Stories from the Field: Niagara River Boat Races

Written by Miranda, Niagara River Steward

September 4, 2014

The boat races on the Niagara River are an annual event that occurs every summer in the City of North Tonawanda. This event brings people from all around the country who enjoy the sport of hydroplane boat racing. Local vendors set up, bringing in delicious food and crafts and making it an event for all.  It also helps our local businesses in the city of North Tonawanda. There was a 1 ¼ mile race course for the boats; it had flag signals for time and instruction that told the racers specific information during the races. The boats complete between 3-5 laps each race. When the hydroplane boats are racing they create a rooster tail, this is a long plume of water that can be up to 4 boat lengths. Certain boats can reach speeds up to 170 mph during these races. This is an extremely dangerous sport. On the last race of the second day a boat caught wind and ended up doing a 360 degree turn in the air. Luckily the driver was not harmed, but the boat was severely damaged.


Boat race                                                                   

Above: Boats racing on the Niagara River in the City of North Tonawanda.

Photo Credit: Miranda Papp.

On the first day of the races there was inclement weather, so unfortunately only two races went on and the rest had to be canceled. Even though the weather was poor there still were people who showed interest in the invasive species table. The second day had a great turnout. Races occurred all day and the weather was amazing. This is the day I met a lot of great people who expressed interest in what our Boat Steward Program does. Many people asked which invasive species were in our area, how we decrease their numbers, where boat stewards were located, and many others. Everyone that I met was extremely friendly and showed a high level of interest.  I had about an equal number of people who knew about invasive species as those who didn’t. Therefore I got a lot of information out to people who didn’t know about the invasive species issue and the harm that it does. People from other states told me about the water bodies near their homes and similar problems that they deal with due to invasive species. It was nice to hear other people’s stories and encounters that they have had.

Altogether this was probably my favorite event and the one I felt people were most interested in. Doing public events such as the boat races reaches the target audience that we want because it is people that value the water systems in a different way. I was able to have great conversations with people who know about the problems, and I had the opportunity to hear their own personal stories.  I found it very rewarding to be able to educate people who knew little or nothing about the invasive species issues. That’s exactly why this program exists!

Anatomy of a hydroplane boat

Above: Anatomy of a hydroplane boat. 

Boat Types

  1. Grand Prix: hulls are a maximum of 26’ long and 12.5’ wide. Internal combustion engine with a maximum size of 468 cubic inches. A top speed of 170 mph. Mostly run in the Great Lakes region.
  2. “H and E” Hydro 350: hulls are a minimum of 16’ long and weigh no less than 1450lbs. Engine is a GM 305 cubic inch V-8 with a four barrel carburetor. A top speed of 120 mph. Most competitive class of inboard hydroplane racing.
  3. Pro-Stock/CanAm: hulls a maximum of 20 feet long. Motors can be a maximum of 500 cubic inches. This class has special rules set up and enforced by the A.C.T.O.N. Board.
  4. “T & CT- class” 1.5 liter stock: hulls are a minimum of 13’6’’ long and must weigh a minimum of 750lbs. Top speed of 90 mph. Mostly runs on the east coast.
  5. “S and CS class” 2.5L Stock: hulls are a minimum of 13’ long and weigh a minimum of 975lbs. this class is promoted for the purpose of establishing a low cost stock class engine for racing. Top speed of 110 mph.



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