Water speed record

The world unlimited Water Speed Record is the officially recognised fastest speed achieved by a water-borne vehicle, irrespective of propulsion method. The current unlimited record is 511.11 km/h (317.59 mph), achieved by Australian Ken Warby in the Spirit of Australia in 1978.

The actual Spirit of Australia in which Ken Warby set the world water speed record in 1978 on Blowering Dam, New South Wales, Australia, on display in the Australian Maritime Museum in Sydney

The record is one of the sporting world's most hazardous competitions. Of the thirteen people who have attempted the record since June 1930, seven have died. There have been two official attempts to beat Ken Warby's 1978 record, and both resulted in the death of the pilot; Lee Taylor (1980) and Craig Arfons (1989). Despite this, there are several teams currently working to make further attempts.

The record is ratified by the Union Internationale Motonautique (UIM).

Before 1910Edit

William Cogswell's steam yacht Feiseen, which set a new world speed record on 25 August 1893 of 50.8 km/h (31.6 mph)

Until 1911 the world water speed records were held by steam-powered, propeller-driven vehicles.[1]


In 1911, a 12 m (40 ft) stepped planing hull, Dixie IV, designed by Clinton Crane, became the first gasoline-powered vessel to break the water speed record.[citation needed]

In March 1911, the Maple Leaf III, which was powered by two twelve-cylinder motors producing 350hp each, set a new water speed record of 57 mph (92 km/h) at The Solent.[3]

Beginning in 1908 Alexander Graham Bell and engineer Frederick W. "Casey" Baldwin began experimenting with powered watercraft. In 1919, with Baldwin piloting their HD-4 hydrofoil, a new world water speed record of 114.0 km/h (70.86 mph) was set on Bras d'Or Lake at Baddeck, Nova Scotia.


In 1920, Garfield Wood set a new water speed record of 71.43 mph (114.96 km/h) on the Detroit River, using a new boat called Miss America.[4] In the following twelve years, Wood built nine more Miss Americas and broke the record five times.[citation needed] Increased public interest generated by the speeds achieved by Wood and others led to an official speed record being ratified in 1928. The first person to try a record attempt was Wood's brother, George. On 4 September 1928, he drove Miss America VII to 149.40 km/h (92.8 mph) on the Detroit River.[5] The next year, Gar Wood took the same boat up a waterway Indian Creek, Miami Beach and reached 149.86 km/h (93.12 mph).[6]


Like the land speed record, the water record was destined to become a scrap for national honour between the United Kingdom and the United States. American success in setting records spurred Castrol Oil chairman Lord Wakefield to sponsor a project to bring the water record to Britain. Famed land speed racer and racing driver Sir Henry Segrave was hired to pilot a new boat, Miss England. Although the boat was not capable of beating Wood's Miss America,[7] the British team did gain experience, which was put into an improved boat. Miss England II was powered by two Rolls-Royce aircraft engines and seemed capable of beating Wood's record.[8]

On 13 June 1930 Segrave piloted Miss England II to a new record of 158.94 km/h (98.8 mph) average speed during two runs on Windermere, in Britain's Lake District. Having set the record, Segrave set off on a third run to try to improve the record further. Unfortunately during the run, the boat flipped, with both Segrave and his co-driver receiving fatal injuries.[9]

Following Segrave's death, Miss England II was salvaged and repaired. Kaye Don was chosen as the new driver for 1931. However, during this time, Gar Wood recaptured the record for the U.S. at 164.41 km/h (102.16 mph). A month later on Lake Garda, Don got the record back with 177.387 km/h (110.2 mph). In February 1932, Wood responded, nudging the mark to 179.779 km/h (111.709 mph).

In response to the continued American challenge, the British team built a new boat, Miss England III. The design was an evolution of the predecessor, with a squared-off stern and twin propellers being the main improvements. Don took the new boat to Loch Lomond, Scotland, on 18 July 1932, improved the record first to 188.985 km/h (117.430 mph), then to 192.816 km/h (119.810 mph) on a second run.[clarification needed]

Determined to have the last word over his great rival, Gar Wood built another new Miss America. Miss America X was 12 metres (39 ft) long, powered by four supercharged Packard aeroplane engines.[10][11] On 20 September 1932 Wood broke the 200 km/h (120 mph) barrier, driving his new boat to 200.943 km/h (124.860 mph). It would prove the end of an era. Don declined to attempt any further records. Wood also opted to scale down his involvement in racing and returned to running his businesses. Somewhat ironically, both record-breakers lived into their 90s. Wood died in 1971, Don in 1985.

