Before humankind could ride a locomotive, travel broadly in the air, or fly a rocket to outer space, we had to learn to take on the daunting waters of the world and set sail by the seven seas. Boats have been around for centuries, with the earliest variations tracing back to the Stone Age. Since around 70% of the Earth’s surface is water, there’s no doubt as to why man began the endeavor to travel by water on the world’s raging rivers, steady streams, and expansive oceans.

The earliest seafaring folks traveled on open waters with open boats—prehistoric vessels similar to modern-day canoes or rafts. These vessels were either made out of the trunks of trees, logs of bamboo, or the reeds of papyrus plants, with people using their hands as paddles and long poles for pushing and initiating movement. Flash forward a few centuries, and tiny boats turned into large ships with sails that changed maritime history forever. Ancient mariners were diligent craftsmen, recurrently advancing vessels with design and ingenuity to create ships that could eventually sail anywhere from everywhere.

Due to incessant innovation and advanced technology, we remarkably have the modern ships and boats we know today. Ranging from cruise ships, military ships, and cargo ships to yachts, hovercrafts, motorboats, propeller boats, and jet-powered boats, these mighty vessels provide endless transportation, sports, leisure, and relaxation opportunities. Let’s take a closer look at the history behind water jet boats and their contemporary usage today.

What Is a Jet Boat?

Jet boats? What are those? A larger kind of jet ski? To uncover the history behind water jet boats, we must first define what exactly a jet boat is. Jet boats are a specific type of recreational boat that moves by propelling powerful jet streams of water from the back or stern of the vessel. This boat’s inboard engine system is where the water vessel gets its name. The engine propulsion system has a pump that expels the jet of the water to thrust itself forward. Because of their unique design, jet boats offer a wide array of advantages that boaters cannot find with other contemporary systems.

The Characteristics of a Jet Boat

While the term “jet” brings up images of rockets and airplanes, this jet is slightly different. Jet boats offer relative ease of maneuverability with high efficiency throughout use. This is due to their characteristic of a shallow draught—which is the depth of the lowest-level component—meaning the bottom of the boat is not far below the established waterline. This flat bottom surface sits almost directly on the water, allowing the craft to navigate shallow waters for a stable and comfortable ride.

In addition, the absence of propellers and rudders diminishes the amount of drag, allowing the craft to accelerate quickly and reach medium-high planning speeds swiftly and easily. This advantage is incredibly significant for the safety of people on board, boaters on other vessels, swimmers in the water, and marine life below the surface. Besides 1 or 2 passenger recreational jet skis, jet boats remain popular today for passenger ferries, travel excursions, and scenic tour boats on various lakes, oceans, and remote river areas.

Hero’s Engine: The Principle Behind Jet Engines

The concept behind the modern jet boat and its development design traces back in history to a Greek scientist and mathematician called Heron of Alexandria. In the first century B.C., Heron, also known as Hero, built an engine called an “aeolipile” or “wind ball.”

Though this device was unusable for everyday applications at this time, many believe this great invention was the first working steam engine in the world. The principle behind Hero’s engine (force equals mass times acceleration) is remarkably similar to today’s modern jet propulsion engine system, as the high-speed escaping steam generated forward thrust according to Newton’s second and third laws of motion.

Can you believe that a steam engine powered the first-ever jet-powered boat? The birthplace came from a technology invented by James Rumsey after the American Revolutionary War. By creating a vacuum inside a steam cylinder, outside air pressure was efficiently pushed water out of the pump near the boat stern to thrust the boat forward. This pumping principle would serve as the design concept for future jet propulsion engine systems.

When Jet Boats Came To the Scene

The jet boat as we know it today came about in the 1950s. Sir William Hamilton of New Zealand invented this system for his craft to better navigate the shallow and rocky waters of a local river without a conventional boat propeller. His first jet unit utilized a pump—operated by bevel gear—and was attached to a boat powered by a Ford engine. While he based the idea on a former American jet unit, the complete switch of part locations did the trick to make the idea into a revolutionary reality. Pretty ingenious, right?

While these crafted vessels became more and more advanced over the decades since their initial invention, they didn’t become well-notarized in recreational boating until the 1990s. Due to advanced technology, their mainstream allure of thrilling acceleration, efficient safety power, and jet propulsion remains strong today.

River Jet Boat Tours

On rivers across America, you can encounter adventure jet boat tours for sightseeing spectacular scenery and wildlife. While learning about a destination’s history and geology on the water, tour guests can enjoy a variety of activities. Fun for all interests and all ages, the thrill of these one-of-a-kind ventures can’t be beat.

For the true adventure of a lifetime, join us for exciting jet boat rides in Hells Canyon on the Snake River. Here at River Adventures, our professional tour guides are ready to show you a side of the canyon you won’t encounter anywhere else on our USCG-certified jet boats. Hells Canyon rightfully earns its name for its harsh wilderness, roaring rapids, and ultimate natural beauty and wonder. Not to mention that it is the deepest canyon in North America, full of rich history and epic river lore of survival, hope, and perseverance.

For an exhilarating, adventurous day on the river, book a trip with us to experience all this incredible place can offer. Give us a call today to find out more or reserve your spot. We’ll see you out there!

The History Behind Water Jet Boats