In the world of racing, there are those who seek unconventional thrills beyond the asphalt. Nicholas Bolton, an Oklahoma City native, found himself captivated by the exhilarating world of jet boats. In an exclusive interview with DIYAutoTune.com, Nicholas shares his journey from racing cars to jet boat adventures, his notable build, and the switch to electronic fuel injection (EFI) using the Microsquirt standalone engine management system.
Entering the Jet Boat Realm
Nicholas’s foray into jet boats began about 15 years ago, driven by his passion for automotive racing. Intrigued by the idea of combining his love for Friday and Saturday night street action with a legal and aquatic twist, he decided to explore the world of jet boats. His search led him to a 1978 Frahs jet boat, owned by a gentleman who had initially used it as a tugboat for his race boat and a family ski boat, equipped with a stock Ford 460 engine. Surprisingly after sitting for more than 10 years, the boat was ready for the water in stock form after taking care of just a few maintenance items.
Recently, Nicholas has been competing in the Pro 80 class of the Oklahoma Hot Boat Association’s outlaw drag racing. This grassroots-style racing body offers a relaxed atmosphere where jet boat enthusiasts can come together, showcasing their skills on the water. The Pro 80 class entails 660 feet of adrenaline-pumping action, with no power adders and a maximum speed limit of 89.9 mph. Nicholas also highlights the joy of impromptu grudge racing with friends on any given lake, where the police often watch and admire the action.
Over the years, Nicholas’s jet boat has undergone three significant engine configurations. The initial setup featured a stock 1978 Ford 460, providing an expected performance for a smog-era motor. The second iteration included a budget build, consisting of a 30-over Ford 460 with a cast crankshaft, hyperutectic pistons, and Pro Comp CNC-ported heads. This configuration lasted for approximately seven years, during which Nicholas transitioned from carburetors to EFI and even experimented with a home-built twin-turbo setup.
The current engine powering Nicholas’s jet boat is a formidable 514 cubic-inch big block Ford. Equipped with a forged stroker crankshaft, flat-top forged pistons, and Ford Motorsport aluminum super Cobra jet cylinder heads with mild port work, the engine boasts an impressive compression ratio of 13.8:1. All brought to life by what Nicholas describes as a “mild” solid roller camshaft.
Jet Boat + MicroSquirt EFI
While Nicholas’s current engine is naturally aspirated, his previous engine configuration featured a homemade twin-turbo GT45 setup, generating 15 lbs of boost and approximately 1100 horsepower. However, his decision to switch to EFI was driven by the desire to highlight the budget-friendly capabilities of electronic fuel injection in the marine world. By using the MicroSquirt standalone engine management system, priced around $420 with a universal harness, Nicholas aimed to showcase the untapped potential of EFI for boat enthusiasts.
Nicholas takes pride in tuning not only his boat but also his car, and his friends’ vehicles, while also assisting various customers in their own tuning endeavors. He emphasizes the importance of understanding the basics of EFI, such as pull-up resistors and timing considerations. Drawing parallels to carburetors and distributors, Nicholas believes that EFI is a natural progression for those who comprehend the inner workings of traditional fuel systems. Quoted as saying “If you intrinsically understand how a carburetor and distributor work then EFI is a natural transition.”
Challenges and Triumphs
Throughout the jet boat EFI installation process, Nicholas encountered both expected and unexpected challenges. The trigger wheel setup to accommodate coil-on-plug ignition proved particularly challenging, requiring multiple iterations before finding the optimal solution. He is currently using a custom machined 36-1 wheel mounted between the harmonic balancer and pulley being read by a hall effect sensor from DIYAutoTune.com. This allows him to run coil-on plug GM LS truck coils in a batch fired/wasted spark configuration. The overall installation was relatively smooth, despite the occasional obstacle, and Nicholas highlights the importance of patience and practice when tackling complex wiring tasks. Speaking of wiring, Nicholas says this was one of his first EFI projects, and would likely do a handful of things differently if he had it to do again. This is the case when acquiring any new skill, however, and something we could all learn to recognize. His best advice is to “Read the manual, then reread the manual.”
The Power of Data
“The true beauty and benefit of EFI is DATA!”, says Nicholas. One of the significant advantages of EFI is the wealth of data it provides. Nicholas realizes the full potential of EFI by leveraging essential sensors, including TPS, MAP, air temperature, crank sensor, and wideband O2, to gain a competitive edge. In addition, he employed the available I/O capabilities of the MicroSquirt system to run coil-on-plug, additional wideband sensors, a flex sensor, and a boost controller, all integrated via CAN bus to a Perfect Tuning gauge. This setup also allows for further data gathering expansion should the need arise.
Throughout Nicholas’s jet boat journey, several individuals and entities played pivotal roles. He would like to especially thank Performance Auto Body, responsible for the boat’s stunning paintwork, Hi-Tech Performance, which provided jet pump services, and David Pierce of Pierce Automotive, a valued friend who exchanged ideas and offered invaluable problem-solving solutions.
Nicholas Bolton’s journey from the world of automotive racing to the thrill of jet boats showcases the limitless possibilities beyond the racetrack. With his custom-built jet boat, powered by a formidable Ford engine and the MicroSquirt EFI system, Nicholas has found a unique blend of excitement and performance on the water. Through his experiences and passion for EFI tuning, Nicholas invites boat enthusiasts to embrace the world of electronic fuel injection and witness the untapped potential of this technology in the marine realm.