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 boat 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.
The leading builder of 1920s runabouts was John L. Hacker, who founded the Hacker Boat Company in 1908. Hacker was a pioneering naval architect who developed many design innovations, like the 'V-bottom'. His brilliant designs became the model upon which virtually all subsequent runabouts were based. By 1930, runabouts were available with windshields to protect the cockpits and 125 horsepower (93 kW) engines built for speed.
Other early builders of varnished-wood runabouts include Chris-Craft and Gar Wood, but by the late 1940s Gar Wood had stopped producing boats and Chris-Craft was moving to the more modern materials of plastic and fibreglass.
The runabouts built by Italian builder Carlo Riva in the late 1950s and the 1960s are considered by many to be premier European examples of the type.
Riva’s history dates back to 1842, when Pietro Riva began building boats at Sarnico, a small northern Italian town on the shores of Lago d’Iseo. By the 1930s the business was managed by Pietro’s grandson, Serafino, and the company had become a leading manufacturer of small racing boats, many of which he raced himself. At the same time it began building pleasure boats. In the 1950s Serafino’s son Carlo transformed the business, and in due course the Riva brand became a worldwide legend sought out by screen stars, royalty and businessmen alike. Famous customers included Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren, Peter Sellers and many more besides. A succession of owners have owned the company since Carlo Riva sold it in the early 1970s, and today the firm is owned by the Ferretti Group. The most famous Riva of all time was the Carlo Riva design called the Aquarama Special.
After selling the Riva yard, Carlo Riva was part of the creation of the "Monte Carlo Offshorer" brand. Developed together with Bob Hopps and Cal Connell, the Monte Carlo Offshorer 27 (70s), 30 (80s) and 32 (early 90s) was the first production runabout with a "stepped" hull to improve ride and stability. The boats were built by RAM - the maintenance part of the former Riva company, still owned by the Riva family.
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. Fiberglass 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. In addition, the art of boat-building in wood has been largely lost since it requires far greater individual skill. Nonetheless there remain a few notable exceptions, perhaps most famously the Hacker Boat Company, the oldest motor-boat builder in the world which continues to produce magnificent mahogany boats on the shores of Lake George, New York. Other wooden boat-builders include Graf, J-Craft and Boesch. Fiber reinforced plastic materials are now used extensively in construction of small runabout boats to reduce weight and maximize 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.
- Savage, J., (2002), Chris-Craft of the 1950s, St. Paul: MBI Publishing.