Frequently Asked Questions

What is this hobby all about ?
Is it legal in Australia ?
What about insurance ?
Do the vessel really sink ?
How do you recover a sunken vessel ?
Does sinking damage the vessel ?
How do I get involved ? What can you do before you have your own vessel ?
What ships are recommended for a beginner ?

What is this hobby all about ?

Broadly speaking

At one level this hobby is all about battles and dramatic sinkings. It is about an intensive few hours every few weeks where skippers take their vessels into harms way and engage in all-out battle with the opposing fleet, seeking to sink them, drive them off the water, or prevent them from accomplishing their mission (which is usually to complete as many convoy runs as possible).

It is a hobby of strategy and tactics, of intense combat, of great swings of fortune, of feats of daring and cowardice. It is the ultimate competition, an interesting challenge and great stress relief.

At another level it is a hobby of careful thought, of woodworking, fibreglassing, metal working, electronics, ballistics, pneumatics, fluid dynamics and general craftsmanship. Apart from the fibreglass shell, vessels are built from ‘scratch’ and building one is an excellent project that brings together a wide range of disciplines and gives the builders reason and a motivation to become skilled with their hands.

It is different things to different people. Some like to battle but don't enjoy building (or lack confidence, room or time). Instead they buy second-hand ships and battle them, doing only the work needed to keep them in good repair. Some like building more than battling and build ship after ship. Some love the show but find they are better organisers, photographers, video camera operators, referees or reporters than skippers.

There is room for everyone, and the hobby for each of us is what we make of it.

More specifically

This is a hobby where scale model warships manoeuvre, attack and sink each other. The hobby has been operating in the USA for the past 30 years. The warships attack or defend merchant ship convoys and shore installations. Each ship is equipped with low-powered Co2 (carbon dioxide) propelled cannons firing ball bearings for attack and thin balsa for defence. Each vessel is also equipped with a bilge pump to help it stay afloat. The ships are built to withstand sinking. When the ships are recovered and patched (using tissue paper and dope), they are soon ready to fight again.

The scale is 1:144 (1 inch = 12 feet), with ships from the period 1901 to 1946 eligible to battle. Most ships are built from a fibreglass hull which provides a very strong frame capable of taking the punishment of combat. The Bowning Ship Yards is the main supplier of fibreglass hulls in Australia and can supply over 40 different hull types.

Cannon can be purchased from BDE in the United States. Co2 tanks are either 20oz, 7oz or 3.5oz, are refillable and are fitted with an anti-siphon valve to ensure that liquid Co2 does not freeze the cannon mechanisms.

Armour Thickness
Ordnance (Cannon)

Original Ship

Scale Balsa

Original Ship

Scale BB

0"- 6.99" 1/16" (1.6mm) 3.00" - 10.99" 3/16"
7.00" - 11.9" 3/32" (2.4mm) 11" - 14.99" 7/32"
12" and above 1/8" (3.2mm) 15" and above 1/4"

The above tables define main and secondary armaments and the armour each class of ship had for the Battleships, Battlecruisers, Heavy and Light Cruisers and Destroyers of the period.

Speeds are proportional (timed over 100 feet) and there is no reverse allowed in combat. Carriers are just large targets and destroyers / submarines are just too small to arm successfully, although work is being done on torpedoes.

Ships must generally close to 10 feet (3 metres) for the cannon fire to penetrate an enemy's balsa skin. Eventually, as more and more holes are punched, the ship's bilge pump will not be able to keep up and the vessel will sink. Sunken ships deploy floats so that they can be located and recovered.

Warship Combat also includes convoys of merchant ships which have to be protected/attacked and, if permanent ponds or dams are available, shore installations can be built and bombarded. Cargo ships are unarmed and slow but do have pumps and extra large rudders to help survive attack, and shore installations could have oil tanks, harbour facilities and defence batteries which can be attacked for additional points. The shore installations can also be armed and fire back at the ships. No elevation of guns is permitted for safety reasons.

Is it legal in Australia ?

In a word, yes. The Australian Battle Group Inc holds rulings from each state and territory's police force that the cannon and hobby are legal in their jurisdiction and not subject to the Firearms Act. (i.e. no gun licence is needed to own or operate the ships' cannons).

What about insurance ?

AusBG members and all sub-groups are covered by $10,000,000 public liability insurance.

Do the vessel really sink ?

They certainly do! The vessels are skinned in thin balsa, when that balsa in penetrated they start to take on water. When the inflow of water is greater than the pump can handle, the ship will start to settle and eventually sink if not returned to port promptly. In most battles at least one vessel will sink as the vessel floods too fast to get home, stays at sea too long or suffers some sort of systems failure which prevents it from returning to port.

How do you recover a sunken vessel ?

