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Write-Up: Water balloon basics, usage, and applications

Posted: Fri Jul 31, 2009 10:07 pm
I might have been able to have formatted this better, making information easier to skim through and read. However, it is as it is. It is primarily written for iSoaker and SSC reposting, but maybe it might help some others here. I was never aware myself of how easy it is to shape balloons and get them easier to tie, until I found out while manipulating balloons today. (I had to fill up a lot of them for the launcher video, which is available here:

Water balloon basics, usage, and applications.

History and use of the water balloon:

Water balloons have been around longer than any CPS blaster and have seen usage in much more action, far before true water wars started taking place. Later, balloons started becoming less useful as water blasters became more powerful, since streams are much more potent, able to soak, and more difficult to dodge. Nonetheless, even on today's best water warring teams with k-modded CPS weaponry, water balloons can still be used in new and different ways.

First, if one has brought a blaster of any kind to a water balloon fight, it is obvious that balloons have much more range. Despite their inability to hit or soak effectively, balloons can still keep targets on their toes and, from a tactical standpoint, can be used to give more breathing room if an enemy is charging up aggressively. In just about all games that count hits, a direct water balloon hit is enough to take out a target, and even if it doesn't make a direct hit, the splash damage (from larger balloons) may do the job depending on the situation.

As time went on, launchers were being developed. The simplest is the 3-man slingshot, offering high range and quick shooting while requiring, obviously, a crew of 3. The disadvantage is that such launchers are inaccurate and can only launch one balloon at a time. Nonentheless, their sheer portability and reasonable rate of fire should keep them useful in some situations.

Entering the homemade scene; pneumatic water balloon launchers were developed. These use a pressure chamber, valve, and barrel to launch balloons great distances and on very accurate paths. A sabot is used to create a seal in the barrel, while a valve is opened to released compressed air from another chamber. The air launches the sabot out, which pushes the balloon and allows it to fly up to 500 feet. The most common way of pressurizing the launcher is by bike pump or air compressor. Air compressors obviously don't require any action from crew members, but are suceptible to water damage, and many lower cost compressors do not power up as quickly as a pump is able to. A third method of pressurization is to use some form of high pressure air (such as CO2) and a regulator, which will release very well controlled amounts of air so that pressurization is very quick. This method is the most expensive.

Launcher designs vary from the simplest inline launcher to the latest breech-loaded designs. The simplest possible pneumatic launcher is the Douchenator, a design made popular on the web a few years ago. It is commonly choosen for it's power, simplicity, and low cost despite numerous disadvantages. Most easy to build, simple launchers are muzzle loaded and are cumbersome to load (requiring a ram rod), even worse to pressurize. The cheapest solution to this is to go for smaller pressure chamber, better valves, and better methods than muzzle loading. The most common alternatives are breech loading and rear loading. Rear loading can be done with an endcap, though it has not been tried despite the simple concept. (There may be issues with the fittings being too small.) Breech loading on the other hand, has been done a few times in different forms but is more difficult to build. The first breech load was the Aqualabs launcher 3, but was cumbersome to build and could possibly have issues launching due to it's design. (the barrel is not consistent) Another breech loaded design was a large cannon built in Australia with 2 pressure chambers and a rotating breech. While it looks to be a great design, the pipes needed may be tricky to find. However, I have just recently came up with another breech which can be found here:

Automatic and semi-auto launchers are possible, but launching balloons is more complicated than launching other projectiles that have a uniform size. An automatic or semi-auto launcher would require hard sabots in certain shapes that are able to withstand some stress so that they can be loaded into a magazine (which would be rather large) or in a gravity feed hopper. (developing clips for fast magazine loading is even more difficult) Such a launcher would also require some form of high pressure air to drive the loading system and to launch balloons.

The basics; a few tips on filling and tying:

The complete beginner who has never handled a water balloon will likely have trouble. I started by tying with paper clips, and it would take maybe an hour or more to fill a bucket. Now, like most who can tie, I'm able to tie a loose neck without much trouble. I tie with my left hand, first creating a loop so that the end of the balloon goes behind the rest of the neck where the loop begins. Then I bring it over and push the top ring of the balloon through the loop, reaching to the other side to pull. Once it's in, pull a bit tightly on the knot and it's done. You will need balloons that are actually designed for water, or they may be too large and difficult to get them to pop upon hitting their targets.

