The world’s fastest boat & the race for the water speed record

Water speed record: the race to be the world's fastest...

What’s the fastest you’ve ever gone on the open water? 70mph? 100? Faster?

For me, that answer is probably somewhere in the 70mph range, and wow, does that speed feel a lot faster in a boat than when I’m in a car cruising down the interstate.

As spring sets in and we get ready to hit the lake for the first time this year, I wondered: what’s the fastest anyone has ever gone on the water? And who was the madman or woman who set the water speed record?

And that’s the subject for this Boat Lovers Direct “Fact Friday”…

The heart-racing and heart-breaking history of boat racing

As with cars, there is a long history of boat racers, financiers, and national rivalries surrounding the water speed record going back to the early 1900s.

The race to be the “world’s fastest” on the water intensified in the 1920s and 30s when Lord Wakefield, the Chairman of Britain’s Castrol Oil company, set out to take the prize from the famed America racer Gar Wood and his Miss America boat. On June 13, 1930 they succeeded: Miss England II piloted by Sir Henry Seagrave hit a speed of 98.76 mph.

The title would go back and forth between America and England over the next decade. Two British racers died before Gar Wood took the title back to the US when his new Miss America X hit 124.86 mph powered by four supercharged Packard airplane engines.

The Brits and Americans would drastically improve boat engine technology and hull design over the next 50 years in the constant race to be the fastest. No other country put up a challenge to their water speed record supremacy… until 1977.

A new champion emerges: Australia's Ken Warby

On November 20, 1977 a previously unknown Australian, Ken Warby, beat the world record by about 2 mph at 288.6 mph using a boat he’d built in his backyard without sponsors (the Spirit of Australia). After breaking the world record, Warby soon found the sponsor funding necessary to improve his boat’s design even further and shatter his own world record a year later at an incredible 317 mph. Woah!

Warby’s record has stood for an astonishing 34 years, despite many attempts to beat it. Dozens of racers have died trying. In fact, the race to beat the world water speed record is considered to be perhaps the most hazardous in the professional sporting world, with an approximate fatality rate of 85% for all racers since 1940 (ladies don’t marry a boat racer unless you’re prepared for some serious heart break).

Who will the new water speed record holder be?

What people and country will finally break Warby’s incredible record? Who knows. But one thing is certain: the record will eventually be broken and new technologies will emerge from the effort that we all will get to enjoy on our own watercraft.

Next time you hit 70mph in a boat, give a hat tip to Ken Warby, the living legend from Australia, and try to imagine what it would feel like to hit 317 mph on the open water!

Want to protect your speed boat?

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Question: What’s the fastest speed you’ve ever been on the water? Let us know in the comments below.

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