offshore boat race
Offshore boat race

Offshore Powerboat Racing

The Sport of Offshore Powerboat Racing

The sport of offshore powerboat racing has been thrilling spectators since the nineteen hundreds. There is a long and illustrious history of racing in England, France, and the United States that began in the race from the south-eastern shores of the U.K. to Calais, France in 1904. While that was the first recognized powerboat race, it did in fact take place on smaller scales before that time. It was during this period that the American’s established the American Power Boat Association to organize and oversee the emerging sport. Fans have flocked to coastlines all over the world to see the most powerful and dangerous racing machines ever built. Known as the rich man’s sport, powerboat racing is extremely expensive to participate in due to the high cost of the boats, gasoline, and equipment. Regardless of the elite status of the sport, many everyday recreational boaters have a desire to participate. This demand has led to the creation of many sub-classes that cater to the ‘run what you brung’ slogan popular among laymen boaters. Offshore powerboat racing has attracted fans from all over the world to become an international sporting sensation.

The history of boat racing dates back to twentieth century Europe. The sport has evolved over the past hundred years to accommodate boats of all shapes and sizes. In the year 1911, California hosted its first power boat race and the sport steadily grew in popularity with over eleven races scheduled in 1917 alone. Europe was forced to put their racing on hold with the onset of World War I but lost no time in picking up where they left off when the conflict ended. After the Second World War the sport of boat racing truly came into its own right. The fans in Europe and America quickly picked up where they left off and the 1950’s and 1960’s saw the most growth. The future of competitive marine racing began to take shape as professional boat drivers became more skilled and able to navigate their vessel farther and farther.

The individuals that were responsible for navigating and piloting the boats were becoming international stars in the eyes of boating fans. Some of the most popular names during this time were Jim Wynn, Don Aronow, and Dick Bertram who competed in such events as the Bahamas 500, an 800 kilometer endurance race that tested the skills of the racing teams. The role of the navigating partner was extremely important in these races as GPS was not invented and locating a checkpoint between 100 miles of open ocean was very difficult. In later courses, most tracks were small and circuit –like and allowed for a pilot to do his or her own navigating. In modern races, navigators are employed to monitor everything from location, progress, track conditions, and of course, to provide directional guidance. The role of the boat teams have changed and evolved along with the technology used in the sport.


formula one powerboat

For almost 70 years the general design of the power boat remained constant. The V-shaped hull was the standard style of the boats for more than twenty years until the introduction of the catamaran in the 1980’s. Although the double hull shape of the catamaran was anything but new for ocean-going craft, the sport of offshore powerboat racing had never before implemented this type of design. The dual hulls offered greater stability at high speeds and increased agility in tight turns. While the catamaran enjoyed it’s time in the spotlight, the superboat era was following closely on its heels. There were universal limitations and restrictions regarding the size of the boat’s engines. For example, at forty-five feet a motor could not exceed 1000 cubic inches in size. Power boat racing in general soon became a much faster sport as the overseeing organizations lifted these standards and owners began installing three to four engines on their vessels. The next innovation in safety and aerodynamics came in the form of the pilot’s area. F-16 fighter jet canopies were removed from out of commission military units and retrofitted onto the boats. These significantly increased driver and navigator security as they were designed to break away from the body of the craft in the event of a collision or accident. The canopies were engineered to stand up under the extreme stress and g-force of a combat ready fighter aircraft, were perfect for use in speed boating. During the P1 UIM Italian world championship era that spanned from 2003 to 2009, a P1 starting grid boasted up to forty percent more horse power than that of a Formula One Indy car race. This style of powerboat is the fastest, largest, most dangerous racing machine ever built.

Throughout the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s, there were only four common classes of power boats that owners and drivers could classify their crafts under. The early and mid 1990’s saw the emergence of many new divisions for boaters that wanted to compete in races but lacked the high dollar sponsorship necessary for the professional series involvement. In addition to the changes which made it possible for boaters of all income brackets to participate, the race courses themselves evolved to become smaller and more track like. The goal of the smaller courses was to allow a better view for spectators who were the ones buying tickets to the races. All in all, the growth of the sport of offshore powerboat racing has been focused on more people being able to enjoy it, from allowing more classes of boats to enter, to smaller courses that foster audience involvement.

In 2003 the Offshore Super Series, or OSS, was founded by racers, professionals, and advisors to organize races around the United States. The focus of the OSS is to promote safety and fairness among the competitors in an environment that is fun and family friendly. There are seven divisions of boats in this organization, all canopied and capable of speeds from 90 to 175 miles per hour. The Offshore Super Series operates from spring to fall and typically includes eight races that large and lengthy productions. The average annual event takes four days to finish and the points are awarded for position of completion as in any race. The scores are tabulated by team into national scoreboards and a winner is declared at the conclusion of the season. The OSS events offer fans the chance to go into the staging areas to interact with the drivers and crews. The advertisement opportunity brings corporate funding while the speed and thrill of seeing these most powerful machines in person is sure to bring the crowd.

Offshore powerboat racing is rapidly growing to become the world’s most popular racing sport. It is inexpensive and the leagues promote fan and team interaction. There are no places that are off limits to fans that wish to see the boats up close and meet the people who operate and maintain them. The sport has a long and illustrious history full of pioneering individuals that pushed the envelope on technology and skill on an unpredictable liquid track. For speed and power enthusiasts, speed boats combine both of these elements to bring an action packed thrill ride that is fun for all ages and cultures.

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