Filling: Balloons can be filled with any lightly pressurized water source, so long as the neck seals. While the pointed hose nozzle is ideal, the neck can be pressed against the flat nozzles of some water guns and the balloon filled by shooting it. (don't be surprised if the balloon just gets shot out though, it will be tricky to seal) After it seals, fire the water gun or open the hose valve until the balloon reaches a specific size. Before filling, stretch out the entire balloon a bit first.

Small: This balloon is used for launchers with small barrels, usually 2". They still detonate on impact despite the size. However, splash damage is limited.

Medium: This is for throwing, slingshot launchers and launching from medium and medium-large barrels on launchers. About the size of a baseball to an orange.

Large: For delivering slightly higher payloads. Not often used with launchers but great for throwing. Typically shaped and sized like large pears. Usually very difficult to tie unless stretched out well.

Tying: The neck must be long enough or the balloon will be nearly impossible to tie. Typically, the best way to lengthen the neck is to fill the balloon to large, then release extra water until it is medium or small. If this cannot be done (such as when filling from a gun and extra water can't be wasted), the balloon can be filled to it's needed size, then, with your hand that's not pinching the neck shut, run it along the balloon and squeeze to the area near the neck but just below. This should stretch out the rest of the balloon so less water goes to where the neck should be. Don't apply too much force, or the balloon will pop.

Shaping: Balloons can usually be easily shaped into pears or oranges by squeezing to cause parts of the balloons to stretch. Pear shapes are usually best for most situations, but oranges also work well on large payloads and close range throws. Pear shaping is necessary sometimes if a balloon is otherwise too large to fit in a low-caliber barrel, and the shape offers better aerodynamics when the pear is orientated correctly. (So that the center of mass faces forward.)

Controlling the shape of a balloon is critical to tying it up, as many balloons will have stiff necks and will be cumbersome to tie.

Balloon usages:

Throwing: I go for the overhand throw, placing the index finger behind the balloon (where the knot is) and with the thumb and middle finger to the sides of the balloon. All I can say is to practice and get better since I can't throw very far (about 60 ft, just outside of common blaster range) nor accurately but I've gotten better by controlling the throw.

Slingshot launching: I haven't used one so there's not much advice I can give. All I can say is, make sure the 2 people holding the slingshot are holding it at the same height. The shooter should obviously be well centered and firing at a proper angle as necessary. However, these tips are probably common sense anyway.

Pneumatic launching:

You need good sabots to seal against the air blast, and to cradle the balloon. Sabots may be the most important item aside from a working launcher. The best sabots are cups that are trimmed down to fit in the barrel. They can be made by cramming the cup into the barrel and centering them, then drawing a straight line around the cup to cut along. Thick plastic cups are best due to durability but even a cup from a medium soft drink will work well. However, it will get soggy and weak after use, though it actually seals better when soggy. Breech loading is best here since good sabots will seal well and be difficult to ram-rod down the barrel. To complete the sabot, take another cup and duct tape it to the first one so that both cups' bottoms point to each other. The second cup should be trimmed down more than the first so it doesn't necessarily seal, to make ram-rodding easier and to reduce friction. The purpose of this cup is to cradle the balloon and to increase air resistance so the sabot does not fly as far. (Therefore making it faster to pick up.) A good sabot design can be found at

So assuming that you have good sabots and a good, working launcher, the next step is pressurization. Keep in mind that it takes a long time to power up a launcher, usually require someone to be immobile for a good portion of a minute. It may take 40-60 pumps to reach a good pressure level, depending on the pump and pressure chamber size. After powering up, it's time to shoot. If the launcher has a ball valve, this valve must be opened as quickly as possible. A torque arm of any kind is a must. Aiming and bombarding targets is a skill that takes time to develop as one becomes more familiar with launcher trajectories and how to angle the launcher. There are generally 2 ways to fire a launcher:

Direct fire is when the target is near point blank range and virtually no adjustment has to be made for the balloon's arc. (which is the definition of point blank range; if they're too close that you don't have to aim upwards, aka if they're in point blank range, it is likely unsafe to take the shot)

Indirect fire is when the balloon strikes the target (or ground) mostly by gravity as opposed to by the kinetic energy provided by the launcher. This is usually the safest, but most inaccurate way to attack. Aiming at slightly less than 45° for maximum range would be the dividing line between direct and indirect firing.

