2016 world champion jet boat racer: Chad Burns

Chad Burns is a full-time family man and part-time adrenalin junkie


Chad Burns is driving his red jet boat.

Chad Burns won the World Jet Boat Championship Races in 2016. — Photo courtesy MT Actions Photography

Chad Burns returns to the water this season after claiming the top spot in the 2016 World Jet Boat Championship Races. His race for the world title began in 2004. “I got into the sport because my father always owned jet boats, and I always wanted to race something,” he said. It was an obvious fit. “I just bought a boat and went racing.”

Burns named his jet boat Bad Habit, after the 1994 Offspring’s song.

Western Canada is home to a handful of racers. In Alberta, races are planned for Peace River, Whitecourt, Grand Prairie and Taylor this summer—races that Burns hopes to hit the water for. He already has run the river in St. Marie’s, Idaho, this season.

Burns races about six times each summer. In the past, racing has taken him across Western Canada, the United States and Mexico and overseas to New Zealand.

Chad is sitting with his father, Willie, who inspired him to race jet boats.

Chad (R) was inspired by this father, Willie, who always owned jet boats. — Photo courtesy MT Actions Photography

Family man

Burns comes from Grimshaw, Alberta, where he lives with his wife and children. “I’m very lucky,” he said. “I have an amazing wife. She allows me to do what I am passionate about and holds down the fort while I’m gone.”

Aside from jet boat racing, Burns’ second passion is raising his kids. “I have three kids, so that’s a challenge every day. Taking care of them and trying to make decent adults out of them,” he said. “That’s the most important thing I will ever do in my life.” While he would love for his kids to grow up sharing his passion for jet boat racing, he believes that “whatever they are passionate about is what they should be doing. If they are passionate about racing, maybe they will race boats or bikes—anything they want to do, I support it fully.”

Adrenalin junkie

Races are organized differently depending on the size of the river. Smaller rivers start one racer at a time, while larger rivers allow for six to eight boats to start en mass. “Mass starts can get pretty exciting,” Burns said.

Burns has a strategy behind his racing success. He focuses on the river, rather than other racers. “I enjoy difficult rivers,” Burns said. “Before you can beat your competitor, you have to beat the river. You have to stay focused on the task at hand.” To prepare for race day, he pre-runs the river in a normal boat, then tests his jet boat the day before. “I get a good look at the river,” he said. “I put some miles on the boat to make sure it’s not going to break down.”

The thrill of a new river with new elements makes each race an exciting challenge for Burns. “Mother Nature can change from day to day,” he said. For longer races that are separated into segments, the turn of a wind can make a familiar river feel like new.

Shown is a General Electric turbine engine in the rear of a red jet boat. The engine is 1600 horsepower.

The General Electric turbine engine is 1600 horsepower. — Photo courtesy MT Actions Photography

Although the adrenalin of a race is what calls Burns back to the water each year, the spirit of the sport is why he sticks around. “The people and camaraderie in the sport is second to none,” he said. “If you need help, there is always another team that is willing to lend a hand or give you whatever parts you need to get on the river.”

Claiming his world championship title

Last year’s World Jet Boat Championship Races were hosted in St. Marie’s, Idaho. It was a week-long event for jet boaters to “Race the Joe” or the St. Joe River split into five 500-mile timed and totalled stints. “We’ve been trying to get the title for quite a few years, so it was very satisfying,” Burns said. “It was a long time coming, you could say.”

This year’s championships are scheduled for September in New Zealand. “I’m not sure if I’m going to make it there this year,” Burns said. He would have to send his boat overseas on a ship by July at the latest for it to arrive when he is ready to race. “I would really like to attend the world championships in New Zealand, but I would have to miss two races in Canada if I wanted to go.”

Even if Burns doesn’t make it overseas to race for his world title this season, expect to see him ripping around Western Canada and the United States to get his fix of adrenalin.

When asked what he would say to someone interested in jet boat racing, his advice was perseverance. “It’s a grueling sport, and it can get discouraging at times, but keep at it. When it does come, it’s just perfect. You can’t beat it.”

Rad rider: Chad Burns

Occupation: Co-owner of Northsite Contractors Ltd.

Weapon of choice: Bad Habit, his 23-foot Eagle Tunnel with a 1600 horsepower General Electric turbine engine

Quotable: “It’s a grueling sport, and it can get discouraging at times, but keep at it. When it does come, it’s just perfect. You can’t beat it.”

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