Home Power Boating Hydros of the Electric Type

Hydros of the Electric Type

by NWY Staff

On this Seafair weekend, we’re pleased to have John Paramore of the Seattle Outboard Association talk about the APBA and electric hydro racing. Some impressive speeds here, with the electric hydro 144V record currently standing at 98 mph. Paramore is hoping to get to Moses Lake next week for the APBA Stock/Mod Outboard National Championships to see the J-class world championship – see details below. For those intrigued by hydro racing they can do, check out seattleoutboard.org –KH


The connection of yachting to powerboat racing is actually pretty old. The American Power Boat Association (APBA) really began around the turn of the 20th century as a general power boating enthusiast’s organization and racing was a subset of APBA up until the late ’60s. I think the organization most closely resembling it now is RYA, (Royal Yachting Association) devoted to the English boating community and UK’s National authority to UIM.

From the beginning, the APBA was a boater’s organization with racing just a facet of the whole. That didn’t mean racing was an afterthought, The Tiffany-designed APBA Gold Cup is the oldest trophy in motor-sports. When I started as a kid racer in the mid-’50s, about 75 to 80 percent of APBA’s “Propeller” magazine was devoted to general power boating and yachting news, and racing was just a lesser section.

Over time a lot of solid magazines emerged to eclipse Propeller and draw away the boating public.


From seattleoutboard.org:

To describe the boats: 144s run 12 automotive starter batteries to provide 144v at up to 800 amps. Motors are 36 to 48 volt industrial DC or aircraft starter motors used as powerheads on outboard lower units. When powered as noted, the higher current “hot-rods” these motors to nearly 155 horsepower. 48s use only 4 batteries, and these pump 12 to 30 volt motors to about 20 horsepower. Hulls for both classes are usually converted existing raceboats, though larger (up to 14 ft.) custom hydroplanes prevail in the 144v class providing extra lift for battery weight.

Here are a few shots of boats I wish we had on hand for the event. In the last couple years before I retired from the Public Utility District I had the job of electric den-mother added to my duties. As part of the  licensing of a hydro-power project, the District had to build recreational sites around Spada Lake and promote their use. The Commission decided that racing and kilometer speed record trials for electric boats would be a part of it and told me to make it happen. I told them right away that the best and least costly way to generate fast electric boats would be to set up an APBA special event electric racing series…Nobody likes to lose and across a summer of racing competition should push one or more competitors over the existing 50 mph record in time for the Utility’s speed trials. The commissioners’ policy nerds thought if the boats ran a series their budding governor candidates wouldn’t get proper credit and killed the idea.

Click on photo to enlarge:

Here's my brother Will in a 48v E-Hydro. The boat's a Karelsen 20ss that usually runs a Yamato racing outboard. This set up runs a Prestolite 12v pallet-jack motor as an outboard powerhead at 48v. The current world record is 11mph by a UK driver in a hydroplane that couldn't get up. Will set several APBA national records above 30 mph with this boat but we never submitted them to UIM, leaving the world slot open as a lure to bring other candidates in.
When Helen Loney ran her 11 mph kilo in 2007 we thought the door was open to run for both runabout and hydro marks, and were working up both when Will was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer that took him out in June 2008. When Will knew he wouldn't make it to kilos he got Fred Saxby to sub for him in the runabout. In Lincoln City Oregon Fred ran 31 mph, raising the runabout record by 13 mph. Fred and I ran it as a memorial to Will, and I've got the Karelsen hydro lurking to run part-2. If I can figure out a way to do it I'd like to rub a lithium pack in the hydro. between weight savings and power density I think we can lighten the boat by almost 140 pounds and have the power surplus needed to overdrive the prop into the 9,000 RPM range...Maybe push the record to 55/60 mph.
Mike Bontoft electric hydro 144v record
At the time we ran fro the 48 runabout mark, Mike Bontoft of Castle Rock ran for the all-out 144v record. His boat is a Ron Jones Jr outboard hydro, featuring a lot of his inboard hydro techology such as the blunter sponsons and rounded edges that force air travel longer routes, making the boat less reactive to air. You can still blow it over if you persist, but the design buys time for the driver to regain control. In his kilo Mike was coming off the traps at about 104 mph, and his two-way average is the current 98.8 mph electric boat speed record. The powerhead here is a Prestolite forklift motor. We're pretty fond of Prestolites because they're incredibly tolerant of abuse. Though this one's a 48v motor we regularly raced them at 144v, and occasionally tested at as high as 168 volts.
Back to the early days...Here's a start at Silver Lake, Everett. Will's closest in the yellow hydro...The motor there is a Jack&Heintze G-32, a jet engine starter/generator from a J-57 engine, common on 707 jetliners. Starts were simple flag starts from a dock.

After retiring to work for Boeing, I set up a 5-race electric boat series in 1994, coming out with 4 boats fast enough to take the record, of which three ran over record with Norm Boddy raising it to 55.9 mph. In 1995 we raised the mark to 70.5 mph where it stayed until 2008. We also began experiments at lower voltages working up rules for electric runabouts and hydros at 48, 72 and 144 volts.

APBA Stock/Mod outboard National Championships are running all next week in Moses Lake and i’m hoping to get over to see itMostly it’s just racing for championships in a lot of outboard classes, but one event is unique and a first.

APBA’s J (for junior) class is the start-up class for kids from 9 to about 14. It’s led to a lot of Unlimited Hydro careers…from Billy Schumacher to most of the current drivers like J. Michel Kelly, Greg Hopp, Jeff Bernard J. W. Myers…Nearly all of them really. This year, in addition to the APBA championship, UIM has extended world championship status to a first time ever separate J-Hydro race later in the week.

Written by John Paramore

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