Never forget that muiltiple balloons can be loaded in line in a launcher. This may be troublesome as the balloons may pop, but that issue can be made slightly less worse by using more sabots. However, that would increase the friction against the barrel, though the friction would be more consistent. The advantages of a muiltiple balloon shot are considerable though. They may increase hit probability in most cases, but are also less accurate than single shots. However, most single shots are easy to avoid, while a multi-shot may be more difficult to dodge. Multi shots fan out like a shotgun, but the effect is much more dramatic than on an actual shotgun, roughly like the shotguns in many video games. Be aware that launching many balloons at a time will result in epic recoil!

Tactical applications of water balloons:

The sheer range capabilities provided by launchers exceed the best water guns by nearly half a dozen times. The disadvantages were mentioned earlier, regarding hit probability and effectiveless, and water guns are clearly proven to be much more effective at making kills. So what do balloons do? First of all, a good launcher operator can attack areas from pretty far away. Even if the target isn't getting hit, the fact that balloons are raining down around you presents an extra concern, making for a possibly effective distraction for those with water guns to attack. Bomboardments can also keep the enemy on the move and out of important areas. A thrown water balloon can also be used to keep an enemy away if they're attacking too fast and create distance when needed. At very close range, balloons are very difficult to dodge and are a good backup to water blasters, and finally, balloons can be used to attack areas that blaster fire cannot reach easily. Say you're rounding a corner around a house or building. A balloon can be thrown before jumping out and attacking. If you're up against a tall brick fence and suspect someone to be on the other side, a balloon can be lobbed over. Shooting the blaster upwards also usually works, but some guns cannot shoot upwards, and the resulting droplets may not be effective despite the higher hit probability.

The common pneumatic water balloon launcher has a particular disadvantage. It requires a crew of 2 to operate effectively, and takes away people from the team who could otherwise be on the front lines or behind enemy lines. Their slow reloading may demand that the entire team is on the defensive, otherwise, they may be used as one shotters before launching an assault. In smaller battlefields, launchers can reach just about anywhere with enough accuracy to land balloons nearby an enemy, which can be used to other means even if the balloons don't get any hits.

And this is as far as the scope of this article goes. Some of this information may be common sense, others may not be as evident to some. I will not cover usage of blaster combos + balloons, advanced tactical use, and others. This was just meant to help beginners to get started on water balloons and their possiblilties, as well as add in any details that others may find helpful, especially since tying water balloons can be a pain, whether tied before or during a war.

Re: Write-Up: Water balloon basics, usage, and applications

Posted: Fri Jul 31, 2009 11:18 pm
by DX
Nice article! Lots of good information in there, effective stuff for vets and n00bs alike. Maybe a bit long, but it's not exactly appropriate for me to complain about article lengths...[rolls eyes innocently]

I'd like to add that around the same time as 3-man slings, lacrosse sticks were also used as artillery. They were light, only required 1 person, and could be used as a sidearm. Lax sticks were very erratic in aim unless you were a lax player though - I remember Matt missing me from 10ft away on Reed Hill. For some reason they were forgotten after the Douchenator came out. I dunno why really, as a player has such a better chance of making a kill with a lax stick than with a pneumatic launcher, at least in a daytime war.

Re: Write-Up: Water balloon basics, usage, and applications

Posted: Sat Aug 01, 2009 12:06 am
As I said, I could've put the layout better to avoid unecessary length, but left it as it is since I have other stuff to get to. I also completely forgot about lax sticks but I did hear you mentioning them earlier a while ago. However, I've worked with neither of them so I can't put much on them anyways. Funny how they're the cheaper options and I've never had the chance to explore them. Lax indeed seems awkward, has anyone been able to catch balloons with them?

