The Versatile Motorboat

Nothing says ‘fun’ quite like the hum of an engine over water.

Motorboats, defined by the Britannica as relatively small boats that are run on an internal combustion or electric engine, are regular featured in music videos and TV shows as a sign of lavish living, partying, and popularity.

However, there is a lot more to the motorboat than just a pretty party vessel.

Origin Story: The Motorboat is Born

Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach didn’t know what they were starting when they drove their little gas-powered boat down the Neckar River in 1886. All they knew is that they wanted to show off their invention. They demonstrated their boat on the Waldsee in Stuttgart later that year. It had just one cylinder engine of 1 horsepower, but it impressed people enough to start creating their own versions.

Fast-forward to 1890 when William and George Priestman created a successful motorboat company from their home in Hull, England. Their boats used kerosene and ran off of a high-voltage ignition system. These were not sporty boats: they were used for towing goods up canals in England’s busy waterways. 

The motorboat, however, truly came into its own when Frederick and George Lanchester invented a much faster and more powerful boat in 1897. This was a flat-bottomed river launch that ran off of benzene and used a carburetor to mix the fuel with air. This ran a reverse propeller, and the engine ran at 800 r.p.m.

People almost immediately wanted to race motorboats. The first competition was held in 1903 in Cork Harbor in Ireland. This race was held under the auspices of the Royal Victoria Yacht Club. According to Scarf and Goggles, the winner, a Dorothy Levitt, set a thrilling pace at 19.3 miles per hour in a 3-propeller Napier launch designed by Selwyn Edge. King Edward VII was in the stands when she won, and he asked her to come to him so he could compliment her performance and discuss the finer details of boat handling. However, the designer’s name was on the entrance form, so she received a trophy engraved with the name ‘S.F. Edge.’ 

Motorboats were also quickly put to work as ferries, fishing boats, interceptor boats for police work, tugs, and coasters. 

Types Of Motorboats

You can spend a lot of time listing types of motorboats, but the two biggest classifications are inboard and outboard according to BoatUS. Inboard motorboats have engines mounted inside the hull, with the drive shaft poking through it and generally running to a propeller. The inboard engine is a permanent part of the boat.

The outboard motorboat has an engine that can be taken off, and it is attached, either by bolting or by clamping, to the stern or in a well in the hull. A propeller and a drive shaft are attached to the engine.

Within the two grand categories are many sub-types of motorboat. They can have flat bottoms and sport air screws, paddle wheels, and water jet pumps in order to go in shallow water. Hydroplanes and launches are considered motorboats because they have engines. Bass boats are specially designed for fishing for bass, and they come with powerful outboard engines and trolling motors. Bay boats go in shallow bays and are made out of fiberglass so that they can handle the salt water. Cruisers are slightly larger and have a cabin at the front of the boat. 

One big category of motorboat is the runabout. This is a name given to motorboats between 14 and 24 feet in length. They generally have outboard engines, and their small size makes them versatile. You can see them used for racing, cruising, and fishing.

Other types include the pilothouse boat, the power catamaran, the Jon boat, and the utility boat. The world of motorboats is vast and glorious, and anyone interested in boating can test each one until they find the one that suits them. The joy of finding the one for you, in fact, is part of their appeal.