides extra power and speed. These motors are more high maintenance. This fuel is the most expensive of the three types.

- Gas – Another high maintenance motor. However, these 2-cycle engines are well suited to larger, more powerful boats. Gas is also less expensive than nitro.


The correct hull choice will improve speed, increase stability, and enhance maneuverability. Your selection will directly influence your ability to control your vessel. However, many choose to sacrifice one feature for an enhancement in another area. For example, you might choose to increase speed and lose maneuverability.

There are three hull categories.

- Flat-Bottom – While many flat-bottom boats are not radio-controlled, those that are can be quite fun. A hovercraft or airboat will maintain a pocket of air between the boat and the water as it propels itself forward.

- Monohull – The monohull is very common in RC boats. The hulls in this category are vee shaped to maintain contact with the water at all times. The hull vees vary to increase speed (deep-vee) or stability (shallow-vee).

- Hydroplane – Multiple surfaces of the hull are in contact with the water in hydroplane hulls. This increases speed by reducing drag on the boat. Outriggers are among the fastest of all RC boats.


The most common materials used for ship models are:

- Wood—commonly solid wood, two pieces of wood with a vertical seam or slabs of wood placed one on top of each other.

- Plastic—including both injected styrene and cast resin models. In larger scales (1/192 and larger), fiberglass is often used for hull shells.

- Metal—usually cast lead or other alloys. Steel, sheet tin and aluminum brass are used less frequently for hull construction, but are used extensively for adding details.

- Paper—preprinted paper construction kits are common in Europe, and are available in a variety of scales.

Your local model shop or RC boat club might have some suggestions for a great body of water to use or an excellent beginner RTR RC boat brand. At the very minimum, look for a boat that is cheap, easy to maintain, and simple to control. For example, the perfect beginner boat might read as follows:


- Stick control


-Deep-vee monohull

- Plastic

When it comes to selecting your boat, choose what works best for you. Most importantly, enjoy your new RC boat hobby.

Rules, Regulations, and Safety

Whether your RC boat is the size of your palm or large enough to hold a person, it is important that you comply with your area`s boating rules and regulations. Water safety is also important. Pat attention and make good decisions to prevent injury to yourself and others as well as damage to your boat or other property.

RC Boat Regulations

If you plan to operate your RC boat in a body of water you or a friend own, you are subject to fewer regulations. Public land and large bodies of water are a different case altogether.

In general, RC boats are required to follow many of the regulations set in place for their full size counterparts. These regulations vary by area but include things like sound, fuel type, speed, and size. Of course, your RC boat will more than likely be smaller than any other motorized vessel. However, if the area prohibits all boat activity, your vessel is probably also prohibited.

If you are in doubt or you have questions about the regulations surrounding your body of water, ask the local officials for more information or regulation clarification.

RC Boat Racing Rules

If you are building your own RC boats for pleasure, the rules are lax if they exist at all. However, once you move into the competition, racing, and show world, you and your boat will be required to comply with national and international standards.

There are two organizations in North America that create and monitor the rules of RC boat competitions. The oldest of these associations is the International Model Power Boat Association (IMPBA). This association was established in 1949 during the initial RC boat craze. They set the original racing classes, rules, and regulations. Even today, most races and regattas are held under the IMPBA rules and regulations.

Another association, the North American Model Boat Association International (NAMBA International), also sets rules and regulations for RC boat competitions. This association was founded during 1969-1970.

Both associations have dedicated and passionate members. If you choose to race, pick your club based on the rules you like or the association most prominent in your area.

RC Boat Building Rules & Regulations

While you may not think that building an RC boat would require any sort of compliance. However, this is not true. While there are not many rules, those that exist are important.

The two most important regulations involve vessel size and engine safety. RC model boats are generally not permitted to transport passengers. Owners are also required to maintain RC boat motors to reduce emissions and prevent oil and fuel leaks.

There are clubs and guilds that help RC boat builders and hobbyists comply with the rules. These organizations are known as model shipwright guilds. These groups an excellent resource for important building information.

Model shipwright guilds are social groupings intended to allow more experienced ship modellers the opportunity to pass on their knowledge to new members; to allow members of all levels of expertise to exchange new ideas, as well as serving as social function.

Some model shipwright guilds have been incorporated into government and Naval facilities, achieving a semi-official status as a clearinghouse for information on naval history and ship design. The USS Constitution Museum operates a model shipwright guild from the Charlestown Navy Yard, adjacent to the berth for the vessel itself.

RC Boat Safety

Last, but certainly not least, is safety. You might not be out on the water in person. However, you are responsible for your RC boat at all times.

Here are a few simple tips to help you reduce the risk of accidents when you operate your RC boat.

- Pay attention at all times. While you might be an excellent RC operator, the operator next to you might be terrible.

- Maintain and check your boat prior to use. Inspect for oil and fuel leaks as well as any damage to the vessel.

- Non-model vessels have the right of way. Do not cause an accident by distracting others.

If you lose control of your boat and cause injuries or damage, you will be held responsible. Many lakes have restricted RC boat access as a result of careless operator behavior.


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