RC Boat Kits – 6 Things You Must Do Before Buying

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RC boats come in a variety of completion states, either Ready To Float (RTF) or Almost Ready To Float (ARTF), or in kit form. This article looks at the range of RC boat kits, and what to look out for when buying and building. As a newbie to RC boat kits, I wanted to find out as much as I could before buying. I spoke to a number of old-timers in the hobby, and combed the forums.

Is it hard to build your own RC boat? No! Not if you get the right kit that complements your skill level. Building an RC boat from scratch gives you a sense of accomplishment knowing that you built something yourself, and it allows you to personalize the boat. It also assists you to repair it should it get into a mishap!

There are many different types of RC boat kits out there, ranging from high-performance racing boats to luxury yachts. Some models are designed specifically for children, making them easy to handle and safe for young operators.

Radio control boats are also very versatile, allowing you to customize your boat to suit your own preferences. For example, if you like sailing, you might want to add a sail to your boat. Or maybe you prefer to go fishing instead of racing? No problem! Try an RC fishing boat kit.

If you just want to get out on the water with minimum assembly time, go for a Ready to float (RTF) model or a Ready to race (RTR) model if you’re going for a power boat.

There are many different types of RC boat kits available. Some are designed specifically for racing while others are made for fun at the lake or pond. There are also several different types of RC boats that are suitable for both purposes.

RC Boat Kits For Beginners

RC boat kits can take a number of forms, from a simple set of plans, where you’ll have to source all of the materials and cut out and assemble them yourself, to ones that are almost complete. You’ll need to match the complexity of the kit with your skill level.

If you’re a complete beginner, go for a boat kit that produces a ready-to-float (RTF) or an almost ready-to-float (ARTF) boat.

These models are perfect for beginners as they require no more than fitting the batteries, checking the controls, and putting them into the water. 

You may want to add some details, like handrails, secondary masts, or aerial masts. You may need to fit some larger components into place, such as the hulls or the cabin tops, once the batteries are installed.

If you choose to go the route of buying a complete kit, you should consider what type of boat you want first. For example, if you want a fast boat, then you might want to opt for a high-performance boat. On the other hand, if you want something that is easy to handle, then you might want a beginner’s boat. 

As a beginner, you’ll also want to consider using simple materials to work with, such as plastic or GRP pre-molded hulls.

If you’re using a DIY ARTF kit, you might need to install some larger parts, such as the hull. Most ARTF radio-control boat kits include everything needed for assembly right out of the box. Usually, the molded plastic hull is a single piece or in 2 pieces with the deck to be assembled to the lower hull. If you’re new to modeling, then these kits are perfect for you.

You will usually have to buy the control equipment separately and fit it yourself, but there are some exceptions.

What You Should Look Out For Before You Buy An RC Boat Kit…

  1. A description on a box or in a catalog can be interpreted in several different ways. A model may be described as an ARTF, but it could mean that only the motor/propeller shaft is factory-fitted into a ready-made hull. In addition, you may need to install the control equipment and the hull fittings for the boat.
  2. Be wary of “beginner’s” kits that seem to be made up of easily assembled parts. These can turn out to be more complicated, requiring more assembly and skill. For example, you may have to use printed paper patterns to cut wood parts. 
  3. Look for a kit that has comprehensive plans, particularly if you’re a beginner modeler. The less guesswork that’s involved, the better.
  4. Make sure you buy all the materials you need, including decals and even paint if required. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting home and finding you’ve forgotten a vital item.
  5. Ensure you have the right tools for the job before starting construction (see below).
  6. Before you buy an IC-engine powerboat always check whether any restrictions apply in your chosen area, for example, to restrict noisy activities.

A good local hobby store should help you to sort out all the equipment you’ll need, and most importantly guide you to buy the right type of kit for your skill level.

RC Boat Kit Materials

There are many different types of materials used in building these boats. Some are made out of wood, some are plastic, and others are metal.

There are pros and cons to each type of material. Wood is cheap, but it tends to warp over time. Plastic is durable, but it doesn’t last forever. Metal is strong, but it’s expensive and heavy. So, which material should you use?

That depends on what you’re looking for. Wooden boats tend to be lighter than plastic ones, but they’re not very sturdy. On the other hand, plastic boats are sturdier than wooden ones, but they weigh more. And metal boats are usually heavier than either plastic or wooden boats, but they’re extremely durable.

Wood kits are still available today, but ABS plastic has largely replaced wooden kits. ABS plastic is the most widely used material today for boat building. It provides boats with a strong, durable hull with a smooth surface and detailed details.

GRP hulls are widely available and easy to repair using fiberglass repair kits but ABS plastic tends to be cheaper. 

A new type of boat has been developed over recent years, which combines the look and feel of an all-wood boat with the toughness and durability offered by a plastic hull. You might be able to find some small models with hard plastic polystyrene hulls.

Some boats with plastic hulls might have wooden parts, such as the trays that hold the controls inside the hull. Accessories and fittings may also be made from various materials, including wood, aluminum, hard polystyrene plastic (PSP), and wire. 