Boat design changesEdit

Wood's last record would be one of the final records for a conventional, single-keel boat. In June 1937 Malcolm Campbell, the world-famous land speed record breaker, drove Blue Bird K3 to a new record of 203.31 km/h (126.33 mph) at Lake Maggiore. Compared to the massive Miss America X, K3 was a much more compact craft. It was 5 metres shorter and had one engine to X's four.

Despite his success, Campbell was unsatisfied by the relatively small increase in speed. He commissioned a new Blue Bird to be built. Blue Bird K4 was a ‘three pointer’ hydroplane. Unlike conventional powerboats, which have a single keel, with an indent, or ‘step’, cut from the bottom to reduce drag, a hydroplane has a concave base with two sponsons fitted to the front, and a third point at the rear of the hull. When the boat increases in speed, most of the hull lifts out of the water and runs on the three contact points. The positive effect is a reduction in drag; the downside is that the three-pointer is much less stable than the single keel boat. If the hydroplane's angle of attack is upset at speed, the craft can somersault into the air, or nose-dive into the water.

Campbell's new boat was a success. In 1939, on the eve of the Second World War, he took it to Coniston Water and increased his record by 18 km/h (11 mph), to 228.11 km/h (141.74 mph).


The return of peace in 1945 brought with it a new form of power for the record breaker – the jet engine. Campbell immediately renovated Blue Bird K4 with a De Havilland Goblin jet engine. The result was a curious-looking craft, whose shoe-like profile led to it being nicknamed ‘The Coniston Slipper’. The experiment with jet-power was not a success and Campbell retired from record-attempts. He died in 1948.


Slo-Mo-Shun IV on display at Seattle's Museum of History and Industry
The Allison V-1710 aircraft engine that powered Slo-Mo-Shun IV

On 26 June 1950, Slo-Mo-Shun IV improved on Campbell's record by 29 km/h (18 mph). Powered by an Allison V-1710 aircraft engine, the boat was built by Seattle Chrysler dealer Stanley Sayres and was able to run 260 km/h (160 mph) because her hull was designed to lift the top of the propeller out of water when running at high speed. This phenomenon, called ‘prop riding’, further reduced drag.

In 1952, Sayres drove Slo-Mo-Shun to 287.25 km/h (178.49 mph), a 29 km/h (18 mph) increase on his previous record.

The renewed American success persuaded Malcolm Campbell's son, Donald, who had already driven Blue Bird K4 to within sight of his father's record, to make a further push for the record. However, Blue Bird K4 was by now 12 years old, with a 20-year-old engine, and Campbell struggled to reach the speeds of the Seattle-built boat. In late 1951, it was written off after suffering a structural failure at 270 km/h (170 mph) on Coniston Water.

At this time, yet another land speed driver entered the fray. Englishman John Cobb, was hoping to reach 320 km/h (200 mph) in his jet-powered Crusader. A radical design, the Crusader reversed the ‘three-pointer’ design, placing the sponsons at the rear of the hull. On 29 September 1952 Cobb tried to beat the world record on Loch Ness but, while travelling at an estimated 338 km/h (210 mph), Crusader's front plane collapsed and the craft instantly disintegrated. Cobb was retrieved from the water but had already died of shock.

Two years later, on 8 October 1954, another man would die trying for the record. Italian textile magnates Mario Verga and Francesco Vitetta, responding to a prize offer of 5 million lire from the Italian Motorboat Federation to any Italian who broke the world record, built a sleek piston-engined hydroplane to claim the record. Named Laura III, after Verga's daughter, the boat was fast but unstable. Travelling across Lake Iseo, in Northern Italy, at close to 306 km/h (190 mph), Verga lost control of Laura III, and was thrown out into the water when the boat somersaulted. Like Cobb, he died of shock.

