Which RC boats are best?
Few people can afford a boat, but most people can afford an RC boat. These small remote or radio-controlled toys are a great way for kids, or just the young at heart, to captain their own vessel, even if the body of water in question is the family swimming pool.
There is an impressive range of RC boats on the market, with models for curious novices and serious enthusiasts alike. Our top pick, the Force 1 Velocity RC High Speed Racing Boat, is a great choice for both and can reach speeds of 20 mph. Whether you’re shopping for a child or for yourself, here’s what to consider when purchasing an RC boat.
What to know before you buy an RC boat
Sailboats vs. powerboats
There are two types of RC boats: Sailboats and powerboats. Sailboats have actual sails and rudders, just like a real boat. They are powered by the wind and closely mimic an authentic sailing experience, but might be less exciting for small kids or novice users. They definitely require a much bigger learning curve.
Powerboats run on battery power, although a few models use gas or nitro. There are powerboats that mimic sailboats but are easier to use if the wind doesn’t go your way. There are also powerboats built for racing and speed.
Hull shape affects the performance of both boat types but is an especially important consideration for sailboats. Remember that the bigger the boat and the more intricate features it has, the more difficult it may be to store or clean properly.
Most RC boats are monohulls, which makes them fast and easy to maneuver. Some models are catamarans with two parallel hulls. Catamarans are slower, but more stable in rough water. Finally, a few models are hydroplanes. They look like two-pronged forks and are built for racing and speed.
If you decide to go with a powerboat, you need to choose where that power is coming from. Most models run on battery power. Battery-powered boats are relatively quiet and can be used indoors or outdoors, but a full charge doesn’t last very long and replacement batteries can get expensive or cumbersome to carry around.
Nitro-powered boats are fast and responsive, but are difficult to maintain and can be very noisy. Gas-powered boats are big and powerful but tend to be slower and pricier than nitro models. Both nitro and gas-powered boats cannot be used indoors because of fumes.
What to look for in a quality RC boat
Some RC boats are made to scale and modeled after famous ships in history. These scale models are more about appearance than performance and are intended for serious collectors. Other RC boats go in the opposite direction with bright neon colors and tricked-out design features like a car you might see in a “Fast and Furious” movie. These racing models are meant for show and for competition.
Within these two categories, you’ll find RC boats aimed toward adults and kids. Know who you’re buying for and choose accordingly.
The dividing line between an RC boat meant for leisure and an RC boat meant for racing is 20 mph. If you’re new to RC boats, your first model should be from the leisure category. Racing boats are sophisticated pieces of machinery and can be very difficult to learn how to use properly. They also require a lot more maintenance.
After you’ve spent significant time piloting your leisure boat, you’ll know whether you have the skills or interest to graduate to the racing category.
Assembly and spare parts
Some RC boats require assembly that can get quite complicated. For some buyers, this intricate construction period is an enjoyable part of the overall process. For others, it’s an unexpected nightmare full of tiny parts and head-scratching instructions. For an RC boat you can use right away, look for models that say RTR or “ready to run.”
Also check on the availability of replacement parts for your boat. You don’t want to have to replace the entire boat if something goes wrong and the parts are hard to obtain, or even worse, no longer being manufactured.
How much you can expect to spend on an RC boat
Very basic RC boats can be found for $20-$30. You’ll find a big jump in quality for midrange RC boats, which can run anywhere from $30-$100. Custom professional racing RC boats start at $100 and can reach into the thousands.
RC boat FAQ
What’s the best way to store and clean an RC boat?
A. Most major models have YouTube videos with cleaning tips and tricks for novices. You should keep your RC boat in a dry place that’s not too hot and not too cold. If your boat is battery-powered and you won’t be using it for several weeks or months, it’s also a good idea to take the battery out to prevent leaks.
Is my child old enough for an RC boat?
A. It depends on the type of RC boat. You’ll find several toy models with limited features but simple controls for children 6 and up. Adult models and more serious youth models are typically intended for kids 14 and up only. Be sure to check the manufacturer’s recommendation before you buy.
What are the best RC boats to buy?
Top RC boat
What you need to know: Right on the line between a sophisticated toy and a powerful racing machine.
What you’ll love: Capsize recovery mode turns the boat upright if flipped. Full charge runs for 15 minutes. Can reach a top speed of 20 mph.
What you should consider: Cannot be used in salt water.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Top RC boat for the money
What you need to know: A handsome white and rose gold boat with good features and a great price.
What you’ll love: The remote is sophisticated but still easy to use. The boat has an emergency stop button and a low-battery alarm. Comes with a display stand.
What you should consider: The rose gold color may be a turnoff for those who prefer a sportier look.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
What you need to know: This unique RC car can drive on land or on water.
What you’ll love: Recommended for ages 6 and up. Does flips and tight spins. Available in red, green or blue.
What you should consider: The top speed is 7.5 mph, which is slow compared to many other models.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Frank Paiva writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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