Ever thought of steering a boat on calm or rough waters 🤔?
It's relaxing and fun to watch one glide like a swan or move at incredible speeds in the movies. But you don't always have to watch or go to the marina to see this happen. If you've got a radio-controlled (RC) boat, you can recreate the fun experience of steering one like a helmsperson. Isn't that cool 😎?
So, where do you start with RC boats?
Well, this ultimate guide contains everything there is to know about RC boats for beginners. We'll cover the cool and technical stuff, how to maintain your RC boat, and (wait for it…) how to sail an RC boat by yourself😱!
You'll also find a detailed buying guide that you'll find useful when you eventually decide to get your first RC boat.
So, let's get right into it!
Getting started with RC boats
Let's start with the tech stuff 🤓.
An RC boat is a water vessel that moves when you send radio signals to it. They are made like real-life boats, with minor tweaks here and there.
Before we go on to the types of RC boats, here are the things that every RC toy, including boats, has:
- A transmitter: The transmitter is a part of the radio system. It sends radio waves to the boat at a frequency of 24 to 49 MHz. However, large ones use 75MHz frequencies.
Your RC boat’s transmitter is handheld and battery-powered.
- A receiver: The receiver is another part of the radio system, and you can pretty much guess what its job is (to receive waves from the transmitter!). But that's not the end of it. It takes the waves and does things with it (moves the boat, makes it stop, etc.)
- A power source: A boat doesn't move only on radio signals. It must have something that steers it, which is the power source. We'll talk a lot about how an RC boat is powered later on.
Common Parts of an RC boat
Next, let's look at things you'll find in RC boats:
- Servos: Servos are in-built devices used to position and control motions of an RC boat. For example, they are used to control turret rotations and cranes on warships. Servos work on pulse width modulation and are fitted with a gear.
- Rudder: The rudder steers your RC boat. It gets controls from the servo and then moves the vessel in the direction you want it to go. The rudder is placed at the back of your RC boat, and there could be more than one in a water vessel.
- Propellers: The propellers make the boat move. They come in different shapes and sizes. Propellers usually have two to four blades and are made from plastic, brass, stainless steel, or bronze.
- Motors: These are another part of most RC boats. Motors direct the RC boat, and they can either be brushed or brushless. While brushed motors are the cheaper and easier-to-control option, brushless motors provide more power and are easier to maintain.
Understanding the different types of RC boats
If you get into any hobbyist store, you'll find many models of RC boats. Some move at the speed of light, while others have really cool designs. So, here's a way to set them apart:
- Scale boats: Anything that's scaled-down looks like the original thing, right? Therefore, scale RC boats look just like full-size watercraft. They come in different sizes, and while you can hold some in your hands, you can use the others to transport things.
Scale RC boats are replicas of any water vessel and can sail for many hours. The most exciting types to watch or steer are warships.
- Racing boats: If you want to show your friend who's the boss😜, then competing with these boats will do just that. While scale boaters are all about their design and construction, racers are the best bet for racing competitions! The most impressive feature about racing RC boats is their speed, and they can get as high as 40 mph!
Racing RC boats are usually small and flat, which are design considerations that make it easy for them to move on water. So, you should have no problem keeping them afloat.
- Sailboats: This is the final type of RC boats. Sailboats are ideal for a quiet and calm day. They are perhaps the easiest to operate because many of them are wind-powered. However, it's not uncommon to find some models that have an alternate way to move through waters.
Sailboats usually have two servos: one to control the sails, and the other for the rudder.
Here is our review of the best RC Sailboats.
Understanding the different types of hull
Have you seen an excavator racing? We bet you haven't! Apart from their large size, they can't move fast because of the shape of their tires.
It's pretty much the same thing for boats. However, in this case, the hull affects the overall performance of the watercraft.
The hull of your boat is its waterproof body, and they are classified, based on their shapes, into:
- Hydroplanes: Hydroplanes are impressively fast. They can make sharp corner-turns in only one direction and are best suited for calm waters.
- Monoplanes: Unlike hydroplanes, monoplanes work best on unsettled waters. Although they cannot reach top speeds like hydroplanes, they can make sharp turns in a pair of directions.
Monoplanes are the most popular hull type and one of the easiest for beginner boaters.