Following Cobb's death, Donald Campbell started working on a new Bluebird, K7, a jet-powered hydroplane. Learning the many lessons from Cobb's ill-starred Crusader, K7 was designed as a classic 3 pointer with sponsons forward alongside the cockpit. She was designed by Ken and Lewis Norris in 1953-54 and was completed in early 1955. She was powered by a Metropolitan-Vickers Beryl turbojet of 16 kN (3,500 lbf) thrust. K7 was of all-metal construction and proved to have extremely high rigidity.

Campbell and K7 set a new record of 325.60 km/h (202.32 mph) on Ullswater in July 1955. Campbell and K7 went on to break the record a further six times over the next nine years in the US and England (Coniston Water), finally increasing it to 444.71 km/h (276.33 mph) at Lake Dumbleyung in Western Australia in 1964. Campbell thus became the most prolific water speed record breaker of all time.

At the time Campbell set the absolute record, the piston-powered propeller-driven record was held by the George Simons' Miss U.S. I [12] at 322.54 km/h (200.42 mph). This record was set at Guntersville, Alabama in 1962 by Roy Duby and stood for 38 years.


Lee Taylor of the United States reached 285.22 miles per hour (459.02 km/h) in Hustler on Lake Guntersville on 30 June 1967.

Donald Campbell's Bluebird K7 had been re-engined with a Bristol Siddeley Orpheus jet rated at 4,500 lbf (20 kN) of thrust. On 4 January 1967 he tried again. His first run averaged 475.2 km/h (295.3 mph) and a new record seemed in sight. Campbell applied K7's water brake to slow the craft down from her peak speed of 507 km/h (315 mph) clear of the measured kilometre to a speed around 350 km/h (220 mph). Rather than waiting for the lake to settle again before starting the mandatory return leg, Campbell immediately turned around at the end of the lake and began his return run. At around 512 km/h (318 mph), just as she entered the measured kilometre, Bluebird began to lose stability and 400 m before the end of the kilometre, Bluebird′s nose lifted beyond its critical pitch angle and she started to rise out of the water at a 45-degree angle. The boat took off, somersaulted and then plunged nose-first into the lake, breaking up as she cartwheeled across the surface. Campbell was killed instantly. Prolonged searches over the next two weeks located the wreck, but it was not until May 2001 that Campbell's body was finally located and recovered. Campbell was buried in the churchyard at Coniston on 12 September 2001. The 1988 television drama Across the Lake recreates the attempt.

Lee Taylor, a Californian boat racer, in Hustler during a test run on Lake Havasu on 14 April 1964, was unable to shut down the jet and crashed into the lakeside at over 161 km/h (100 mph). Hustler was wrecked and Taylor was severely injured. He spent the following years recuperating, and rebuilding his boat. On 30 June 1967, on Lake Guntersville, Taylor and Hustler tried for the record, but the wake of some spectators' boats disturbed the water, forcing Taylor to slow down his second run, and he came up 3.2 km/h (2 mph) short. He tried again later the same day and succeeded in setting a new record of 459 km/h (285 mph).

1977 and 1978Edit

Until 20 November 1977 every official water speed record had been set by an American, Canadian, Irishman, or Briton. That day Ken Warby became the first Australian holder when he piloted his Spirit of Australia to 464.46 km/h (288.6 mph; 250.8 kn)[13] to beat Lee Taylor's record. Warby, who had built the craft in his back yard, used the publicity to find sponsorship to pay for improvements to the Spirit. On 8 October 1978 Warby travelled to Blowering Dam, Australia, and broke both the 300 mph (483 km/h; 261 kn) and 500.0 km/h (311 mph; 270 kn) barriers with an average speed of 511.11 km/h (317.59 mph; 275.98 kn). As he exited the course his peak speed as measured on a radar gun was approximately 555 km/h (345 mph; 300 kn).[14][15]

Warby's record still stands. There have only been two official attempts to break it, both resulting in the death of the driver.[16]


Lee Taylor tried to get the record back in 1980. Inspired by the land speed record cars Blue Flame and Budweiser Rocket, he built a rocket-powered boat, Discovery II. The 40-foot (12 m) long craft was a reverse three-point design, similar to John Cobb's Crusader, but of much greater length.

Originally Taylor tested the boat on Walker Lake in Nevada but his backers demanded a more accessible location, so he switched to Lake Tahoe. An attempt was set for 13 November 1980, but when conditions on the lake proved unfavourable, he decided against trying for the record. Not wanting to disappoint the assembled spectators and media, he decided to do a test run instead. At 432 km/h (270 mph) Discovery II started to become unstable. It has been speculated[by whom?] that it may have hit a swell.[citation needed]. Its unstable lateral oscillations caused the left sponson to collapse, sending the boat plunging into the water. The cockpit section with Taylor's body was recovered three days later. The cockpit had not floated as intended and Taylor drowned as a result.

On 9 July 1989 Craig Arfons, son of Walt Arfons, builder of the world's first jet car, and nephew of record breaker Art Arfons, tried for the record in his all-composite fiberglass and Kevlar Rain X Challenger. At 7:07 am, less than 15 seconds into his run, the hydroplane somersaulted at more than 350 mph (560 km/h).[17]

The cockpit remained intact underwater with Arfons remaining inside upside down. Two divers from a rescue team reached the wreckage and extracted him within three minutes of the initial incident. While he still had a pulse after cardiopulmonary resuscitation was administered, he did not respond to the medical personnel. He was taken to the Highlands Regional Medical Center but was pronounced dead at 8:30 am, 1 hour and 23 minutes after the initial incident.[18]

Current projectsEdit

Despite the high fatality rate, the record is still coveted by boat enthusiasts and racers. Ongoing projects aimed at breaking the record include the following:


The British Quicksilver[19] project is managed by Nigel Macknight. The design was initially based on concepts for a rear-sponsoned configuration by Ken Norris, who had worked with the Campbells on their 'Bluebird' designs. The design is of modular construction with the main body consisting of a front section with a steel spaceframe incorporating the engine, a Rolls-Royce Spey Mk.101, and the rear section a monocoque extending to the tail. The front sponsons are also modules, one of which contains the driver.[20]

Spirit of Australia IIEdit

Ken Warby is working with his son David on a new boat, powered by a jet engine taken from a Fiat G.91, to break the record. The team currently conducting a series of trials had, as of 31 August 2019, increased the speed to 407 km/h.[21][22][23][24] Earlier in 2003, Ken Warby had built another boat, Aussie Spirit for a record attempt.[21]

K777 Team for Great BritainEdit

The K777 Team is a combination of engineers, boat racers, boat builders, gas turbine specialists and Members of Windermere Boat Racing Club.[25] They built a controversial visual copy of Donald Campbell's Bluebird K7, though during its sole public appearance on Coniston Water in 2011 it failed to plane, partially sank, and ultimately collapsed its air intake trunking. A test on Loch Ken, in south-west Scotland, in October 2014 was also unsuccessful; although the boat did not sink, it was again unable to plane.[26]

Dartagnan SP600Edit

Daniel Dehaemers was the Belgian challenger for the absolute water speed record.[27] The SP600 is of full carbon composite construction and is powered by a Rolls-Royce Adour 104 turbojet engine. The boat was planned to be tested during 2016. However, after finishing building the boat he died of cancer in 2018 before he managed to trial the craft. [28][29]

Alençon jos restarted the project in 2019 and is now finishing the project. expected enginetest mid. 2020.[30][31]


A British team, with a serving British military pilot at the helm, are working together to build and run Longbow,[32] a jet hydroplane, on lakes and lochs within the UK, for a British attempt at the water speed record.

Thrust WSHEdit

Richard Noble, engineer behind the Thrust series of land speed record cars Thrust2 which he drove, and ThrustSSC, the supersonic Land Speed Record holder since 1997, announced on a YouTube video 27 May 2022 that his group intends to construct a water speed record boat, named ThrustWSH (Water Speed Hydroplane), conforming to the naming custom of ThrustSSC (Supersonic Car). [33].

