long-tail boat racing, thailand

Long-Tail Boats…

…If It Has An Engine – Race It.

I confess, I was daydreaming. My next one-day trip has been planned for a while, but the weather has gone belly-up. I didn’t expect that.

This time of year there might be some showery days, but it’s unusual to have any significant rain before July. But starting a few days ago, that’s what happened. Significant rain. And, according to the long-range forecast – which, happily, is usually wrong – it could continue for at least one more week. If it does, there will again be flooding.

By which time it will be Songkran – one of those major holiday times of the year when I hide – not just from the water-throwing “children” of all ages, but also the “adults” who load up on cheap liquor and then decide to drive somewhere. Hundreds of them don’t arrive. It’s best to stay well away from them.

So I was looking through my photographs of the recent trip to Ko Panyee and found an interesting one that didn’t make it into the article. It didn’t fit. So, I thought I’d write something where it would fit.

But first, a word or many, about long-tail boats. (Also written “longtail” and “long tail” but I like hyphens.)

In Thailand, anywhere there’s water you’ll find them. They’re used as passenger boats, cargo boats, fishing boats, and boats for moving anything from A to B via water…

long-tail boat racing, thailand

long-tail boat racing, thailand

The concept is simple. Take an engine. Any engine.

Weld a long rod onto the end of the crankshaft, where the clutch would usually be. Put that inside a tube, so that there is a semblance of safety, and then weld a small propeller onto the other end of the rod. On the opposite side of the engine weld a long handle, which also houses the throttle control, and you’re done. Except for a final short rod on the bottom of the engine, roughly near its center of gravity, that you can drop into a gimbal on the boat.

Now you’re all set. You can easily swivel the engine – no matter how heavy it is – in both the vertical and horizontal planes. Raise the bar to lower the propeller into the water, twist throttle, and away you go. Move the bar left and right to steer.

Now, I did say “any engine.” Most are piddly two-strokes. But they can be big. Very big…

long-tail boat racing, thailand

…as can the boats…

long-tail boat racing, thailand

But there are also very small boats, like the one I found on Ko Panyee. Here it is…

long-tail boat racing, thailand

These are so small they’re sometimes called short-tail boats. They’re very light weight, and are built with only one purpose in mind… racing.

And here’s where I have a bit of a problem. It’s very difficult to find any real information on these short-tail boat races. But from what I’ve gleaned, they take the form of knock-out drag races. They’re organized informally and without much notice, and even though there is virtually no prize money, I suspect a lot of money changes hands on race day!

Here’s a photo of one of these small boats in race trim…

long-tail boat racing, thailand

They’re crazy fast. More than 160kph. If you don’t believe me, watch this Youtube clip. It starts with the guy warming up his engine, but keep watching because if you blink, you’ll miss him…


You may have noticed, there’s nowhere to sit, there’s no protection, and the guy has no helmet nor life jacket. At 160kph! He just kind-of lies on his side to balance and steer.

Now, thanks to Newton’s Law of something-or-other, when the propeller hits the water, the torque tries to twist the boat out of the water, so in fact the “driver” is using his weight in exactly the right place to stop it tipping, and has to adjust his position constantly.

Sometimes they fail. Sometimes they roll. Sometimes they hit concrete bridges. Sometimes they die. But the other times, the adreneline rush must keep them awake for a week.

My Bucket List now has an entry that says “Watch Short-Tail Boat Drag Racing.”

Easier said than done. I’m hoping one of my Thai motorsport friends will know when and where. And it likely will need a drive to somewhere around Bangkok. But so long as I can get a couple of day’s notice, I’ll be gone. And I’ll report back.


...has been travelling the world for more than sixty years; having lived and worked in five countries and travelled to many many more.

He likes to write about his travels - present and past - along with his other main interests of Drones, Information Technology and Motorsport, and he adds a few general twitterings along the way.

Follow Paul on Facebook.

More Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *