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Basic Boating Safety

02/28/2006 by

Copyright:© 2006 Horizon Hobby, Inc.

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Going out on a lake or pond with an RC boat can be an exciting and fun time. After all, what could be better than sitting on the waterfront on a bright spring or summer day and enjoying time with friends, family, and your hobby? But while this scene may seem idyllic, there are some things that you should keep in mind before you think about launching your boat. We’ve put together a list of the top concerns when boating to ensure a fun and safe time.

Read the Manual

Probably the biggest mistake that people make is to assume that they don’t need to read the manual, and then they act surprised later on when they encounter problems. The instruction manual contains valuable information that every modeler needs to read, from charging recommendations, if it’s a battery-powered boat, to how to start and tune your nitro engine. Your manual will also address many of the common mistakes that are encountered, saving you time and frustration down the road.

When reading your manual, have a highlighter handy. As you read through the manual, use your highlighter to mark sections that you feel contain important information that you may need to reference later. Information about engine tuning, starting and stopping, and more is found in the manual.

Use Fresh Batteries

Whether your boat uses electric or glow power, you are also going to be using some sort of battery. From receiver packs, main battery pack, or transmitter packs, batteries are a big part of your RC experience. Most nitro boats are set up to use 4 AA alkaline batteries to provide power to the receiver and servos. You can improve performance and save money in the long-run by using a 5-cell rechargeable battery pack (DYN1430). The additional voltage provided by the extra cell will improve the reaction time and holding power of your servos. You also get the additional bonus of being able to recharge and reuse your receiver pack instead of just tossing them out when they are dead. Don’t overlook your transmitter batteries either. Always error on the side of replacing or recharging your transmitter and receiver batteries; your batteries can never have too much voltage, but the voltage can be too low causing runaways.

You can keep track of the voltage in your boat’s receiver pack by using a voltmeter. You could also use a standard VOM and measure each individual battery if you’re using alkaline batteries. But what about receiver packs? You can actually use an inline voltmeter, such as those available from Hangar 9 (HAN171) or Expert Electronics (EXRA502) to conveniently keep track of your pack’s status.

Use a Fail-Safe

Having a runaway RC car on land can be very scary; imagine what a runaway boat might be like. Unlike a car or truck, it can be difficult to chase down a runaway boat unless you are already on the water in a boat yourself. For this very reason every nitro and gas boat should be equipped with some sort of fail-safe device. The Dynamite Micro Race Guard (DYN2553) will cause your throttle servo to return to the idle position in the event of signal loss. This extra safety precaution will prevent a boat from careening out of control towards other watercraft, or worse, towards people or animals in the water.

Make Sure Your Frequency is Clear

While components inside your model can cause minor radio interference, you can compensate for that with noise-canceling capacitors or through other methods. Nothing, however, can protect you if someone else is on your same frequency. To prevent this, make sure that you are either operating in an area where there aren’t any other models being operated or someplace that has a dedicated frequency board. If there are other modelers in the area and there isn’t a frequency board, using the frequency flags that come with your radio can also help to eliminate anyone from stepping on someone else’s frequency.

Stay Clear of Moving Parts

What harm can a spinning piece of plastic be, right? Wrong! The props on boats can spin at very high rpm, and all it takes is a momentary lapse of judgment and you can injure yourself pretty severely. On electric powered boats, the props are easily reaching over 10,000 rpm, and those have plastic props; most of the nitro- powered boats feature a metal prop that spins even faster. This can be rather dangerous if you’re not careful or aren’t paying attention to what’s going on. Always treat moving parts with great respect; keep hands, fingers, long hair, and loose clothing away from moving parts such as props, clutch bells, or blades.

If there’s ever a time that your boat stops running because weeds or plants have wrapped themselves around the prop, approach this with great care and caution. Much like a snow blower that becomes clogged, there still may be considerable tension on the prop that may cause it to spin unexpectedly once the weeds have been removed. If possible, try to loosen the main shaft inside the hull to remove any tension before servicing the prop. You should also disconnect any power from the radio system, whether it’s a receiver pack or main battery pack.

Along with moving parts, there may be many hot components on your boat to be aware of as well. Things such as exhaust pipes, clutch bells, engine heads, headers, or the cans of electric motors can all be extremely hot and possibly burn you. If you’re not quite sure if everything has adequately cooled down to the point where you can touch them, error on the side that they are still hot and wait before working on these components. You can also invest in a temperature gun, such as the MIP On-board Temp Gauge (MIP2090) or the Atomic Micro Temp Gun 2 (TMK200002).

Inspect the Hull for Damage Before Launching

Before you place your boat in the water, take a few moments to inspect your hull for any potential cracks, holes, or damage. Not only could damage to the underside of the hull cause water to leak in, damage to the canopy or receiver box could pose a potential hazard to your electronics. If you have any doubt about the integrity or condition of your hull, do yourself a favor and wait to run your boat until you can properly repair any damage.

Depending on the severity of the damage to a fiberglass hull, you can potentially repair the damage yourself. For minor damage, you can use fast-curing CA (such as Losi’s LOSA7881, red label). This will fill any gaps quickly and fix minor damage. If there is a larger hole in the hull, you can actually use automotive body filler. With the filler, you can apply several light coats, sanding between them until you get the nice smooth contoured shape back that was originally on your hull.

Proper Refueling Procedures

Fuel spills can be dangerous and potentially damaging to the environment around you. For these reasons, you need to be very careful when refueling your boat regardless of whether it runs on gasoline or nitro fuel. You should never refuel your boat while it is still in the water for a number of reasons. The first and most obvious reason is that you could potentially spill some fuel in the water. Another reason many people never think about is that you could possibly fall into the water yourself. Just imagine yourself at the end of a pier, leaning over the edge to refuel your boat and at the least opportune moment you lose your balance. Besides just getting you wet, you’ll probably take your fuel bottle and transmitter with you into the drink. Do yourself a favor and bring your boat onshore for any refueling, making sure that you clean up any fuel spills.

Proper Stopping and Starting

Much like refueling, you should never try to start your engine while it is in the water. If there are waves or rough waters, you may have a difficult time holding your boat steady as you tug on the pull starter. Also, if you’re using a hand starter, such as the Sullivan units, you’d hate to drop the hand starter in the water. For these reasons, you should start your boat on land where you can hold the hull securely. Once the engine has fired, get it in the water relatively quickly. The reason for this is that the heads on nitro boats are smaller than their car and truck cousins and are water-cooled. If you keep it out of the water for an extended period of time, the engine could potentially overheat. If your boat does not feature a clutch on the prop shaft, be extremely careful when transporting your boat from the land to the water. The prop will be spinning at several thousand rpm which could cause severe injury if it were to come in contact with you. Even if your boat has a clutch, the prop could be spinning as well. It’s best to simply keep away from the prop whenever the engine is running.

Unlike a gas car or truck, it is actually possible to turn the engine off from the radio. What you can do is back the idle screw out on the carburetor so that the air intake can close completely. From here, you would actually use your throttle trim on the radio to set the idle speed of the engine. When you push the trigger backwards (what would normally be the brakes on a car or truck), the carburetor would become closed off, suffocating the engine, and shutting it off. This is the easiest and safest way to shut your engine off.

Be Aware of Your Surroundings

When enjoying your boat and the time outdoors, you need to be careful and use good, sound judgment. You should never operate your boat near any people or animals that are in the water. Boats can act unpredictably at times, and a temporary loss of control could be catastrophic. Keep away from water fowl or any other type of marine life. While “buzzing” a flock of birds may seem like fun, you can actually be subject to fines or worse if you are seen doing this by the DNR (Department of Natural Resources). Speaking of the DNR, make sure that you follow any posted signs regarding the allowable operation hours of watercraft, noise restrictions, and wake notices.

You not only need to be cautious when running your boat, but also when launching or retrieving your boat out of the water. Before you launch your boat, make sure that you are doing so in water deep enough that your prop will not come in contact with any rocks or other items that may be on the lakebed. You also need to make sure that the water is deep enough so that the rudder doesn’t get hung up either. And when launching or retrieving your boat, do so in an area where you have solid footing to prevent a possible fall if you slip on an algae-covered rock.

Using your head and being safe while boating not only protects you and your boat, but also protects bystanders and the environment around you. Being safe while boating is no accident and will also extend the life of your boat. The steps we’ve outlined here aren’t difficult; they just take some time and thought before you power-up your model boat.