Record holdersEdit

Speed Craft Captain(s) Location Date
317.596 mph (511.121 km/h) Spirit of Australia   Ken Warby Blowering Reservoir 8 October 1978
288.60 mph (464.46 km/h) Spirit of Australia   Ken Warby Blowering Reservoir 20 November 1977
285.22 mph (459.02 km/h) Hustler   Lee Taylor Lake Guntersville 30 June 1967
276.33 mph (444.71 km/h) Bluebird K7   Donald Campbell Lake Dumbleyung 31 December 1964
260.35 mph (418.99 km/h) Bluebird K7   Donald Campbell Coniston Water 14 May 1959
248.62 mph (400.12 km/h) Bluebird K7   Donald Campbell Coniston Water 10 November 1958
239.07 mph (384.75 km/h) Bluebird K7   Donald Campbell Coniston Water 7 November 1957
225.63 mph (363.12 km/h) Bluebird K7   Donald Campbell Coniston Water 19 September 1956
216.20 mph (347.94 km/h) Bluebird K7   Donald Campbell Lake Mead 16 November 1955
202.32 mph (325.60 km/h) Bluebird K7   Donald Campbell Ullswater 23 July 1955
178.497 mph (287.263 km/h) Slo-Mo-Shun IV   Stanley Sayres, Elmer Leninschmidt Lake Washington 7 July 1952
160.323 mph (258.015 km/h) Slo-Mo-Shun IV   Stanley Sayres, Ted O. Jones Lake Washington 26 June 1950
141.74 mph (228.11 km/h) Blue Bird K4   Malcolm Campbell Coniston Water 19 August 1939
130.91 mph (210.68 km/h) Blue Bird K3   Malcolm Campbell Hallwilersee 17 September 1938
129.50 mph (208.41 km/h) Blue Bird K3   Malcolm Campbell Lake Maggiore 2 September 1937
126.32 mph (203.29 km/h) Blue Bird K3   Malcolm Campbell Lake Maggiore 1 September 1937
124.86 mph (200.94 km/h) Miss America X   Gar Wood St. Clair River 20 September 1932
119.81 mph (192.82 km/h) Miss England III   Kaye Don Loch Lomond 18 July 1932
117 mph (188 km/h) Miss England III   Kaye Don Loch Lomond 18 July 1932
111.712 mph (179.783 km/h) Miss America IX   Gar Wood Indian Creek 5 February 1932
110.223 mph (177.387 km/h) Miss England II   Kaye Don Lake Garda 31 July 1931
103.49 mph (166.55 km/h) Miss England II   Kaye Don Paraná River 15 April 1931
102.256 mph (164.565 km/h) Miss America IX   Gar Wood Indian Creek 20 March 1931
98.760 mph (158.939 km/h) Miss England II   Henry Segrave Windermere 13 June 1930
93.123 mph (149.867 km/h) Miss America VII   Gar Wood Indian Creek 23 March 1929
92.838 mph (149.408 km/h) Miss America VII   George Wood Detroit River 4 September 1928
87.392 mph (140.644 km/h) Farman Hydroglider   Jules Fisher River Seine 10 November 1924
80.567 mph (129.660 km/h) Miss America II   Gar Wood Detroit River 6 September 1921
71.43 mph (114.96 km/h) Miss America   Gar Wood Detroit River 15 September 1920
70.86 mph (114.04 km/h) HD-4   Casey Baldwin Bras d'Or Lake 19 September 1919
57 mph (92 km/h) The Maple Leaf III   Sir Edward Mackay Edgar The Solent March 1911

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d Field, Leslie (15 August 2008). "The World Water Speed Record". Hydroplane History. Archived from the original on 25 October 2008. Retrieved 13 November 2008.
  2. ^ "Yachts Built by Wood" (PDF). International Yacht Restoration School. 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 March 2009. Retrieved 1 September 2008.
  3. ^ "Maple Leaf III Here". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 18 August 1911. Retrieved 26 July 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  4. ^ "New World's Record Is Made". The Journal and Tribune. 15 September 1920. Retrieved 26 July 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  5. ^ "Gar Wood's Speed Boat Shatters All Records". The Columbus Telegram. 4 September 1928. Retrieved 26 July 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  6. ^ "Gar Wood Sets New Speed Boat Record". The Nebraska State Journal. 26 March 1929. Retrieved 26 July 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  7. ^ Martin, Robert E. (June 1929). The Speediest Craft Afloat. Popular Science Monthly. pp. 20–21, 146. Archived from the original on 24 March 2017. Retrieved 25 June 2012 – via Books.google.com.
  8. ^ "Kaye Don Wins In First Heat". The Gazette. 7 September 1931. Retrieved 30 July 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  9. ^ "Miss England Disaster". The Guardian. 14 June 1930. Retrieved 30 July 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  10. ^ Lohnes, Brian. "8 Ton Sledge: Gar Wood's 7,000hp Miss America X Boat Owned The World In '32 and '33". BangShift.com. Archived from the original on 3 August 2017. Retrieved 3 August 2017.
  11. ^ "Algonac, S.U.A. Gar Wood batte il record mondiale per motoscafi con 125,42 miglia all'ora". YouTube. Archived from the original on 13 December 2021. Retrieved 3 August 2017.
  12. ^ "Miss US 1 Hydroplane Official Web Site". Archived from the original on 8 August 2018. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  13. ^ "Speed Records". KenWarby.com. Archived from the original on 7 December 2009.
  14. ^ "Water speed record (fastest boat)". Guinness World Records. Retrieved 7 August 2015.
  15. ^ "Worlds Fastest Boat (all 4)". YouTube. Archived from the original on 13 December 2021.
  16. ^ Huxley, John (13 February 2015). "Water speed record to be put to the test 40 years on as Spirit of Australia II takes shape". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 7 August 2015.
  17. ^ "Arfons respected risk in fast lane". The Tampa Tribune. 10 July 1989. Retrieved 26 July 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  18. ^ "Boat". Tampa Bay Times. 10 July 1989. Retrieved 26 July 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  19. ^ "Quicksilver". Archived from the original on 2 June 2017. Retrieved 3 August 2017.
  20. ^ "The Craft". Quicksilver-WSR. Archived from the original on 2 June 2017. Retrieved 3 August 2017.
  21. ^ a b Huxley, John (14 February 2015). "The Warby need for speed". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 3 August 2017.
  22. ^ "David Warby hopes to claim his dad's world water speed record on Blowering Dam in 2017". No. The Leader. 30 December 2016. Archived from the original on 3 August 2017. Retrieved 3 August 2017.
  23. ^ "SPIRIT OF AUSTRALIA II". Warby Motorsport. Archived from the original on 3 August 2017. Retrieved 3 August 2017.
  24. ^ Johnson, Jason (19 June 2018). "David Warby To Challenge Father's World Water Speed Record". Archived from the original on 23 February 2020. Retrieved 3 July 2018.
  25. ^ "K777 Team". K777club.com. Archived from the original on 22 June 2013. Retrieved 25 June 2012.
  26. ^ "1967 Bluebird replica takes to the water at Loch Ken". ITN. ITN. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 15 March 2015.
  27. ^ "Dartagnan-sp-600". Archived from the original on 3 August 2017. Retrieved 3 August 2017.
  28. ^ "Union internationale motonautique". Archived from the original on 26 October 2018. Retrieved 26 October 2018.
  29. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 October 2018. Retrieved 26 October 2018.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  30. ^ "nautica-magazine". www.nautica-magazine.be. Archived from the original on 2 March 2020.
  31. ^ "sp600".
  32. ^ "Jet Hydroplane UK ∞ Longbow". Archived from the original on 11 September 2016. Retrieved 31 August 2016.
  33. ^ "Thrust is back". YouTube. Archived from the original on 20 October 2022. Retrieved 20 October 2022.


  • Fred Harris and Mike Rimmer (2001). Skimming the Surface.
  • Kevin Desmond (1996). The World Water Speed Record. Batsford.
  • Leo Villa (1969). The Record Breakers. Hamlyn.
  • Bill Tuckey (2009). The World's Fastest Coffin on Water. A biography of Ken Warby.

External linksEdit