Runabout (boat)

A runabout is any small motorboat holding between four and eight people, well suited to moving about on the water. Runabouts can be used for racing, for pleasure activities like fishing and water skiing, or as a ship's tender for larger vessels. Some common runabout boats are bow rider, center console, cuddy and walkaround.


The first runabouts date back to the 1920s and were originally small, fast, powerful varnished wooden boats created to take advantage of the power of outboard motors such as the first Evinrude, introduced in 1909.

In order to gain speed, the hull shape had to be designed to take advantage of hydroplaning; a hydrofoil-like design would allow the boat to skim atop the water's surface at high speed instead of needing to push aside large quantities of water to move forward. Another design change which followed soon after was the replacement of the tiller and rudder control with a rudder controlled by a steering wheel, allowing the operator a comfortable forward-facing position. A remote lever to allow the engines to be placed into a reverse gear was another early innovation.

One 1920s runabout was the Gar Wood, named for its creator Garfield Wood, a racing enthusiast who had already made his fortune as an inventor developing hydraulics to allow trucks to dump their loads.

The early varnished-wood Chris-Craft runabouts were built by Christopher Smith, a former Gar Wood employee. By 1930, the runabouts were available with windshields to protect the cockpits and 125 horsepower (93 kW) engines built for speed.

The runabouts by Italian builder Riva are considered by many to be premier examples of the type.

Construction and materials

The use of aluminium in small boat construction came soon after World War II because of availability of aircraft materials as war surplus. Fibreglass was then introduced as another way to reduce the maintenance, cost and weight of watercraft. Given the cost benefits and personal enjoyment of boat building, do-it-yourself ′Kit Boats′ were also introduced using plywood material. In 1955, Chris-Craft created The Plywood Boat Division which marketed both Kit and pre-built plywood craft.

By 1960, wooden powerboats had become rare since most new vessels used fiberglass or other lightweight materials. Fiber reinforced plastic materials are now used extensively in construction of small runabout boats to reduce weight and maximise speed when racing powerboats.


Runabouts can be powered by inboard engines, outboards, jet drives, or inboard-outboard (I/O) drives. Engines can be gasoline or diesel systems.

Inboards have the engine block permanently mounted within the hull of the boat, with a drive shaft and a propeller to drive the craft underneath the hull, and a separate rudder to steer the craft. To give the engine block the proper angle a plinth is typically used.

Outboards are packaged drive units, containing the engine block, linkage gears, and the propeller within a single unit. Outboard drives are mounted to the transom and are mechanically turned to the left or right to steer the craft, either directly with a tiller, or through a remote steering system leading to a steering wheel mounted on the boat's console. Outboard drive units are typically designed to act as both propulsion and rudder.

Jet Drives are drive units have a propeller enclosed in a pump-jet that draws water from underneath of the hull and expels it through a swiveling nozzle in the stern. They are highly maneuverable and tolerant of shallow water, but need larger engines and use more fuel than the other alternatives.

Inboard-Outboard drives are a hybrid, with an engine block mounted within the hull, but linked to a lower drive unit mounted to the transom containing the propeller which is pivoted for steering the craft, similar to an outboard motor. An outdrive also serves as a rudder.


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