Common Questions About Ice Boating

Now that we are in the throes of winter, many hard-core boaters are looking to get back,  literally, “on” the water . Perhaps our vocabulary should change to getting “in” the water in the warmer months and “on” the water during winter months.

Below are some FAQ’s for a small but growing sport.

How Fast Do These Things Really Go? 

Ice boats, depending on design and class, will reach speeds up to five times the speed of the wind. How?  Well, it has something to do with the low friction between the runners and the ice, and the sail shape. The sail acts more like a vertical wing rather than a sail. Volumes could be written as to exactly what makes an ice boat speed along at five times the speed of the wind. As to how fast they can go, in the right conditions, the smaller DN class achieves speeds of 50 to 60 mph. The ultra-modern class A Skeeters (the “Formula One” class of ice boating) reach speeds well over 100 mph.

Is Ice Boating Safe?

Any vehicle that can achieve such high speeds certainly has the potential to be dangerous. However, learning to properly sail an ice boat, sailing by the established right-of-way rules, always using common sense, properly maintaining the equipment, and staying off the lake during unsafe conditions go a long way towards making ice boating a safe sport. For more on ice boating safety, read the Ice Boat Safety Page.

Ice Boats Don’t Have Brakes-How Do They Stop? 

Ice boats while under sail do not have brakes. In order to stop an ice boat, a skipper steers it directly in to the wind. While sailing, it is often possible to slow a boat down by easing the sheet rope (the rope that controls the sail shape). Ice boats do have a parking brake attached to the front-runner and it is employed after the boat is completely stopped. The parking brake allows the skipper to walk away from his boat when not sailing.

How Much Does An Ice Boat Cost?

Ice boats can range in cost from a few hundred dollars for an old un-classified ice contraption or perhaps an old uncompetitive DN class boat, to $60,000 for a modern, championship winning class A Skeeter. Between the $200 beater and the $60,000 championship contender are many fast competitive boats in various classes that can be had from around $2500 to $7500.

Even though it is rumored that ice boating is mainly 75% building them, 10% talking about them, 10% waiting around on the ice for the right conditions, and 5% actual sailing time, do you get to sail enough to make the sport worthwhile?

Many ice boaters feel the thrill of ice boating makes even one single ride per year well worth the effort. On Madison, WI lakes, a person can sail probably four to six weekends per year. More in a “good” year, and of course, less in a “bad” year. When conditions are good, taking a day or two off from work during the week can increase your amount of fun sailing time. A willingness to travel a bit to find good ice will increase your sailing times to perhaps as many as ten to twelve weekends per season.

How Can I Get Started In Ice Boating? 

The Four Lakes Ice Yacht Club holds meetings every other Wednesday night from November through late March and everyone is welcome to attend. If you show up on the ice perhaps you may be able to arrange a ride in one of the two-seater classes, such as the Nite class. However, I must warn you that finagling a solo ride in someone’s ice boat is a tough sell. Generally after a ride or two, you will be directed towards a used boat for sale. If you interest is still high, that’s the time to start looking for your own boat. You will be glad that you did.

Check out the video below to get a sense of the speed and thrill that can be achieved in an ice boat.

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Filed under Boat Operation, Boating News, Boating Safety, Lake Boating, Sailing News

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