An ice boat, or iceboat, is a boat fitted with skis or runners and built to travel over ice in much the same way that sailboats do on the water. The earliest iceboats were patterned after traditional sailboats but had a wooden plank attached cross-wise to the front and a separate runner at the rear used for steering. Today, used mainly as racing vehicles, modern iceboats are supported by skate-like steel runners which enable them to hold the ice at high rates of speed.
Traveling over ice by boat was initially undertaken for the purpose of transporting goods and equipment. The first recorded ice sailing for pleasure or sport took place in Europe, and the use of iceboats for commercial purposes soon died altogether. The only real exception to this was their use in transporting lighthouse workers during the winter. In those areas of the world where weather conditions create ice thick enough to safely use these unique types of sailboats, ice yachting has become an increasingly popular sport.
Most iceboats are built for one person only. However, there are larger boats designed for two or more. There are different classes of the iceboat, the most well-known being the International DN class and the Skeeter class. Distinctions between classes are determined primarily by size and mast height. The newer Skeeter designs are said to be the fastest that have ever sailed the ice.
As the result of significantly reduced friction, the newer, aerodynamically designed iceboat can reach extremely high speeds. The runners are angled in such a way as to counter the lateral force of the wind on the sails. Once a certain level of force has been reached, what is called “sail-lift” occurs and the iceboat is propelled forward with such force that it actually goes faster than the wind. In optimum conditions, on smooth black ice, these vessels have been known to achieve ten times the rate of prevailing winds.
High speed and brutal weather can combine to create a dangerous environment. Safety is a very high priority. This has led to the adoption of a set of strict rules and guidelines that all who engage in ice yachting, sailing, or racing are expected to be familiar with and follow at all times.