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During the era of Prohibition in the United States, these boats were called "rum-runners" because they were used to transfer rum from larger vessels waiting outside the territorial waters of the United States. The high speed of the rum-runners enabled them to avoid interception by the Coast Guard. More recently the term "cigarette boat" has replaced the term "rum-runner" when similar boats were used to smuggle cigarettes between Canada and the United States. The present era of cigarette boats, dating from the 1960s, owes much of their design to boats designed for offshore powerboat racing, particularly by designer and builder Donald Aronow. During this period, these boats were used by drug smugglers to transfer drugs across the Caribbean to the United States.
Don Aronow became involved in powerboat endurance racing in the early 1960s. He founded Formula Marine, Donzi Marine, Magnum Marine, Cigarette Racing Team, Squadron XII and USA Racing. Aronow formed the Cigarette Racing Team in 1969 with Nick Beauchamp. He had a World Championship win in an unusual 32' Cary race boat called "The Cigarette".
The story behind Aronow's development of go-fast boats is documented in Thunder Man: The Don Aronow Story (2009). The film, directed and produced by Silvio Sardi and narrated by Andy Garcia, won Best Documentary at the Beverly Hills Film Festival after a premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.
A typical go-fast is built of fiberglass, with a deep "V" offshore racing hull from usually 30 to 50 feet (10 to 15 m) long, narrow in beam, and equipped with two or more powerful engines, often with more than 1000 combined horsepower. The boats can typically travel at speeds over 80 knots (150 km/h) in calm waters, over 50 knots (90 km/h) in choppy waters, and maintain 25 knots (47 km/h) in the average five to seven foot (1.5 to 2 m) Caribbean seas. They are heavy enough to cut through higher waves, although at a slower pace.
In accordance with their pure racing heritage, the accommodations on these boats are minimal, and they are built to hold 5 or fewer passengers. While most do have some cabin under the foredeck, it is low and much smaller than a typical motor yacht of similar size. Apart from the racing market, most buyers of these boats purchase them for the mystique; the combination of the racing and smuggling connections, plus the immense power, high top speeds, and sleek shape make these boats popular.
These boats are difficult to detect by radar except on flat calm seas or at close range. The United States Coast Guard and the DEA found them to be stealthy, fast, seaworthy, and very difficult to intercept using conventional craft. Because of this, Coast Guards have developed their own high-speed craft and also use helicopters. The helicopters are equipped with anti-materiel rifles which can be used to disable the engines of the go-fast boat. The U.S. Coast Guard go-fast boat is a rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) equipped with radar and powerful engines. The RHIB is armed with several types of non-lethal weapons and an M240 GPMG.
- Narco submarine
- Poker Run
- Surface Drives
- Tunnel Hull
- Night Train Drug Seizure, one of the largest drug seizures in history.
- Don Aronow: The King of Thunderboat Row. (1994), by Michael Aronow. Write Stuff Enterprises. ISBN 0945903227, ISBN 978-0945903222.
- Peter A. Janssen (Tue, 22 Dec 2009). "News: Don Aronow Movie Preview: Award-winning Don Aronow movie to preview at Miami boat show". Motorboating. Retrieved May 12, 2012.