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AquaCraft Mini Rio Offshore RTR Boat Review

Allan Wright reviews the Aquacraft Mini Rio Offshore RTR Boat package from Hobbico!

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Introduction


Length:16"
Width:4.75"
Weight:17 oz. RTR
Servos:One
Transmitter:Included
Receiver:Pre-Installed
Battery:6s 1100 NiMh
Motor:380 Brushed
ESC:Integral with Rx
Manufacturer:Hobbico / AquaCraft Models
Available From:Great Planes Distributors and finer hobby stores
Retail Price:$99.99

The Aquacraft Mini Rio Offshore RTR is a compact electric racing boat with a semi-scale design modeled after offshore ocean racing boats. The Mini Rio's box and website state that the boat provides "Superboat thrills - Race Anywhere Size" while also being "Ready to Run - No Building Required." That's a lot to live up to, but the Mini Rio stands up to these claims very well.

RTR Package Contents and Model Walk Around

As you can see from these photos, the Mini Rio hull comes set up from the factory, and the Ready to Run (RTR) package comes complete with everything needed to start boating immediately. The Mini Rio is indeed "Ready to Run - No Building Required." The extensive colorful marking decals are even pre-installed, a step that's often left to the purchaser on other boats. At a total length of 16 inches and a hull length of only 14 inches, the Mini Rio is small enough to fit in just about any body of water, including my hot tub, which I used to get the in-water close up for this review's title picture.

Removing the top hatch, which is held on nicely by a front latch that is released by hand without tools, reveals two additional round watertight hatches. Both of these contain foam-rubber seals that keep water out even if the Mini Rio becomes inverted or partially submerged in the water. These seals proved to be more than adequate both in testing and while piloting the boat,.

Inside, the 380-size brushed motor comes pre-installed with the water cooling system already set up from the factory. Under way, the Mini Rio circulates water vigorously through the cooling tube, and the water can easily be seen exiting the starboard exit tube. Power is transferred to the propeller via a cable drive instead of a shaft with universal joints. This is the first boat I've used with this system, and I was impressed that it was so free of vibration.

The installed receiver contains an integral ESC for the brushed motor. This makes for a neat installation, but would require replacement of both the receiver and the ESC if you later want to install a brushless motor. The steering servo is a standard Hobbico servo that connects to the receiver through an extension - no worries here about upgrading or replacing the servo.

Looking at the business end of the Mini Rio, everything you would expect to see in a larger RC boat is here including twin rudders. The propeller is extended from the transom via a brass tube giving a good thrust line. Also present is the water pickup tube for the cooling system - the faster you go the more cooling your motor needs and receives. It's a simple but effective solution used in many electric RC racing boats.

The provided Aquacraft transmitter is a base model two-channel 27 mHz with a trim knob for the rudder. The transmitter takes eight (8) AA dry cells. There are no rate adjustment controls or servo reversing switches on the transmitter. Although neither is needed for the Mini Rio, they would be welcome additions if the transmitter were to be used with other boats.

Set-up

Boat

The only setup other than charging the battery that has to be done before you can use the Mini Rio is to insert the stiff plastic antenna tube into the pre-installed rubber antenna mount. The antenna assembly comes from the factory with the antenna routed from the receiver through the hull and pre-installed into the support tube. The instruction manual suggests lubricating the tube with vegetable oil and then pressing it into the rubber mount. I was unable to get my antenna tube to insert using this method without fear of applying too much force.

My solution was to remove the rubber retention cap from the top of the antenna tube and slide the tube off the antenna wire. I then removed the rubber mount also sliding it off of the antenna wire. I installed the tube and mount in the reverse order. Once they were installed this way, I was able to slide the mount over the tube easily and reinstall the mount with the tube inside of it. I completed the installation by replacing the rubber retention cap on the top of the tube. The rubber mount plug is shaped such that installing the tube from the 'inside' of the mount was much easier. I did this entire procedure in less than five minutes while I was waiting for the battery to charge for the first time.