- Catamarans: Another beginner-friendly hull type is the catamaran. It moves effortlessly on rough waters and can reach top speeds.
- Tunnel Hulls: This hull type also offers top speeds. However, unlike catamarans, tunnel hulls only work well on calm, shallow waters. Tunnel hulls move in two directions.
- Outrigger Hydroplanes: These offer the best speeds and turning performance. However, they are not quite easy to set up, especially if you are new to RC boats.
How are RC boats powered?
Like we mentioned earlier, most hobby RC boats don't move by themselves. So, the two things that power an RC boat are:
1. Gas: Gas-powered RC boats have become really popular. They are downright powerful and work on a 2-stroke engine (technical stuff! 🤓). Gas-powered RC boats come in different sizes, but you might not find many small models because these units don't have enough space for the engine.
2. Electricity: Electric-powered RC boats for beginners are another popular option. They work on batteries, electric speed controllers and servos. Using these boats is fun and pretty easy.
Where can you use your RC boat?
Unlike other RC toys, you can't use your RC watercraft anywhere you want. So, here are a couple of places you can sail your RC boat:
Ponds are suitable for beginners who need a quiet place to practice or try an RC boat's controls for the first time. Since most ponds aren't located around residential areas, you might not have to worry about disturbing your neighbors with the sound of your hobby RC boat.
It's a good thing that most rivers are located away from homes. However, they are not always calm, which is not a bad thing. If you need rough waters to use your RC boat, then this might just be the ideal spot for you. Still, be careful of the water flow.
If there's too much turbulence, your boat could sink and get filled with water. And getting into the water to pull out your RC boat might not be the most pleasant thing to do🤢. You never know what's inside the river.
- Swimming pools
Heck, you don't need to leave your home to use the RC boat you intend to get. A swimming pool offers ample space to glide and make turns with your water vessel. And you'll never have to worry about losing your RC boat.
Finally, if you really want to test how far your RC boat can go, then take it to a lake. A lake is also an excellent place to race with your friends. However, you could lose your RC boat there. Nevertheless, you won't have to worry about disturbing anyone with the noise of your boat while at the lake.
How to sail an RC boat?
Now that you know the basics for beginners, let's move on to something F-U-N🕺. We can assure you that learning how to sail a boat isn't challenging, but you've got to put in loads of practice hours to become a pro.
Steps to follow when using your RC boat for the first time
- Decide where you want to use the boat: The first thing is to choose a location. We've given you a list of options, so this step should be pretty straightforward.
- Understand the controls: The controls in an RC boat are also easy to grasp. The wheel on the transmitter is for steering the boat, and there's a throttle to move it forward.
- Master how to make turns: Unless you want to sail your boat until someone picks it up, you'll need to learn how to make turns. When you're a pro at making turns, then try circles.
- Learn how to use the reverse function: Some RC boats have reverse functions, and others don't. If yours does, then the next thing to do is to practice using the function.
- Try out a few skills with your RC boat: Next, try out cool tricks with your RC boat. One of our favorites is to do a quick jump. But you can have a go at different things that come to mind.
- Learn how to turn off your boat: The last step, which is often ignored, is to learn how to switch off the boat and bring it to you. If you do this step wrongly, then you might have to pick it out of the water each time you're done testing it out.
Troubleshooting the common problems when using an RC boat
Using an RC boat seems easy, and it actually is😄. But since it's your first time with them, you'd probably have one or two questions. There's also no guarantee that you won't run into trouble.
So, here are a couple of quick fixes when you get stuck while using your RC boat:
- What to do when the engine doesn't start: Easy peasy! Check the fuel tank if it's a gas-powered RC boat or the batteries if it is electric-powered. The air filter could be dirty, but it may also be a problem with the gas lines.
Also, the batteries in the transmitter could be dead.
- What to do when your RC boat isn't accelerating as it should: Unless you've got a sailboat, your RC model should be moving at the speed of light! So, check for carbon deposits if it's gas-powered. If you have an electric-powered unit, then inspect the propellers and electrical connections.
- What to do when there's radio interference: If someone else is using an RC toy close to your boat, you could experience this problem. There's not much you can do in such a situation than to tell the person to stop stealing your shine 😤. However, sometimes, all you need to do is check your receiver and make sure it is still wrapped with foam.