Re: Write-Up: Water balloon basics, usage, and applications

Posted: Sat Aug 01, 2009 8:40 am
by Silence
Nice overview. :cool:

I actually don't think water balloons do much splash damage. Someone linked to a slow-mo video of a balloon's impact a few years ago, and it shows that since there's only forward momentum, the water doesn't go off to the side in great quantities.

Beginners' or used lacrosse sticks might be cheap enough to use, but the sticks that people actually use to play games tend to be more expensive. I don't think you could catch a balloon and leave it intact either way.

Hmm...I was going to say something else, but now it's slipped my mind. :oo:

Re: Write-Up: Water balloon basics, usage, and applications

Posted: Sat Aug 01, 2009 8:58 am
by steelboot.
Nice article. In our wars/battles, water balloons don't play much of a part, but since I recently bought 60 balloons, maybe they will soon.

I remember the first battle after I k-modded my 2100 for the first time and I had some leftover balloons. It was 1v1 OHK first to four and we each had a few water balloons. I scored 2 kills by simply creeping up on my opponent and waiting for him to notice me. When he did, just before he would start shooting, I tossed a balloon a metre beside him which diverted his attention for a split second allowing me to soak him for the win. Simple yet effective. Warning: This may not work on more seasoned and experienced water warriors.

In our OHK games, we play if any water hits you at all, you're done, as opposed to fist sized splotch, so splashback could be effective as well, especially if you toss the balloon directly in front of the target.

Anyway, that was a great article, you contribute a lot to the community and I respect that very much. Cheers!

Re: Write-Up: Water balloon basics, usage, and applications

Posted: Sat Aug 01, 2009 11:18 am
That distraction trick generally should [b/]not[/b] work on anyone who has any experience; they should just dodge and fire back. However, an example of a water balloon that would work on just about anyone is to have someone from a hidden position toss out a balloon at the target. If the target doesn't pay attention, eventually a balloon's going to land on him. If the target does, then the other person can run out of cover and blast him.

Regarding splash damage, I am well aware that the amount of splash is not much more than from a squirt gun and is limited to 1-2' from the balloon. Still, some groups' rules may count very light splashes (i.e. few droplets, which commonly hits targets in water gun battles when players cannot charge into effective range and get a full shot), our groups count either 1 "full kill", which is any significant, sustained shot that would equal a cupful of water (or a fist sized splotch if applied on the shirt in a laminar stream), or whizzling droplets, which is basically half a kill. (that is, 2 whizzling droplet groups would equal a kill) A water balloon's splatter could be half a kill there, but is almost enver a full kill. Our rules sound very complicated, but water amounts are easy to recognize on the field and in combat situations, clean, clear shots are very distinguished from fuzzy shots that you don't know if they caused any or much soakage. On the other hand, if someone used a squirt gun, 2 squirts at point blank range (within 10') would, by definition, be 2 half kills, but not one full kill. But of course, no one uses squirt guns and if you get in such close range, any soaker, even piston pumped, can make a full kill right there.

Re: Write-Up: Water balloon basics, usage, and applications

Posted: Sat Aug 01, 2009 4:57 pm
by Silence
Yeah, the "whizzing droplets" sound like a good solution. I've played 3-hit-kill, which ends up being very similar, except that it applies to water guns, too. Doesn't really work, though, because if you tap-shoot and your opponents don't dodge quickly enough, it's all over. Constraining the mechanic to water balloons sounds good.

I'm going to suggest a picture or two for tying the knot on a water balloon. From what I read it sounds just like tying a shoelace, so I think I must be missing something. :P

Re: Write-Up: Water balloon basics, usage, and applications

Posted: Sat Aug 01, 2009 10:20 pm
That's pretty much it to tying balloons, but it is important that the neck is stretched properly first. It never occured to me how to get the necks stretched properly until I had to fill up several balloons at a time. Neck stretch is even more important in field filling, where the knot must be tied fast. If you field fill a balloon but don't tie it, the neck must at least be twisted up enough, otherwise the balloon will loose all of it's water before it even gets near the target.

Playing >1HK in it's most conventional sense doesn't quite work out like that. The only hits you can count are whizzling droplets, but it must always become 1HK to any sustained shot. After all, being struct by a continuous stream for a whole second is more water than being hit by 3 tap shots. For that reason, I prefer that any close range, solid shot, results in a kill.