What is a hobby steamboat?
How fast can I go?
Are steamboats dangerous?
Isn't it expensive?
Do they require a lot of maintenance?
Isn't it difficult to find steam stuff?
I don't have a lot of space. Aren't steamboats big?
I want a wood boat but don't know much about wood-working. Can I find a good hull?
Are there any steamboat hulls available in fiberglass?
I don't know if I want to invest a lot of money or time. Where can I find out more?
It sounds like a lot of fun, but will my wife enjoy it?
I'm interested, but how does a steam engine operate?
WHAT IS A HOBBY STEAMBOAT? A lot of fun! It's a hobby family and friends can enjoy. Wherever there's a body of water on which you can float a boat ( and remember, over 3/4 of the world's surface is water ), you can operate a steam boat. And you don't need to split and carry wood. Depending on the design of the boiler, you can burn wood, coal, oil, or propane. Most of Reliable Steam Engine's boilers are designed for oil ( wood takes up a lot of space ). If you're environmentally conscious, bio-diesel can be used with no modifications.
HOW FAST CAN I GO? If you want to drive a boat the way most people drive a car - to go from point "A" to point "B" as fast as possible - then you don't want a steamboat! Hobby steamboaters measure speed not in "miles per hour" but in "fun per mile". Traveling on the water in a steamboat means the "quiet" of a sailboat without having to depend on the wind. You can sneak up on waterfowl and move among them and they don't mind! The owner of this boat and his wife do that - sliding quietly over inland lakes, coming within touching distance of herons.
ARE STEAMBOATS DANGEROUS? NO! You're less likely to have a boiler explosion in a properly designed and maintained steamboat than an explosion from gasoline fumes in a powerboat. In the 25 years we've been involved in the steamboating hobby there has not been a boiler explosion on a hobby steamboat. There are laws in many areas about boiler licensing and, due to the boiler explosion of a steam traction engine in 2001, many of these laws have been strengthened and/or are being rigorously inforced. For those who "boat" on a "navigable waterway" of the US ( you can go from there to salt water without portaging ), you fall under the US Coast Guard by virtue of the Motor Boat Act of 1910 ( now codified in 46 USC ) - and the US Coast Guard does not require the inspection of boilers and machinery of steamboats under 40' in length ( measured at the deck ) or that do not carry passengers for hire. This Act exempts vessels falling under the Act from any state regulation. But the owner or operator of a hobby steamboat is still liable at law. So, buy one from us - or buy a set of our plans and have it built by a professional welder.
ISN'T IT EXPENSIVE? Unlike a lot of hobbies NO. You can spend as much or as little as you want. The owner of Genevieve ( to the left ) was still in high school ( 1997 ) when he put together a 15' steamboat for a total of $300 over a period of one year ( see photo right ). He wasn't a machinist or a skilled wood worker either. Yes, he had help from others in the hobby - but we all enjoy helping each other. He didn't have the most beautiful boat around, but he had more fun with it then any two other steamboaters put together. There are also people who have spent tens of thousands of dollars on a boat, hiring all the work done - their boats are works of art and beauty. They, too, enjoy. Using Reliable Steam Engine's plans, castings, or completed units you can assemble a functioning steamboat - within YOUR budget!
DO THEY REQUIRE A LOT OF MAINTENANCE? No more than any power boat requires, and less than many sailboats. After living many years on and around the water, we have learned that there is NO SUCH THING as a maintenance free boat! Fiberglass requires just as much attention as a wood boat - washing, waxing, buffing, polishing chrome or stainless - and a steam power plant doesn't take any more maintenance than gas or diesel engine ( unless you're one of those people who changes the oil in your car every 100,000 miles whether it needs it or not ). The 22' fiberglass hull cabin cruiser Edith May ( photo left ) has a totally automatic power plant; just "turn the switch on". She has a "head", galley, and can sleep two. The owners built it themselves ( when in their early 80's ) in a little over a year and it probably requires less maintenance than a comparable gas or diesel boat.
ISN'T IT DIFFICULT TO FIND STEAM STUFF? It's true that the days of finding small marine steam engines and accessories in the junk yards are gone. Most people who have old equipment are aware of the value - just like any antique collector. Reliable Steam Engine is one of a number of companies that manufacture new equipment. Most of our engines look like the old, but with modern metals, bearings, etc. ( our 5 HP compound is to the right ). We sell our engines in kit form, as castings and you machine it. We also sell "ready to run". You may purchase plans for any of our engines to determine which is the best way for you to go. Boilers are available in all shapes and sizes; off-the-shelf ready to steam. If you're skilled in welding, you may be able build your own from our plans. Most steamboat club newsletters have a classified section. There's also eBay.com where, by using the search box, you'll find whistles, gauges, and other steam stuff ( and sometimes a steam engine ).
