Occasionally one of our model sailboats gets stranded mid-pond. Sometimes the wind dies. Sometimes the batteries that run the electronics fail. Sometimes rudder or sail linkage goes wrong. How to retrieve the boat? Also, we often set floating course markers and have need to place these in desired locations on the pond. How? I decided to build a radio controlled motorized tugboat with some sort of capture device to accomplish both tasks.

I chose the Vac-U-Tug Jr. kit from Vac-U-Boat.com. I didn’t do a build log, as Phil at Vac-U-Boat provides excellent instructions (which you can see on-line). My photos emphasize the modifications I made to accomodate the capture device I designed. I decided to have free-floating arms riding on a hinge attached to the front of the cabin. For the most part I used materials on hand. The arms are 1/8″ brass rod (with foam “swim noodles” attached). The brass rod hinges through an aluminum tube attached to the cabin with brackets fabricated from brass plate. The brackets attach with stainless steel machine screws and nuts. The nuts are inset and epoxied to a 3/16″ basswood backing plate glued to the inside of the cabin.

The hinged capture arms float just fine and present little interference to the maneuvering of the tug. The arms work great for moving course markers. Capturing a sailboat is easy. Maneuvering with a captured sailboat can be a bit problematic in windy conditions – the changing forces on the sail overpower the tug’s turning abilities. I found that I could allow the wind (rather than rudder) to determine direction and throttle at appropriate times to get where I want to go. In light wind situations this isn’t a big problem and the tug’s rudder controls. I plan to play with the rudder linkage to have more deflection to see if that helps. Overall, I’m very pleased with the tug and her operation.