The Seattle Boat Show hosts the debut of 2 exciting new electric boat packages partnering Pure Watercraft outboards with the rigid inflatables of Highfield Boats, the world’s #1 aluminum hull RIB manufacturer.
On one of the boats, the 11’10” Pure Watercraft RIB Classic 360, the powerful e-motors and lightweight RIB combine for a top speed of 28mph (25kts/44kmh). The boat has a range of 9.5 Nautical Miles (11mi/18km) at that speed and 86NM (100 mi/160km) at 5mph (4.5kts/8kmh). The other package is with a Highfield 12’6″ Deluxe 360 model. They are priced at $US 24,000 for the smaller and $US 29,000 for the larger and can be preordered on the Pure Watercraft site.
New electric boat packages challenge preconceptions
That’s the kind of performance that debunks the notion of electric motors only being good for displacement hull cruising boats, or huge battery packs making electric a non-option for the average recreational boater.
Pure Watercraft have already proven how their proprietary motor and battery can give professional bass anglers a distinct advantage in tournament use. The video below shows the Pure Watercraft powered boat taking off from the pack in September’s Electric Bass Angling Championships on Baltimore’s Loch Raven Reservoir.
Back in 2017 a boat with the Pure outboard went straight up against fossil fuel powered competitors in the National Bass West San Diego Region tournament, with the results reported on the BBZ (Big Bass Zone) website: “History has been made, an all-electric powered craft takes first place and big bass honors in a field featuring high caliber anglers and modern day gas powered fishing vessels.”
The story of Pure Watercraft starts not with powerboats, but with rowing boats. Founder Andy Rebele was a collegiate rower and coached the freshman team at Boston College when he was at MIT. He also rowed in the Henley Regatta. He said in a conversation on Cake “Rowing is an aesthetic sport—you’re out on the water, the scenery is beautiful, the rowing is beautiful. The only ugly thing about the day is the obnoxiously loud motor behind you.”
While growing up he had spent lots of days fishing with his dad in San Diego. Coming out of college he became a successful tech entrepreneur and angel investor and when Tesla started to make the news he was puzzled as to why more companies weren’t exploring electric motors for boats.
It seemed obvious to him that people out on the water would want to enjoy quiet times and air free of noxious fumes, but since he couldn’t find the motor he was looking for he decided to build it himself.
Pure Watercraft was founded in May of 2011. To put things in context, at that time Tesla had sold 1,650 Roadsters and had pre-orders for 4,500 of its new Model S to be delivered the next spring. It started with Andy hauling a V8 out of an old Cobalt 21 and then figuring out how to make it electric.
The Pure Watercraft site has a great blog that tracks the entire history of the Pure Outboard progress, but for this we will focus on the two most important aspects – the motor itself and the battery pack– and try to give a brief and concise summary without missing any of the important points. The essential point is that Andy and his team discovered that to create the motor they wanted, they had to design and build almost everything themselves.
The blog entry says “We started with the battery pack because it is 50% of the weight, cost, and complexity of an electric vehicle, and a critical factor in performance. At first, we reached out to battery companies that manufacture and sell cells, which we would use to build into battery packs…but the big manufacturers didn’t return emails from a marine propulsion start-up.”
That proved to be a recurring theme, but it didn’t deter them. With nobody calling them back, they started to look at companies that bought the individual cells from the big companies and then made them into higher, useable voltage packs. But that was a dead end because it turned out the price to the end user would be exorbitant.
Building the packs themselves seemed to be a possibility, but where to begin? They looked at all the battery pack tear downs and how-tos being written by aspiring electric vehicle techies. But converting an old car to an EV proof of concept is a lot different from building a commercially viable marine outboard to meet the company’s goal of helping “people enjoy the real reason they went out on the water”.
They found a partner to co-develop a battery pack and outsourced a Battery Management System (BMS). Unfortunately, the BMS was heavy and, unexpectedly “we later found that it didn’t work on cold days – we had to use a hair dryer to warm it up before we could use it.”
After 5 years and much pestering Pure Watercraft eventually got a call back from a top battery cell provider. With what they had learned the hard way they had the expertise to develop a radical new design with their own BMS and came up with something that beat the Tesla Model 3 pack in energy density and was ready to be coupled with a Pure Outboard motor.
Ahhh, the motor. From their battery experience they knew that to get exactly what they needed, they couldn’t rely on any existing motor. So they reached out to one of the gurus of motor design to point them in the right direction. They explained what they were looking for and…”shockingly, he said he’d do it himself.”
Starting this way meant that even off-the-shelf parts wouldn’t have the right specs for the motor of their dreams, but that worked to their advantage. Because they were looking for efficiency in everything they started combining components that were usually separate and relationships grew stronger with manufacturers as they worked together for solutions. In the end, the Pure Outboard motor weighed about half as much, had about 1/3 smaller diameter, and cost 2/3 less per unit than existing options.
A big coming out opportunity to show everything off was the Electric Boat Association of America’s 2017 Wye Island Challenge, where Pure Watercraft won first place overall and set a new record of 1 hour 10 minutes.
Other new electric boat packages also pair e-motors with RIBs
The pairing of an electric motor with a RIB boat is not limited to the Pure Watercraft/Highfield combo. NaviWatt in France introduced the world’s first electrified RIB workboat last year and last week at BOOT Dusseldorf sailing boat manufacturer RS jumped into the electric space with the a 5.8m (19′) RIB with a motor by RAD propulsion. At the other end of things, there’s this RIB with a DIY electric motor and Tesla batteries that zips along at 54 mph.