Here's how to build your own simple, remote control, fan-powered boat! This is a great project for parents and kids to do together and doesn't require any special skills or expensive equipment.
We set this challenge for our recent Big Inventor Little Inventor episode and built the boats with two 5 year olds. After they were built we set the kids the challenge of crashing their boats into as many rubber ducks as possible in 60 seconds!
If you're looking for further invention opportunities for kids, then check out our YouTube channel: Kids Invent Stuff. Every month we set a different themed invention challenge and invite kids to send us their invention ideas. And every month we pick one idea and build it! For example Ruby (age 7) who challenged us to built a pair of shoes to walk on water.
Step 1: What Is an Airboat?
Airboats are boats that are propelled using fans. The fans blow air out the back of the boat, causing it to move through the water. They're used a lot on swamps and marshy areas, where an outboard motor or underwater propeller might get caught up in weeds or foliage.
Step 2: Tools & Materials
To build your own remote control airboat you'll need:
- Small flat-head (slotted) screwdriver
- Small Phillips screwdriver
- Wire cutters
- Wire strippers (or just use the cutters to remove the wire ends)
- Sharpies or other permanent markers (optional - for decorating your boat)
- 12V double car fan
- 3x 2 litre drinks bottles
- Remote control double relay board (with remote)
- 8 AA battery holder (the ones with a switch are best)
- 8x AA batteries
- Screw terminal blocks
- Bag for life (heavy duty plastic shopping bag)
- Kebab stick (optional - for making flags)
- Paper/card (optional - for making flags)
- Stickers (optional - for decorating you boat)
- Duct tape
- Sellotape (clear tape)
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Step 3: Modify Your Car Fan
There are two main stages to building your airboat. One that needs a bit more adult help and another that's all about letting kids get creative and building something themselves.
The first step involves unscrewing the bottom of the car fan and making a few simple modifications. This is a bit fiddly, so is worth adults and kids doing together.
What we need to do is add in connections (using a terminal block) so that each fan can be operated independently, using our little remote control.
Check out the video to find out how do this.
Step 4: Build Build Build!
When the fan's been modified and is working with the remote control it's over to the kids to get creative and build their own boats. Check out our Big Inventor Little Inventor video to see what Evie-May and Charlie built (they're both 5).
The boats are customised floating bottle rafts onto which the newly-modified remote control fans can be mounted. Here's what you need to do to build this part:
- Tape the three 2 litre bottles together to form a raft (using Sellotape or duct tape)
- Mount the fan, relay box and battery holder onto the raft using duct tape - making sure you can get at the battery holder switch. The boat will be more stable if you keep the weight in the middle.
- Cut a large rectangular piece of plastic from one side of your shopping bag.
- Use your plastic sheet to cover and protect the electronics from splashes. Use plenty of duct tape to make sure the electronics are well protected.
- Cut a small hole in your plastic sheet so you can get at the battery holder switch (this is the ON/OFF switch for your airboat).
Step 5: Customise Your Airboat
Now it's time to customise your airboat.
Use coloured Sharpies and stickers to decorate the plastic covering and use kebab sticks, paper and card to make your own flags!
Step 6: Time for Testing
Once your boat is assembled, decorated and working it's time to test it!
There's a knack to controlling the boats using one fan at a time, but once you get the hang of it it's pretty addictive. You can adjust how the boats work by manually turning your fans to face different directions.
To test our boats we stuck some rubber ducks in a pond and challenged Evie-May and Charlie to bump into as many as possible in a minute.
Let us know if you build your own airboat. We'd love to see it.
Note: Always be careful around water (particularly with kids) and be careful not to get the electronics in your boat wet.