I DON'T HAVE A LOT OF SPACE. AREN'T STEAM BOATS BIG? If you've got room for a CANOE, you've got the space for a steamboat. Tippicanoe is a 16' Coleman canoe with steam powered outboard ( called Tyler ). Total weight is 140 lbs. Engine and boiler are removable so the canoe can be loaded on top of any vehicle and the power plant put in the trunk! Most steamboats are in the 16' to 24' range - easy to trailer so you can drive to where you want to have fun, put her in the water, and in twenty minutes from "lighting off" be enjoying a quiet, laid back time with three or four friends.
I WANT A WOOD BOAT BUT I DON'T KNOW MUCH ABOUT WOOD - WORKING. WHERE CAN I FIND A GOOD HULL? You can have a hull custom built in wood. Or you can buy a powerboat hull whose lines you like and install a steam plant ( one of our "high rpm" engines would work very well in a such a hull ). Although not using any of our products, Southpaw ( seen to the left ) is exactly that - and there is plenty of seating for guests as well as a steering station for the owner. Contrary to some people's opinions, there is no "law" that says a hobby steamboat must look "traditional" - the idea is to have FUN!
In this day of plywood and epoxy; "stitch and tape" boatbuilding; and hundreds of designs and boat building forums out on the internet, there's no reason why you can't build your own hull! Basic hand power tools and space are the primary requirements. Kristen ( seen to the left ) is our "Pioneer" hull, fitted with our 5 HP compound and our 4 - 7 HP Ofeldt boiler. While Reliable Steam Engine has several hull designs available, there are many other plans available on the internet. Some of the designs by William and John Atkin - particularly their Sea Bright Skiff series - would be very suitable. And the Atkins designed them from 17' to 28' and with the home boatbuilder in mind. The website is at http://www.atkinboatplans.com/ - go to "Inboard Utilities & Runabouts". And check our LINKS page for other designers.
ARE THERE ANY STEAMBOAT HULLS AVAILABLE IN FIBERGLASS?
There are a number of manufacturers of fiberglass steamboat hulls located throughout the USA. Mosquito Enterprises makes a very good quality hull ( see photo to right ), but there are many others as well. We have a fairly comprehensive list on our LINKS page. Most of the firms produce a good product - if they didn't they wouldn't be in business long as most steamboaters talk to each other.
I DON'T KNOW IF I WANT TO INVEST A LOT OF MONEY OR TIME. WHERE CAN I FIND OUT MORE? In just about every part of the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, and Europe there are organizations, clubs, and societies ( see our LINKS page ). Now that the International Steamboat Society is back there is an organization that will attempt to provide a worldwide coverage of steam events as well as a bi-monthly magazine that is primarily "how to". The Northwest Steam Society has an excellent website and, if you go to their "boats &c." page and select "boats", you'll be able to view photos and complete descriptions of over 80 hobby steamboats. The Steamboasting Forum is an excellent source of info and is very active. Most hobby steamboaters are willing to share their knowledge ( and mistakes ) with others. If you're going to be in the neighborhood, give advance notice and you'll likely get a ride.
IT SOUNDS LIKE FUN, BUT WILL MY WIFE ENJOY IT? We've never heard of a divorce that resulted from the steamboat hobby itself. There have been cases where the ownership of the steamboat was more bitterly contested than custody of the children. Most wives of steamboaters have a lot of fun at meets - they refer to themselves as "steamboat widows" and organize sightseeing and shopping trips while their spouses play with their "toys". And we're not sexist, several women own steamboats or can "bend a wrench" better than a lot of men.
I'M INTERESTED - BUT HOW DOES A STEAM ENGINE OPERATE? Ron Fossum kindly put together a basic description of how a marine steam power plant operates and it's located on this website - select PRIMER anywhere you see it on our website and you'll go there. It will get you started. And since you were able to find this web site, you know how to use the internet, so go to our LINKS page to explore, and use other websites' links to go further. We've provided links to most hobby steamboat suppliers who have websites - Reliable Steam Engine believes that in order to make an intelligent decision you should be able to view everything that is available. Or, if you just want to see other Hobby Steamboat pages, visit the Hobby Steamboaters Web Ring by selecting their icon to the right. There you'll find over 35 websites of hobby steamboats - and no two are alike!