Radio Set Up

The radio, with its integral speed control comes pre-installed and prewired to the steering servo, which is also pre-installed. The only thing I did was check the transmitter trim to insure that center trim was centered on the rudders. My Mini Rio required no adjustments and was good to go out of the box. If adjustments are necessary they are made by loosening up the Allen screws on the rudder control horns and rotating the rudders before retightening the Allen screws. This allows for independent adjustment of both rudders.

Charger Use and Battery Installation

The supplied charger is a peak detecting charger that runs from a 12-volt source with a cigarette lighter plug on the 12-volt source lead. There are no switches or buttons; you simply plug the charger into a 12-volt source and then plug the battery into the charger. I charged both from my car and from my 12-volt power supply without problems. The six-cell 1100 mAh battery comes off the charger moderately warm, but no warmer than when I charge it with my computerized battery chargers. The peak charger does have an indicator LED and an audible tone to alert you when charging is complete. I was surprised to find these features in a charger included in such an affordable package.

The battery is installed into the hull of the boat using hook and loop fasteners that are pre-installed. There is plenty of room to adjust the center of gravity (CG) of the boat by sliding the battery fore to aft in the hull. I'll discuss this more in the boating section of the review.

Boating

The two areas I use my RC boats most are a small pond at my father's house and our town beach on a local lake that has a small fishing dock. When trying out a new model, I always opt for my father's pond where I have easy access to a canoe for retrieval should I have problems during my initial testing or on my shake out cruises.

Range Check

Knowing the maximum safe range for my boats is very important for me because I often use my boats at our town beach where I do not have access to a full-sized boat with which to retrieve my models should I go out of range. I found that a range check with the transmitter's antenna half extended resulted in a promising 40 yards, and at full extension I was able to cruise out to 80 yards while retaining full control. Keep in mind that at 80 yards the 14-inch hull is small enough that navigation becomes difficult because of visibility limitations.

One very nice feature of the receiver in the Mini Rio is that when the boat gets near the receiver's range limit the receiver starts pulsing the throttle while retaining full rudder control. This gives you a good margin of safety to return back into range before you lose control of the boat. In practice I have found the 80-yard range more than adequate considering the boat’s small size and fast speed. Except for intentional range tests, I haven't had need to take advantage of this feature.

Sink Tests

The second thing I like to know is if I'm going to have to get my swim fins and diving mask should something happen while I'm piloting my model boat. Since I'd prefer not to have to do this I put each boat through what I like to call my sink test. In the case of the Mini Rio that consisted of a bow-first drop from 5 feet into the water. The Mini Rio passed the sink test easily. When I opened the hatches after the test, the inside of the hull was completely dry.

Although not planned, I am also able to attest to the hatches' water tightness while boating, as I inverted the Mini Rio when I accidentally collided with a partially submerged duck decoy that I was using as a racing pylon. The Mini Rio stayed inverted for more than five minutes while I rowed out to it in a canoe to retrieve it. Inside, the hull remained completely dry even after this extended period upside down in the water.

First Impressions

There were two things that surprised me when I first piloted the Mini Rio. First was that once the boat gets up "on step", it's surprisingly fast for such a small boat. The efficiency of the hull on plane is such that once the hull is planing, you can reduce the throttle significantly and still remain on plane, giving you a nice range of throttle choices to use when maneuvering. That said I, wouldn't be honest if I didn't admit to having a strong affinity to push the "pedal to the metal" on the Mini Rio. Its speed is quite addicting.

The second thing that surprised me was that the Mini Rio's built-in ESC doesn't have reverse. While this wasn't a significant problem for me once I realized it, I ended up in the weeds the first time I pushed forward on the throttle trigger looking for reverse. Proper prior planning in my routes has kept me out of trouble since. Considering the very affordable price of the Mini Rio package, it's understandable that the ESC doesn't have reverse.

Speed

The Mini Rio's speed is surprising for the boat's size. It's fast enough that I had no troubles crossing the entire cove at my father's pond quickly - superboat thrills indeed. The Mini Rio is definitely big boat speed in a little package. Compared to the Tower Hobbies Turbo Vee 3 that I reviewed last fall, the Mini Rio maintains a respectable scale speed in comparison. While Turbo Vee is approximately 25 percent faster, it weighs in at twice the weight and about twice the displacement making the Mini Rio's speed quite impressive if you consider the scale of the two boats.

