What is a Cigarette Boat?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

A cigarette boat, also known as a go-fast or dance boat, is a narrow, fiberglass speedboat developed by professional racer Donald Joel Aronow in the 1960s. Aronow won a World Championship with a 32-foot (10-meter) cigarette boat and went on to form the Cigarette Racing Team in 1969. Cigarette is the brand name of Aronow's boat, but it has come to be used as a generic term for all boats of a similar design.

Cigarette boats have a narrow design that allows them to achieve very fast speeds.
Cigarette boats have a narrow design that allows them to achieve very fast speeds.

Most cigarette boats are 30 to 50 feet (9 to 15 meters) long and about 8 feet (2 meters) long. They have a closed bow and usually hold no more than five people. A typical version has two or more engines with a typical combined horsepower of 1,000. This style of boat is intended for offshore racing and can reach speeds of over 80 knots (150 km/h) in calm waters. In races, a cigarette boat is manned by three people: one to steer, one to navigate, and one to work the throttle, controlling speed.

The U.S. Coast Guard has begun to deploy small patrol craft to counter the threat posed by cigarette boats in the service of drug cartels.
The U.S. Coast Guard has begun to deploy small patrol craft to counter the threat posed by cigarette boats in the service of drug cartels.

These boats are typically made of fiberglass, which gives them durability. Their long and lean shape helps them move through the water quickly. They have a planing hull, which means that they move along the surface of the water with only a small part of the hull touching it. This design also improves the boat's speed.

Its sleek design, speed, and power have made the cigarette boat popular among offshore racers. In the 1980s, the same characteristics resulted in the boat becoming the preferred vehicle for drug smugglers as well. Legend has it that this boat gets its name from the fact that it was used at one time to smuggle cigarettes into Canada.

Unfortunately, the cigarette boat became popular in the illegal drug trade, particularly that of cocaine, in the decades after it appeared on the market. This fact lends the boat a certain mystique among consumers, but at the same time, the United States Coast Guard and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have been compelled to improve their detection methods to deal with the stealthy sea-craft. As conventional boats are not up to the challenge of apprehending cigarette boats, the US Coast Guard now uses their own speedboats, along with helicopters, to fight the illegal drug trade. The helicopters have anti-materiel rifles able to disable the motor of a cigarette boat.

Cigarette boats were developed to transport cocaine.
Cigarette boats were developed to transport cocaine.
Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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Discussion Comments


I saw a special on television about drug smugglers who used cigarette boats as semi-submersibles to transport drugs. The boats were stripped down, hollowed out, and enclosed. The boats were then loaded with drugs, and driven through the coastal waters at night.

The boats were painted grey and blue, so they would blend in with the water, helping them evade the coast guard. The boat was a great example of what a cat and mouse game drug smuggling has become. When drug agencies step up enforcement and detection, smugglers and criminals find new ways to evade detection.


@Chicada- As Anon164453 stated in an earlier post, cigarette is actually a manufacturer that makes a number of different speedboats. I did not know there was a boat manufacturer called cigarette either until I went to a cigarette boat race in Florida. The boats are big, fast, and very expensive.

Some of the fastest boats on the water that day were cigarette brand boats. I personally would not buy one of these boats if I had serious cash to burn, simply because they are only used to go fast. I want something that is more suited to deep-sea fishing. For those that like to go fast, a cigarette boat is likely that person's dream boat.


Is there a boat manufacturer actually called cigarette? I have an RC cigarette boat that actually says cigarette on the side. I wonder if this is a model of an actual cigarette boat, or if it is simply a decal from the toy boat manufacturer. The boat is a scale model of a real cigarette boat, and it actually runs on model fuel. The boat is really fast, and I race it on my pond with my friends.


I wish I could own my own power boat. My grandfather owned a 1992 Wellcraft Scarab Thunder that we used to take out on the weekends. That was a fast, beautiful boat. The boat had twin V8 motors that were pushing upwards of 500 horsepower apiece.

The boat was 31 feet, but was before the new step hulls that were released in 1998. If I am not mistaken, the boat could easily hit 70 on the water, and could travel a decent distance on the 300 or so gallons of fuel t could hold. Maybe one day I will look for a used scarab thunder and restore it to its original glory.


Cigarette also made a 20 ft. inboard and a 21 outboard. Very few were made because of the boat market at the time. Too much competition in the 20 foot range.

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