A Frequent Fast Flier
Eric Colby
Featured in

Powerboat Magazine

June 1998
Photos by Maggie Ferrari

Howard Arneson has probably forgotten more 100-MPH rides than most of us will ever take. Unless youíre lucky enough to work at a magazine that test high-performance boats, youíve probably only taken a couple of rides that eclipsed the century mark and youíll always remember them. "Iíve run over 50,000 miles at more than 100mph," said the 77-year-old Arneson from his Arneson Research facility in San Rafael, Calif.

The inventor of the Arneson Pool Sweep and the Arneson Surface Drive also pioneered the use of the turbine engines in pleasureboats. His current boat is a four-seat Skater 46 with a 4,500-hp Lycoming turbine that has to date run 170 mph with "plenty of throttle left."

A tinkerer; Arneson hold 18 patents, including his surface drive, which he introduced in 1980 and now licenses to Twin Disc, a propulsion system manufacturer based in Racine, Wis.

Arneson is currently working on a patent shrouded drive, which has the propeller covered, and on a new kind of trim tab that mounts flush with the bottom of the boat. The rocker plate, as Arneson calls it, is also patented. It flexes to let you create hook in the bottom to drive down to bow or rocker in the bottom to raise it, which is an advantage over a conventional trim tab, which can only force the bow down.

Arnesonís life is centered around coming up with new inventions. "I have the weirdest hours of any man," he said. "I get up around 10 or 11 oíclock, and I get down here around noon, go home for dinner around 6, come back at 8 and I am here until 3 a.m.

"I'd go nuts if I had to stay home, and my wife tolerates it, which is a good thing. Maybe that's why we've been married so long." Arneson and his wife Eva, 69, have been married 47 years and have a daughter, Christine, 46.

When Arneson manages to sit still, he attracts a crowd. His loyal fans always show up at races, poker runs or boat shows. "These people come up and tell me they have every article that's been written about me, and I don't even have that," he said. At the annual Cow Palace show in San Francisco, thousands line up to see Arneson. "That's the highlight of my life in a given year," he said.

That's a big statement from Arneson, given his success. When his drive first came out, it propelled Tony Garcia and Sammy James to two world championships in the 38' Cougar, Arneson. In 1990, Arneson broke the Mississippi River speed record in his turbine-powered Skater 32 and twice has entered the event since only to have it cancelled. At the Vallejo, Calif, kilo runs in 1995, he was clocked at a two-way average of 160.184 mph in his 40-footer.

Sixteen years ago, Arneson built his first turbine-powered boat, a 23' ArenaCraft with a Boeing engine. He followed that with 16 more boats for himself and customers, including a handful of 29' Sangers, the Skater 32, some Skater 40 models and the 46-footer. Customers have included former racing champion Al Copeland and the head of the military in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Walter Cronkite, Ross Perrot and astronauts Wally Shirra, Bill Shepard and Gene Cernan have all gone for rides.

But Arnesons favorite time is when he's solo on the water. "When I'm out there running all alone, I enjoy it more than anything. I can run and run and run. It truly is a vacuum cleaner of the mind."

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