Considering the Mini Rio's speed, I would think it would be very unlikely that you could race two of them in smaller residential swimming pools. Larger residential pools and school or municipal pools would be a great match for racing the Mini Rio, as would any small backyard pond of a quarter acre or more. In the pond and lake I use the Mini Rio's speed had the small boat feeling quite at home in larger spaces. It also is a great choice if you have access to multiple sites of varying size in which to use your RC boats.

Maneuverability

The twin rudder system on the Mini Rio gives excellent turning response. If desired, you can turn so sharply that you can shrug off most of your speed and do hairpin turns under power turning in just over a boat length. This maneuverability would allow you to use the Mini Rio in smaller swimming pools by taking advantage of the small turning radius of the boat to keep its speed in check in tight quarters.

One of the things I found when pushing the envelope in my turns is that battery placement in the Mini Rio has a significant effect on the boat's top speed and ability to carve smooth turns. With the battery in its stern-most position, the boat is the fastest in a straight line, but sharp turns have a tendency to pull the prop out of the water and oscillate the hull through the sharpest turns. With the battery in its forward-most position, the boat is rock solid in any turn at any speed but loses a significant amount of top-end speed because more of the hull is in contact with the water while the boat is at planing speed. I found optimal "sweet spot" that gave me stable turns and very good top-end speed somewhere between these two extremes. I could see two or more people each tuning their Mini Rios to their own piloting style and this tuning adding a significant amount of sport to head-to-head racing match ups. Considering this, I could definitely see me getting a second Mini Rio for matched racing with a friend.

Is This For a Beginner?

The Mini Rio is definitely a great start for anyone looking to get into RC boating. In addition to being a complete package with everything needed to start, the boat is truly ready to run right out of the box. Everything that needs to be done to start boating can be done in less time than it takes to charge the battery the first time you open the box. The included transmitter and battery charger are simple to use and easy to understand for the first-time RC boat owner.

In addition to the easy setup, the Mini Rio is also beginner friendly in the water. The watertight hatches keep beginner pilots safe should they find themselves inverted in the water due to collisions with other objects. The boat is virtually impossible to invert in the open water even under the most aggressive maneuvers. As an experienced RC boater, I can also say that just because the Mini Rio is easy to use doesn't limit the possibilities for beginners to continue to enjoy the boat as they become more experienced. I found tuning the boat by adjusting the CG to match my piloting style quite fun, and the speed and maneuverability of the boat keeps me entertained even at my more advanced experience level.

Boating Video/Photo Gallery

Downloads

Conclusion

The Aquacraft Mini Rio Offshore RTR more than lives up to its claims of "Superboat Thrills" and "Ready to Run - No Assembly Required." While I consider it too fast to "race" anywhere, it certainly is maneuverable enough to use anywhere. The surprising speed and compact size of the Mini Rio makes this boat a favorite of mine for visits to local ponds, and also makes it a great boat to bring with me when traveling in my RV to use at campground pools and ponds. The completeness of the RTR package makes the Mini Rio an excellent choice for first-time RC boat owners.

Pluses:

  • Speed - the speed of the Mini Rio is very impressive for the boat's size
  • Maneuverability - the twin rudders make for very nimble turns
  • Instant Gratification - The Mini Rio is ready to run out of the box in less time than it takes to charge the battery
  • Value - the RTR package comes complete at a very modest price

Minuses:

  • No Reverse on the included ESC
  • Transmitter lacks adjustable servo rates
Last edited by Angela H; Sep 05, 2008 at 01:19 PM..

Discussion

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Old Sep 05, 2008, 10:13 PM
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Michael Heer's Avatar
Stockton, Ca. USA
Joined Apr 2001
9,602 Posts
Nice review Allan, looks like a fun boat and looks like it might be slightly faster then my Ridge Racer. Very close speed wise, would have to see them together to be sure. Both have the same nice water proof hull closing design. Mike H.
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Old Sep 06, 2008, 03:55 PM
ok, maybe it is a toy
rob mueller's Avatar
Alberta, Canada
Joined Oct 2002
1,488 Posts
Great review.

1. Great and simple speed upgrade is the 35 mm props (2 in a package for $5) from Minicatracingusa.com

2. I also run 2s 1320 Lipo for a bit less wieght= faster to get "on step" and bit more speed.

3. I removed the left rudder so less drag. At slow speed it takes longer to make a turn, but most of the time we are driving it when it is "on step" and on plane and 1 rudder works great...and a is a bit faster.

4. I flipped my Mini Rio a couple times on some waves and the outer hatch was ejected even though the it was closed with the plactic tab. It sinks. So I ordered a new outer hatch and now have a piece of foam CA'd to the inside of it so it floats. Small piece of electrical tape would work too.

5. Oh, also!! I like driving left handed. It is easy to remove the top of the Tx by removing the screws and turning the whole head 180 degrees so the wheel is on the left side and reinstall the screws and good to go!
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Last edited by rob mueller; Sep 06, 2008 at 07:36 PM.
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Old Sep 07, 2008, 11:49 AM
Closed Account
Joined Jul 2006
1,474 Posts
Nice unit except for one thing! I asked to get a replacement hull and was told , i would have to buy a whole new unit, no individual parts are sold. The Mini-V i have using a Grauper race 480 motor which is modded with a Grauper prop S29 ( 629 prop ) is fast enough for me and parts and hull can be bought separately. Weak link on V is the rx and the servo are one unit which is 4 wire. Now other than that, is a good deal.
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Old Sep 07, 2008, 01:28 PM
ok, maybe it is a toy
rob mueller's Avatar
Alberta, Canada
Joined Oct 2002
1,488 Posts
Quote:
Originally Posted by retoabcr
Nice unit except for one thing! I asked to get a replacement hull and was told , i would have to buy a whole new unit, no individual parts are sold. The Mini-V i have using a Grauper race 480 motor which is modded with a Grauper prop S29 ( 629 prop ) is fast enough for me and parts and hull can be bought separately. Weak link on V is the rx and the servo are one unit which is 4 wire. Now other than that, is a good deal.
Of course you can buy replacement parts. http://www.aquacraftmodels.com/boats/aqub15-parts.html
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Old Sep 07, 2008, 01:45 PM
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Joined Jul 2006
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By gol, you can. When first came out, they told me no parts. Now the hull from the parts list, isn't listed. Now if memory serves me correct, Kmot also said hull can't be bought separately in a posting some time ago. I'm glad parts can be bought. I shelved mine up in the rafters when i got the reply sometime ago!
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Old Sep 07, 2008, 07:23 PM
some what irregular
dostacos's Avatar
Diamond Bar, California
Joined Feb 2004
1,026 Posts
Quote:
Originally Posted by retoabcr
By gol, you can. When first came out, they told me no parts. Now the hull from the parts list, isn't listed. Now if memory serves me correct, Kmot also said hull can't be bought separately in a posting some time ago. I'm glad parts can be bought. I shelved mine up in the rafters when i got the reply sometime ago!
if you really need a hull you might try BBYs micro patriot
http://www.bbyracing.com/elecmicrohulls.asp
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Old Sep 07, 2008, 09:57 PM
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Joined Jul 2006
1,474 Posts
I have a spare BBY micro hull and one bby micro done. The bby micro has lots of room but to balance everything in the bby is a real chore. That is why it has big turn fins and trim tabs. I like to keep things low in boats for stability but the micro needs 1400 c cells soldered end to end in saddle packs formation which adds weight. I shelved that done micro. Is that better Kmot!
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Last edited by Mikedown; Sep 08, 2008 at 06:35 AM.
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Old Sep 07, 2008, 10:16 PM
Grumpa Tom
Kmot's Avatar
United States, CA, Los Angeles
Joined Sep 2003
23,995 Posts
retoabcr: Mine is not brushless powered. It has a brushed motor and uses the stock esc/Rx.
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Old Sep 08, 2008, 06:32 AM
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Oops, sorry, i thought i read in a on hansen lake, yours was bl. Now for esc/rx, i didn't mention that.
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Old Sep 08, 2008, 07:59 AM
Registered User
Ohio
Joined May 2003
2,083 Posts
Reminds me of the Reef Racer 2, but with surface drive.

I never did like the combo RX and ESC in one package.

Ed
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