Ah, summertime. The livin' is easy, the fish are jumpin', and it's the best time of year for me to get in some RC boating. My newest boat is the Wildcat EP from Aquacraft ($190). This electric-powered catamaran is sold as a ready-to-run package. Let's take a look at the details and then see how she performs.
Preparing the Wildcat EP
The Wildcat EP is completely factory-built, with a plastic hull measuring a little over 25 inches (635mm) long. Twin rudders jutting out past the transom add another 3.5 inches (89mm) to the boat's length. The stickers you see are pre-applied. I like the color scheme, but the stickers on my example have several bubbles and lifted edges.
A large hatch provides access to the onboard radio equipment and running gear. The hatch is held in place with two locating pins in the rear and a swiveling latch in the front. You have to be careful with the pins. I broke one of mine while removing the hatch.
The boat is propelled by a single brushless motor with a flex-drive system connecting the propeller. Aquacraft includes a 50-amp, waterproof electronic speed control (ESC) as well. A pickup at the rear of the hull channels cooling water to the ESC and the motor's aluminum mount.
It is important to keep the receiver and steering servo dry. So both of those components are housed in a waterproof compartment.. A simple pushrod arrangement links the servo to the rudders. The rudders feature a unique break-away mounting system. One of the two bolts securing each rudder is made of nylon. If a rudder hits an obstruction while driving, the nylon bolt will shear and allow the rudder to pivot rearwards without damage. Well, that's the theory anyway.
The kit includes a simple plastic stand to elevate and stabilize the boat while you're working on it. So you don't have to worry about damaging the plastic propeller on your workbench, dock, or shoreline. It keeps the rudders out of the way as well.
Batteries are the only thing not included with this boat. Onboard power for the Wildcat requires a 3-cell LiPo battery. I used a 3S-2200mAh battery from ElectriFly. Velcro straps secure the battery in place. Four AA-size alkaline batteries are required for the included Tactic TTX300 pistol-grip radio.
There's really no tweaking to worry about prior to the maiden voyage. Not only is the boat fully-assembled, it does not have trim tabs or turn fins to deal with. It's all just a matter of removing the boat from the box and adding your batteries.
Driving the Wildcat EP
I had to do a little searching to find a proper running spot for the Wildcat EP. Both of my usual boating ponds had developed large patches of algae and weeds near the shore. The Wildcat's exposed propeller and protruding rudders would have become fouled with vegetation in an instant. Thankfully, I was able to find a nice retention pond with clear water and public access.
My first few minutes with the boat were spent tooling around at low speed to get a feel for how it handles. The twin rudders are very effective even at the slowest speeds. As with many RC boats, there is no reverse. Keep that in mind to avoid driving into situations where you may get stuck and have to retrieve the boat.
When you add power, the Wildcat gets on-plane quickly. You can then see (and hear) the boat's impressive acceleration. Top speed is fast, but not blistering. It probably looks a little faster than it actually is because it throws up an awesome roster tail behind the prop. I would guess it hits somewhere a little north of 25mph (40kph). This is faster than most of my other boats with brushed motors, but there are certainly faster electric boats out there.
As I mentioned, the steering is very effective. The Wildcat will change directions unbelievably quickly. It is almost like physics does not apply. The Tactic TTX300 pistol grip transmitter has adjustable steering rates. I usually tune the rudder travel way down so that I do not over steer the boat during high-speed runs.
If you get too heavy-handed with the controls, the Wildcat will flip over. Yes, I've done this. There is really no significant risk of the boat sinking. However, an inverted Wildcat on the water is much like the proverbial turtle on its back.
There are a few common ways to retrieve stranded RC boats (row boat, another RC boat, hook on a line, etc.). I actually stumbled upon a new method with this boat. When the Wildcat is inverted, its propeller is totally clear of the water. I found that the water propeller would provide a little bit of thrust when spinning in air. The rudders are somewhat effective as well since they are in the propeller's slipstream. I was essentially able to drive the inverted Wildcat back to shore. This method is slow and may not work in windy conditions, but it can be a handy strategy to keep in your back pocket.
One thing I've noticed with my Wildcat is that it slings a lot of grease from the stuffing tube. The inside of the boat was spattered with grease even after the first run. It's a bit of a mess. I'll be investigating ways to better seal the area where the driveshaft enters the stuffing tube. It is also a good reminder that I'll need to inspect and grease the driveshaft regularly.
The ESC pulses the motor when the battery gets low. That means it's time bring it in. My sessions with the Wildcat EP typically have lots of tight turns mixed with full-throttle dashes. I usually get 8-9 minutes of run time with the 2200mAh LiPo batteries I use. Your mileage may vary.
Overall, I feel that the boat is durable and well-designed. It looks nice as well. I really appreciate that it provides good run time using common and inexpensive batteries.
I think that the Wildcat EP provides a good introduction to the speed and power available in brushless-powered RC boats. It is definitely a notch or two faster than beginner rigs. At the same time, it isn't so speedy that you worry about passing the controller to less-experienced drivers. The boat handles well and is fun to drive. Just make sure you have retrieval options on-hand.
Terry is a freelance writer living in Buffalo, NY. Visit his website at TerryDunn.org and follow him on Twitter and Facebook. You can also hear Terry talk about RC hobbies as one of the hosts of the RC Roundtable podcast.