If you’re just getting started, you may find that a combination of materials works well for you. But once you’ve mastered the basics, you’ll need to decide whether you want to go full metal, plastic, or wood.

RC Boat Engines

Most of the R/C boats sold today come with an engine preinstalled. However, if you prefer not to install your own motor, there are other options. You could buy a boat that comes with a battery pack and charger included, or you could purchase a complete kit that includes everything you need to start out right away.

You can choose between an electric motor boat, a gas-powered (IC) boat or even a steam-driven boat.

Gas motors, or IC (Internal combustion) motors are louder and harder to handle than electric motors. but electric motors tend to run out of battery sooner than gas motors run out of fuel.

How Fast Do RC Boats Go?

IC-powered boats are fast. High-performance boats with IC engines could reach speeds of up to 30 mph or more, though the latest electric motors combined with high-powered batteries, can achieve speeds approaching 50 mph.

All IC-engine boats have water cooling for the engine, usually through an intake in or behind the rudder post. Often, all the necessary parts are included in the kit, including engine cooling. A typical gas engine is around 23 cc – 26 cc.

However, a major disadvantage to IC-engine powerboats is that local ordinances in your area may prevent you from running them in public places. Before you run your IC-engine powerboat always check whether any restrictions apply in your chosen area.

Most modern RC motor boats now use electric motors. These motors are highly efficient and easy to install. They come in a wide variety of sizes. They are quiet and emit no fumes, so they’re good for use anywhere, including in lakes and ponds. Furthermore, controlling the motor via radio control can be achieved easily. Modern electric motors are usually termed brushless.

What Parts Are Needed To Build An RC Boat?

The essential parts needed to build an RC boat are the hull or body, deck, controls (throttle, rudder), motor, battery, radio transmitter/receiver, and the basic electronics.

The following list includes the parts you’ll need to build an RC boat. There are many different brands of these items available, so check your local hobby store or go online to see what’s available.

1. Motor – The motor is the heart of any RC vehicle. As discussed above, the mother is either a gas (IC) motor or an electric one. 

2. Battery – Batteries power the motor and the servos. These are usually Lithium (LiPo) and come in a range from 2 to 6 cells. More about batteries, here.

3. Transmitter – The transmitter controls the speed and direction of the vehicle. The transmitter sends commands to the receiver via radio waves.

4. Receiver – The receiver receives the signal from the transmitter and turns it into electrical energy to run the motor. Receivers vary in size depending on the type of vehicle.

5. Servos. These allow control over the rudder and the throttle,

6. Rudder. This steers the boat.

7. Throttle or Electronic speed control (ESC) – The throttle controls the amount of gas or electric power flowing to the engine.

8. Hull – The hull is the outer shell of the vehicle. It contains the battery, motor, and electronics.

9. Deck – The deck is the surface area where the rider sits. It may be flat or curved.

10. Sails – if it’s a sailing boat.

What Tools Are Needed To Make An RC Boat Kit?

Basically, aside from a good sharp knife, glue, sandpaper, and paint, you should also have at least pliers, screwdrivers, hex or Allen keys, and spanners, as essentials.

The rest depends on how much work is involved in putting the boat together.

It is also recommended to use a modeling board and pins, a set of modeling knives and blades, small screwdrivers and metal files, a razor saw, sanding block, steel rules, engineer’s squares, various adhesives, and modeler’s vice and pliers to start. These can be found in hobby shops and online stores like Horizon Hobby

Example RC Boat Kits

RC Power Boat Kit

Here’s a typical power boat kit from manufacturer Volantex that is an easy kit to start with if you’re a beginner. It’s the Volantex V792-4 ATOMIC. 

It’s PNP (Plug and Play), meaning that it comes with everything except the transmitter, receiver, battery and charger, which are bought separately. It has the motor, servos and the ESC already installed. It probably takes around an hour or so to complete the boat ready to race.

More details can be found here (US) (UK).

RC Sailing Boat Kit

Plans For RC Boats

Finally, you can build a model from scratch using plans for RC boats. Plans are the master templates of your boat design, helping you with building your boat from idea to physical reality. They contain all the information you need to build your model. You have a number of options on how to get plans for your boat:

    • If you’re so equipped and want to design your own boat, you can make your own plans with paper and pen (like many veterans started before the advent of technology and kits) or use computer-aided design (CAD) software.
    • Traditionally, RC boat kits also had plans but they have gotten fewer and fewer, although some companies still include them in their kits. You would be well advised to lookfor a kit with a plan included if you are a novice.
    • You can subscribe to RC boat enthusiasts’ magazines which also offer plans to their subscribers.
    • Generally, it’s much easier to findplans online. You can buy them for around $3 to $25, or get them for free. They are usually in portable document format (PDF) files as rasterized pdfs (image version only, especially plans of very old models) or vector pdfs (can be imported into AutoCAD and modified/edited).