In 1790, ice yachting was in vogue on the Hudson River, its headquarters being at Poughkeepsie, New York. The type was a square box on three runners, the two forward, ones being nailed to the box and the third acting as a rudder operated by a tiller. The sail was a flatheaded sprit. This primitive style generally obtained until 1853, when triangular frames with boxes for the crew aft and jib and mainsail rig were introduced. A heavy, hard-riding type soon developed, with short gaffs, low sails, large jibs and booms extending far over the stern. It was over canvassed and the mast was stepped directly over the runner plank, bringing the centre of sail-balance so far aft that the boats were apt to run away, and the over-canvassing frequently caused the windward runner to swing up into the air to a dangerous height. The largest and fastest example of this type, which prevailed until 1879, was Commodore J. A. Roosevelt's first Icicle, which measured . over all and carried . of canvas. In 1879 Mr. H. Relyea built the Robert Scott, which had a single backbone and guy wires, and it became the model for all Hudson River ice-yachts. Masts were now stepped farther forward, jibs were shortened, booms cut down, and the center of sail-balance was brought more inboard and higher up, causing the centers of effort and resistance to come more in harmony. The shallow steering-box became elliptical. In 1881 occurred the first race for the American Challenge Pennant, which represents the championship of the Hudson river, the clubs that competed included the Hudson River, North Shrewsbury, Orange Lake, Newburgh and Carthage Ice Yacht Clubs. The races are usually sailed five times round a triangle of which each leg measures one mile, at least two of the legs being to windward. Ice yachts are divided into four classes, carrying respectively . of canvas or more, between. 450 and 600, between 300 and 450, and less than . Ice-yachting is very popular on the Great Lakes, both in the United States and Canada, the Kingston, Ontario Club having a fleet of over 25 sail. Other important centers of the sport are Lakes Minnetonka and White Bear in Minnesota, Lakes Winnebago and Pepin in Wisconsin, Bar Harbor Lake in Maine, the St. Lawrence River, Quinte Bay and Lake Champlain.
A modern ice yacht is made of a single-piece backbone the entire length of the boat, and a runner-plank upon which it rests at right angles, the two forming a kite-shaped frame. The best woods for these pieces are basswood, butternut, and pine. They are cut from the log in such a way that the heart of the timber expands, giving the planks a permanent curve, which, in the finished boat, is turned upward. The two forward runners, usually made of soft cast iron and about . 7 in. long and 24 in. high, are set into oak frames a little over 5 ft. long and 5 in. high. The runners have a cutting edge of 90%, though a V-shaped edge is often preferred for racing. The rudder is a runner about . 7 in. long, worked by a tiller, sometimes made very long, 71/2 ft. not being uncommon. This enables the helmsman to lie in the box at full length and steer with his feet, leaving his hands free to tend the sheet. Masts and spars are generally made hollow for racing-yachts and the rigging is pliable steel wire. The sails are of 10-oz. duck for a boat carrying . of canvas. They have very high peaks, short hoists and long booms. The mainsail and jib rig is general, but a double-masted lateen rig has been found advantageous. The foremost ice-yacht builder of America was G. E. Buckhout of Poughkeepsie.
An ice yacht about . in length will carry 6 or 7 passengers or crew, who are distributed in such a manner as to preserve the balance of the boat. In a good breeze the crew lie out on the windward side of the runner-plank to balance the boat, and reduce the pressure on the leeward runner. A course of with many turns has been sailed on the Hudson in less than 48 minutes, the record for a measured mile with flying start being at the rate of about an hour. In a high wind, however, ice yachts often move at the rate of 85 and even an hour.
On the bays near New York a peculiar kind of iceboat has developed, called scooter, which may be described as a toboggan with a sail. A typical scooter is about . long with an extreme beam of , perfectly oval in form and flat. It has mainsail and jib carried on a mast 9 or 10 ft. long and set well aft, and is provided with two long parallel metal runners. There is no rudder, the scooter being steered entirely by trimming the sails, particularly the jib. As the craft is flat and buoyant it sails well in water, and can thus be used on very thin ice without danger. A speed of 50 km an hour has been attained by a scooter.