Howard Arneson, the powerboat legend who gave his name to his famous surface drive system also used extensively in high speed commercial craft has died at the age of 99.

Howard Arneson, inventor of the Arneson Surface Drive

Howard Arneson, inventor of the Arneson Surface Drive has passed away aged 99

His invention of the Arneson Surface Drive was the first really successful surface drive system that changed the face of powerboat racing and which has been a feature on several ranges of performance production sports cruisers and high speed interceptor vessels.

Arneson had been a participant in powerboat racing from an early age and when one of his race boats flipped and put him in hospital for a spell he invented a swimming pool cleaning device. Production of the Arneson Pool Sweep provided enough money to pursue his powerboat racing and he first experimented with his drive system in an 18 foot boat in the late 1970s.

When the drive was perfected Arneson fitted two units in a Cougar race catamaran which went on to race successfully and the Arneson Surface Drive was born. By being able to both trim the drive up and down and sideways the performance of the surface drive could be fine tuned to the optimum setting in contrast to earlier fixed propeller systems and this greatly improved the performance and made surface drives viable.

The Arneson Drive was sold to Twin Disc in the 1990s and is still in production today. The patent lasted for 25 years but when it finally expired the biggest tribute to this system was the number of ‘look alike’ surface drives that appeared on the market.

One version of the Arneson Drive was fitted with a small electric motor coupled directly to a propeller clamped to the main drive and this was probably the first hybrid drive used on boats but it was not a commercial success.

Arneson pursued his love of high performance boats into old age. He set a record from New Orleans to St.Louis up the Mississippi River that still stands today and ran a Skater catamaran powered by a 4500hp gas turbine that was capable of speeds up to 170mph.

By Dag Pike