The aquatic podracer

An eco-friendly homemade watercraft goes where other boaters only wish they could.
A homemade aluminum jet ski boat that looks like a Star Wars podracer, floating in shallow water near a beach.
Pushing tin: Joey Ruiter made his boat's main sections out of strong, recyclable aluminum. Courtesy of Joe Ruiter

A passerby recently asked Joey Ruiter where he found his aluminum-encased Star Wars podracer look-alike. “It’s from the future,” Ruiter replied. Apparently convinced, the woman nodded and walked away.

A lifelong boater, Ruiter believes that manufacturers focus too much on creature comforts, at the expense of the driving experience and environmental concerns. So the Grand Rapids, Michigan, product designer decided to try to create a scaled-down recreational boat that would handle like a small twin-engine airplane and could maneuver into hard-to-reach places typical cruisers can’t go. He stripped down two jet skis, built a cockpit, and worked with a local dune-buggy company to construct the frame that holds his 18-foot-long prototype together. For the three main sections, he cut and formed shells from aluminum, instead of the standard fiberglass.

  • Dept: You Built What?!
  • Cost: $20,000
  • Time: 3 months
  • Difficulty: easy | | | | | hard (Editor’s note: 5/5)

With no external propeller, the boat can run in as little as 5 inches of water. It’s green too, since Ruiter used all recyclable materials. Now he’s building a retractable hydrofoil, which could crank the top speed from an estimated 45 mph to over 65.

Smooth ride

Each jet-ski-derived pontoon sucks water in and thrusts it out the back for propulsion. To handle bumpy days on the lake, each has an independent suspension system.

Air time

Ruiter rigged the frame so that the two 215-horsepower motors it’s designed to hold can be raised or lowered relative to the cockpit. Combined with the hydrofoil, he hopes this will lift the cockpit out of the water when the craft hits high speeds.

Tight turns

Dual throttles—placed up high, similar to an old chopper-style motorcycle—allow the operator to pivot in place. When turning through tight corners, the trailing cockpit drifts, fishtailing dramatically like a car in a chase.

A homemade aluminum boat against a white background.
Tight spaces: The boat’s pared-down design lets it maneuver into hard-to-reach places off limits to most boats. Courtesy of Dean Vandis
The cockpit of a homemade aluminum boat, in shallow water.
Easy rider: No external propeller means the boat can run in as little as 5 inches of water. Jim Frenak

This story has been updated. It was originally featured in the November 2007 issue of Popular Science magazine.