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How Far Can An RC Boat Go?

Remote control (RC) boats are a fun way to work and play out on the water without the expense and requirements of a full-scale boat. With the right signal and environment, you can take these-boats anywhere, including fishing, provided you do not take them out of their range.

So, how far can an RC boat go? The distance a remote-controlled boat can travel depends on many factors. Some of these factors affect the range more than others. Generally, you can take an RC boat as far as you want, provided you can see it and your battery is sufficiently charged. 

In practice, most people will not have to worry about the distance their RC boat can travel. Most locations suitable for RC boating are heavily regulated, So, your maximum range may not come close to what your craft is truly capable of doing.

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Of all of the RC vehicles that you can purchase RC boats are by far the most reasonably priced. This model can go over 20MPH, comes with the needed batteries, and remote.

All of this is included without breaking the bank!

What Factors Determine How Far Can an RC boat go?

There is no hobby like the RC hobby. You get to choose how exciting or serene your hobby will be. You can speed down a river with a remote-controlled speed boat, or you can gently float with an electronic sailboat. The choice is yours, including what you do with these mini boats.

People use RC boats for both pleasure and business. While most people think of small sailboats when they imagine RC boats, RC boats can get quite large. You can even get some that are large enough to capture and reel in fish up to 2 pounds or more. The remote lets you control and test the troll line.

Regardless of what you do with your RC boat, you may be wondering how much range they have. A boat’s range tells you the maximum distance away from you, or, more specifically, your transmitter, you can move the boat.

Maximum Range

This definition makes maximum signal range as a natural range for your boat, but the radio system is rarely the bottleneck. For most boats, the line of sight is the far more important problem. Without obstacles, most RC boats can reach the horizon before losing the signal.

However, most RC boaters experience ranges around 2.5 miles (about 4 kilometers) due to various barriers to sight, such as large rocks, standard-size boats, islands, and bridges. Basically, how far you can see is how far your RC boat can go in a single trip.

That does not mean your RC boat cannot go farther. If built for it, an RC boat can reach thousands of miles without issues. The largest reported distance a manually-operated RC boat traveled was 121.589 miles) (195.678 km) taken by a 1:32 scale model of a British destroyer.

While 121,000 miles seems impressive, it was done over a day on a controlled course during a boat festival. However, using satellites, solar power, and some automation, you can rig an RC boat to cross an entire ocean, according to Make Zine. A little boat took 3 weeks to travel between California and Hawaii, a distance of about 2,413 miles. It is now making the trip to New Zealand, a 4,400-mile trip over open water

Battery life and Range

The battery is another major factor that determines the maximum range of your RC boat. The radio system and controls only work if they have power. Thus, your boat can only go as far as it still has battery life.

RC boats either run on Ni-Mh or Li-ion batteries. Ni-Mh batteries are less expensive but do not hold a lot of charge. While they are durable and have a good power-to-weight ratio, you have to be careful to not overcharge them. You should only use them on older models.

Li-ion batteries are lightweight and powerful enough to give you high speeds, but they are more expensive. They can also explode if overcharged, but most charging equipment is designed to minimize the risk. Li-ion batteries are the batteries of choice for the latest models on the market.

Regardless of the battery type, your boat can only sail if its battery still has a charge, creating an important power restriction on the range. You can reach more distance with faster speeds, but you also drain the battery faster. Because of this, you may have only 8 to 29 minutes to use your boat depending on the model and type of battery it is equipped with. 

Thus, you want a boat with a reasonable running time and a fast charging battery.

Gas vs Electric: Which Gives You More Range?

While most RC boats are electric, you will find a few gas-powered ones on the market. Gas boats can go faster and farther than electric, but they are also difficult to maintain. You must also find a location that allows them. Gas boats tend to get noisy enough to violate most sound restrictions.

Gas Engines

Generally, you need a gas engine to get the most distance out of your boat. Gas RC boats will require a lot of additional maintenance, especially when you are storing it for the season but you can go much further with a gas or nitro boat than you can with a battery powered one. You still have to power the radio system by electric, but most gas systems will charge the battery as they do in full-sized normal boats.

Plus, with a gas engine, you just need to refill the tank to keep it going, and you can do that while in motion. To recharge an electric boat, you may have to take it out of the water for hours until the battery gets back to full charge.

However, gas engines get messy. They leak oil everywhere, especially on startup. Because of this, you may not want to start them on your real boat. Thus, you will want to start for gas RC boat on the shore, which will waste the gas. You will get the speed and distance, but you may not like how you get them. 

Electric Engines

Electric engines run clean. You can start and stop them anywhere, even on a boat. Sure, you will not get the same speeds as a gas boat, but you can also fill an electric boat with lots of batteries. You must compensate for the weight of the batteries, but that just means going slightly slower.

Fortunately, you can get the most out of an electric engine using an electronic speed control (ESC) device. ESC devices give you an infinite range of speeds, letting you throttle the battery use to reach farther distances and longer battery lives.

As both gas and electric RC boats have their pros and cons, you should choose the system you are better equipped to manage. If you do not mind the mess or carrying the extra fuel, go with a gas RC boat. You will get the distances you want without extra effort.

Otherwise, just go with an electric boat, and deal with the slower speeds.

If neither style works for you, you can always get an RC sailboat. Sailboats have nothing that requires power except for the transmitter system to control the boat. As long as you are okay just going by how fast the winds will take you, these boats may get you the distances you want as well.

Choose the Right Hull

Regardless of the engine, the speed of your RC boat largely comes from the shape of its hull. The hull is the last major component that determines the speed and range of an RC boat. However, your choice of hull comes down to water conditions and your experience.

RC boat hulls are as varied as real boat hulls. Thus, the methodology for choosing the right RC boat hull is the same as your main boat. You want something that can handle the water your RC boat will face.

Here are the four most common RC boat hulls:

  • Hydroplanes – Hydroplanes offer the highest speeds, but they only really work on a flat-water surface.
  • Monoplanes – Also called “V hulls” monoplanes only give you average speeds, but they can handle rough water.
  • Catamarans – Catamarans are fast and agile enough to handle even the choppiest water, but they are light enough that any wind can blow them over.
  • Tunnel hulls – While tunnel hulls are the easiest to maintain, they also offer the slowest speed potentials, and are best suited for shallow water.

Local Regulation May Limit Range

While an RC boat can travel any theoretical distance, most municipalities limit the legal range you can operate the mini-boats. Range laws vary from region to region. So, you must check with your local regulatory agency to get the range limit for your area.

Some regulations restrict the strength of the radio system. Others dictate the physical distance you can travel. Still others do both. Knowing how far you can be away from your boat according to the law is an important thing to consider before hitting the water. 

If your local city or state requires certain certification to go over a certain distance either stay under that amount or get the certification. It is always better to follow the laws than to have your boat taken away for breaking them. 

Testing the Range of Your RC Boat

While most RC boats are durable enough to reach any distance, they are still limited by the transmitter signal.

If you lose the operating signal, anything can happen to the boat. It could just simply stop, which would be the best thing that could happen. At worse, the boat could continue its last instruction until a catastrophic crash. While most boats will not crash, no one likes sending out a retrieval boat to get their RC boat that went out of range. 

Fortunately, you can check the maximum operating range of your boat with a few simple steps. You can conduct these steps at any time to check the batteries and the state of the onboard equipment.

Make your RC Boat Seaworthy

You may think this step is obvious, but people have lost their boats for less. Before putting your boat on the water, you want to ensure everything is in working condition.

Some of the important systems to check include:

  • Placing the antenna into the antenna tube
  • Charging all batteries
  • Fill up the gas tank if present
  • Put fresh, new batteries into your transmitter

Please note that you want to install any inner liners or canopies as well. You want to replicate actual running conditions.

Turn on Your Transmitter and Boat

Before you can conduct the test, you must turn on the power to everything. You want to do this carefully. Your boat’s propeller can start spinning if there is a problem with the radio signal or if there is a problem with the controller.

Prepare Your Transmitter for Testing

You want to put your transmitter into its range check mode if it has one. Most 2.4Ghz radios have a built-in test mode, and you want the transmitter in this setting for the test.

If such a mode does not exist, such as the case with lower frequency models, you want to put the device into a “pseudo range check mode.” You do this by not extending the antenna.

Conduct a Ground Range Check

With everything set, it is time to conduct the actual test. You will need someone to help you with this, such as a friend or family member, but the test is simple. Your partner moves the boat away from you while stopping and testing along the way. 

Every 10 or 15 feet, your partner should stop and hold still while you cycle through the controls. If everything works, your friend should signal the news and then continue walking for another 10 to 15 feet. 

If the controls fail, you should check to see if the gears are mounted and routed properly. If everything seems good, you found the upper range that your boat can receive a signal. 

Conduct a Water Range Test

Now that you have an estimate for the range, you must check it on the water before you do anything with it. You want to do this test on a calm, clear area of water and do several test passes. You want the antenna fully extended, and your transmitter in full operating mode.

For this test, you just see where the boat stops responding to your command. We suggest that you do the test along a shoreline so you can retrieve the boat without entering the water yourself.

After testing your boat, you will have a good understanding of how far you can realistically go and can just let it rip at full throttle. If you keep your boat within your signal range, you will never have to go swimming to get a dead boat. Instead, you will always remain in control of where it goes.

You still must worry about obstacles, but you can ensure that you will not have signal losses or interferences while controlling your boat.

Extending the Range of an RC Boat

For most RC boats, the out of the box range is fixed. Radio systems designed for a specific frequency will have a specific signal range. Thus, if you want to extend the range of your boat, you must replace its internal radio receiver and your transmitter.

Use a Higher Signal Frequency

You will want to insert a radio system with a higher frequency. The high frequency will give you the power to send your boat farther.

However, you never want to add or remove pieces of the antenna. Water is a good absorber of radio signals. Thus, modifying your current radio system will actually reduce the range.

Check the Battery

If you cannot replace the radio, or if you are already using the best system on the market, you can only extend the range of your boat by ensuring that it is in a fully working state. The battery provides the power to regulate the speed of the propeller, and you may get more distance if you can make the boat faster.

Clean the Boat

Like anything on the water, all RC boats collect dust, small sea creatures, and junk on their hulls. By cleaning the hull, you may reduce the drag, increasing the speed and range of the boat. You should do this cleaning regularly as a part of your regular maintenance.

Fix Any Damaged Part

Damaged parts may cause drag and reduce your boat’s top speed. As you need that speed to reach great distances, you want to ensure everything is in working order before you put your boat in the water.

Use Automation

Most RC boats are durable enough to sail for hours without issues. Their only major drawback is the radio signal. If you want to extend the range of the boat to beyond your normal viewing distance, you need to add some automation to its controls.

You can automate the entire boat if you want. You can have an onboard computer guide the boat if it ever loses contact with the transmitter. You can build this computer yourself, or buy one pre assembled. Either way. how you use the system is up to you.

Use a Satellite System

Another option for long distance RC boating is to use a satellite radio system. These systems let you control your RC boat with your phone by way of a satellite orbiting above. While you will get some latency, satellites are the only way to maintain manual control of your boat when it is out of signal range from the shore.  

Want to see a range test of a cheap ($40) RC Boat? Check out this video below