How to maintain an RC boat
Next, let's look at how to maintain your beginner RC boat.
- Inspect your boat before and after each use: Make it a standard practice each time you use your RC boat to check all the parts. Also, remove weeds and debris from the propeller and rudder before using your boat again.
- Keep the batteries charged and refill the tank often: You should be able to steer your RC boat for a few minutes. However, it's best not to take chances and hope that a half-charged battery or a half-filled tank can take you through the running time.
- Dry your RC boat after each use and only use it on saltwater when necessary: Most RC boats have safety features like nose guards. However, you also have to follow some safety tips when using one. Make sure you clean your boat with water and soap after using it in freshwater. But first, ensure all screws are tight and in place.
Saltwater can affect your RC boat. So, don’t use it often in this type of waters.
How to buy an RC boat: Things to look out for
The moment you step into any store that sells RC boats, you'd find speedy and cool models. But there's more to an RC boat than super-fast speeds and sleek designs.
So, to get value for your money, here are some factors and RC boat basics beginners should consider before buying one.
- To buy or to build: As you can see, it's easy for anyone to understand how an RC boat works. Most key parts are readily available in stores. So, your first decision should be to pick between building or buying an RC boat.
If you decide to buy one, then you won't have to worry about getting each part and how to put everything together. But nothing beats the satisfaction of using an RC boat that you made all by yourself. The choice is really up to you.
- Purpose: The next thing to consider is the reason you are getting an RC boat. Do you want to start steering one as a new hobby, or have your kids been bugging you to get one for them? Perhaps you want to improve your hand-eye coordination and reflexes. Make sure you're clear on the reason you are getting one before you go to the store.
- Places where you'll use it: Another thing to consider is where you want to use your RC boat. As we mentioned earlier, there are several options to choose from. Just make sure it's a comfortable place.
- Type of RC boat and hull: Again, you don't need to rack your brain. Refresh your memory on the types of RC boats and hull we've listed and use the pros and cons to decide which option is best for you.
- Size: RC boats are grouped as mini, medium, or large. So, before you get or build one, make sure you make up your mind on how big or small you want it to be.
- Gas-powered vs. Electric-powered: Another important thing to decide is what you want to power your RC boat with. Both types work for beginners. So, it boils down to the option you prefer.
- Availability of spare parts: Unless you have beginner's luck 😁, you'd likely crash your RC boat the first few times you take it for a spin. So, you should definitely get one that has replacement parts. Several stores sell new parts. However, you can decide to get second-hand ones.
- Warranty and Price: Finally, consider the price and warranty of the RC boat you intend to get. A warranty will save you the trouble of buying a new unit if you crash your RC boat beyond repair.
Q1. Where can I buy an RC boat?
RC boats are sold at hobby stores, online platforms, and some supermarkets. You'd likely get the best deals from an online store. However, you'll be able to see the model up front and get expert opinions if you decide to get your boat from a supermarket or hobby shop. Which do you prefer?
Q2. Where can I sail an RC boat?
You can sail your RC boat at lakes, ponds, rivers, and swimming pools. But don't think you won't get into trouble if you use your RC boat in your neighbors' pool 😄. As long as it's a public place and you're not disturbing anybody with your boat, then you have nothing to worry about.
Q3. How much does an RC boat cost?
Generally, a good model should cost you between $20 to $300, depending on its size and features. If you pay anything more than that, then best be sure the boat is worth every cent.
Q4. Won't a large RC boat sink in water?
No. If they are designed properly, most large RC boats will not sink in water. Apart from the fact that they are made from lightweight materials, large boats are designed to stay above the water level.
This doesn't mean they won't tip over once in a while. But that's not peculiar to only large boats. Even a model that you can hold might capsize.
So, there you have it! This concludes our A-Z guide on RC boats for beginners😭.
We've provided you with everything you need to know about RC boats and a buying guide when you decide to get one for yourself.
Here's one last piece of advice. Start small. Don't get a massive boat with lots of controls and head out to the sea for your first RC sail. You might not have a good time.
Instead, build your way up to the top.
Good luck! 🤝