Each vessel carries a float which is attached to the vessel's hull by a long line. When the vessel sinks, the float will (normally) pop to the surface, bringing one end of the line with it. As the other end is securely attached to the hull, pulling in the line will retrieve the vessel from the depths. Sometimes the float does not fully deploy or the line is too short and the vessel has to be dragged for. No vessel in the AusBG has ever been permanently lost and vessels have sunk in water more than 20 feet deep.

Does sinking damage the vessel ?

Mainly no, but sometimes yes. These vessels are purpose built for this hobby and the builders take into account that everything inside the vessel will sometimes get very wet. Although there are many systems inside a combat model, most don't really care it they do get wet. The cannon don't care, gel-cell batteries don't care, the motors don't care, the pump doesn't care. Essentially it is the radio control gear that is at risk but modern radio control gear is very tough. While people in this hobby used to go to great lengths to try and keep their gear dry, most do not bother these days and just cut holes in the servo cases to allow the water to drain out. When the servos get wet, they become unreliable, so they are normally placed high in a vessel, but when the vessel is recovered after sinking, the servos drain, dry out and return to normal. Everyone protects their delicate radio receiver though, normally inside a tough balloon with the neck sealed with blue-tack and a cable tie.

Despite this, every so often a servo will strip a gear or blow a circuit board and will need to be replaced, but this is rare and the standard servos we use are quite cheap so it is no big deal. Provided a vessel and its gear has the water drained quickly after the battle and the servos and cannons are flushed with methylated spirits and stored dry between battles they normally will give years of reliable service.

How do I get involved ? What can you do before you have your own vessel ?

The ultimate aim of our members is to sail a warship into combat to exchange broadsides with their foes and hopefully sink them. That said, a fully equipped warship costs money and takes time to build.

However, there are many other roles that will get you involved right away. We always have a need for referees, safety officers, photographers and video camera operators as well as merchant skippers, score keepers and people to talk to visitors.

If you think this hobby may be for you, we would suggest the following steps:

  1. Review where the different sub-groups are based and find one in your area.
  2. Get in touch (see the contacts pages) and arrange to come to a building day or a battle.
  3. If you decide you want to be part of this hobby, become a member.
  4. Come to battles, skipper spare merchant ships, take photos, shoot video, help to referee and help enforce safety regulations, learn more about the hobby and how the ships are built and fought.
  5. See if there is a second-hand model available. If so, grab it and start battling or build your own ship (see below for what we recommend).
  6. Get out there and sink things!

What ships are recommended for a beginner ?

Big-Gun Combat Warship models are packed full of equipment and are constructed using very different techniques and materials compared to traditional radio-controlled model boats.

All armed combat models carry a pump, cannons, Co2 propellent containment, pressure regulation and delivery system, gun rotation and depression servos together with ammunition and the normal radio receiver, rudder and propulsion servos.

This gear is both bulky and heavy and just about every vessel runs out of internal space and displacement before all available weapons can be fitted.

This makes it wise to get some experience in building a combat ship before embarking on that submarine or light cruiser with the narrow beam and dozens of torpedo tubes!

So what do we recommend ?

  1. Build a merchant ship first.
    Merchants are cheap and can be built quickly, but they are built using the same basic techniques an armed vessel will use. Mistakes (and you will make some) are much easier to overcome as the tolerances are not critical. What you learn in building a merchant ship will be directly transferable to your first warship and the next construction will be greatly speeded by the experience you have gained.

  2. Build a battleship next.
    Due to the way the cannon have to be made, our vessels tend to be somewhat top heavy. Battleships, with their great beam are the most forgiving warship and are best able to cope with the equipment we use. Battleships also have plenty of room internally and mistakes made in equipment placement are rarely uncorrectable or prove fatal in combat. Battleships of 35,000 tons or more (full load displacement) are the most forgiving and many of them sail with the Australian Battle Group.

  3. Build your favourite ship
    Many people love cruisers and they can be a lot of fun. What you need before building one is experience. Most cruisers are nearly as long as a battleship but have a relatively small beam. Just fitting all the gear in is a major challenge, getting the vessel to then stay upright in battle is an even greater challenge, see the photo's of HMS Invincible from June 2001, DKM Deutschland from May 2001 and IJNS Mogami from Jan 2001 to see what can happen when these vessels are put under pressure. That said, a well built cruiser is great fun and can be a valuable addition to a side. USS Houston is a good example - in the hands of Steve Burden (Canberra Battle Group) she is the most proficient convoy killer in the Australian Battle Group and quite stable to boot. Other vessels some people find interesting are monitors and pre-dreadnoughts. These vessels have wide beams but are small so their gear needs to carefully thought through and placed correctly.
The choice is yours. Whatever you choose to build, the members of the Australian Battle Group in your area and on the Internet will be there to help you. Just be warned that if you decide to start with a fully armed HMS Manxman, a 4,000 ton 40 knot minelayer from WWII, you might be somewhat disappointed with the final result or how long it takes to get her working correctly.

Sometimes the indirect approach is the fastest one, i.e. don't be too ambitious too soon.

Happy building !