It may seem ironic that an electric speedboat with a 550kW motor and top speed of 60mph has made news for accompanying a swimmer on a slow-paced 14 hour Guinness World Record marathon. But it’s the batteries of the Voltari 260 that enable those high speeds that also give it long range and autonomy at lower speeds.
91 miles on a single charge
An electric boat is an obvious choice for a marathon swim – there are no noxious fumes or fuel slicks to bother the athlete. Perfect for Merle Liivand, also known as ‘Mermaid Merle’, who swam across Miami’s Biscayne Bay April 15th to raise awareness about climate change and the scourge of plastic pollution in our waterways.
But an electric speedboat? Well, back in January the Voltari showed its 142kWh battery packs could easily handle Merle’s Biscayne Bay swim when it went from Key Largo Florida to Bimini, Bahamas – 91 miles – on a single battery charge. That trip took 18 hours through ocean waters, so for Merle’s 14 hour event the 260 was there every minute of the way for her to hand off the 20 pounds of plastic and other trash she picked from the water.
Cam Heaps, co-founder of Voltari, said “We were very flattered to be asked to accompany Merle and support her passion for cleansing and preserving the world’s waterways. It’s a huge part of what gets us out of bed in the morning. In electric boating, it doesn’t matter what kind of boat you’re talking about, a performance boat, fishing boat, sailboat, yacht – there’s a love for the waterways. So to be able to be a small part of what Merle is doing and be part of improving the marine environment is really exciting.”
But that’s not why Heaps got into electric boating in the first place. He got into it because he loves the thrill of speed – and an electric boat provides it in a way he never imagined.
Fan of Thunderboat Row
Cam has been a ‘speed demon’ since he was a kid at his family cottage in Canada, going out in a little tin boat with a 9.9HP outboard, adjusting the tilt and shifting the gas tank around to find out what gave him the best planing angle and highest (but admittedly low) speed.
The Miami Vice TV show was a big thing in those days, and he became enthralled by the cigarette boats of Florida’s Thunderboat Row – the Fountains, Donzis, Panteras, Scarabs and others designed and built by larger-than-life characters like Don Aronow.
In his working life, Cam co-founded Steam Whistle Brewery in 1999, which he helped build into Canada’s most successful and profitable craft brand. When the 2008 recession came around, a lot of those Florida speedboats were up for sale and the success of Steam Whistle had put Cam in the position to be able to pick up a couple for a pretty good price.
Once he owned the hulls, he did what he used to do in his tinny, but in addition to moving the (much bigger!) fuel tanks around, he and a friend started chopping every bit of excess weight out of the boat, removing consoles, floor decks and anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary.
They took the boats down to St. Lucia, a small Caribbean island where Cam’s father had lived in the 1970s as an economic and land-use planner for a United Nations development program.
Once there they put them through a pretty severe testing wringer, running them in the open ocean between St. Lucia and Martinique. “We took those boats out on the water – same hulls, same powertrain – and there was a drastic improvement in performance” says Cam. “The boats would go faster, burn less fuel, go further, and there was less wear and tear on running gear, because you weren’t having to run out as high in RPM.”
In order to totally maximize the power to weight ratio, they were also replacing some of the fibreglass elements with carbon fibre (CF), which was starting to be used in racecars, airplanes and sports like biking, golf and tennis.
They had been hand laminating the fibre in their experiment boats, but a quick calculation showed that building the entire boat with the material could reduce the overall hull weight by as much as 40 per cent.
World’s 1st 100% carbon fibre-exposed powerboat
Cam decided to start building hulls with CF and made a deal with the government of St. Lucia where he was given duty free status to bring in all the materials and tooling to make a 21 foot boat. ‘The Bullet’ was introduced at the 2016 Miami International Boat Show as the world’s first 100% carbon fibre-exposed powerboat.
The Bullet performed spectacularly, but one of the challenges of boat building in St. Lucia was simply getting everything to an island that is at the bottom tip of the Caribbean archipelago. So in 2015 the Carbon Marine company was incorporated in Canada and set up manufacturing there.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Cam, another Canadian who had grown up not far away, also drooling over speedboats, was pursuing his own dream. Tim Markou was a huge fan of one particular Thunderboat Row manufacturer – Pantera.
Pantera had also been adversely impacted by the economics of 2008, but was able to hold on for a few years. Eventually, they had to file for bankruptcy in 2012. Tim loved their hulls, but unlike Cam, was not interested in buying one or two, but in reviving the entire company.
One day a gentleman who was working with Tim on the Pantera venture came into Steam Whistle. He had met the President of Carbon Marine (Cam was still with the brewery until 2018) and wanted to talk about the possibility of maybe working together. Cam was intrigued, met with Tim, and they immediately hit it off. They excitedly compared performance boat experiences and became fast friends and eventual business partners.
The next piece of the puzzle to fall into place for the Voltari electric speedboat was the propulsion itself.
Enter another group of Canadians obsessed with boat speed, but for a different reason. The Montreal firm LTS was formed in 2009 by avid waterskiers Bruno Tellier and Jean-Louis Lavigne, who also happened to be very accomplished engineers.
“My passion for combustion boats ended that day.”
Their goal was to be able to ski behind a powerboat without suffering the stench and sound of combustion engines (similar to what Merle was looking for in her Miami swim.) By 2011 they were working with Nautique and had developed the industry’s first 100% electric ski-boat.
Nautique later went a different route for their all-electric Super Air Nautique GS 22E, building it internally and launching it in 2020, but LTS was busy refitting other fibreglass ski-boats when Cam Heaps, the Thunderboat Row fanatic and speed demon extraordinaire, came to see them.
“When I went down to test drive one of the boats, the second I put down the throttle…the boat accelerates in a way you’ve never seen” says Cam, “…in a way you’ve never heard. There’s no rumbling noise, there’s no smell of smoke and burnt fuel.”
“My passion for combustion boats ended that day.”
End product: the Voltari 260 electric speedboat
It’s a long way from Heaps moving the fuel tank around in his tinny years ago, but Cam’s new passion for a speedboat powered by electrons rather than explosions – one could say by lightning rather than thunder – started to come together quickly.
Carbon Marine was founded in 2015. It was in 2018 that he met Tim Markou and late summer 2019 when he experienced the LTS electric drive. In September of 2020 an agreement was made to acquire all of the molds and related intellectual properties of Pantera, and Voltari Marine – incorporating Pantera, Carbon and LTS, was formed in 2021.
The Voltari 260 is the company’s first model. The hull is based on a Pantera hull of similar length, with some modifications for an electric experience.
Building that hull of carbon fibre means a weight saving of 2,200 pounds over a fibreglass version – 2,200 pounds that can be allotted to the 142kWh of battery storage that power both speed and endurance. “Before, we used weight savings to burn less gas” says Heaps, “now we use it to burn no gas.”
There are six battery packs in total, strategically placed throughout the hull to optimize handling. “There’s one pack right in the bow, two in the center of the boat, one rear centre, and then we have saddlebags. It makes for a very, very stable ride” says Heaps.
Twin Garmin screens provide critical information about the battery state of charge, available range, location, RPMs and other critical motor information (the 260’s twin electric motors are connected to a single drive), and everything is cloud-connected for remote support and updates.
In the end, the goal for the Voltari 260 was not just to have a great electric speedboat but also one that would be a pleasure to experience at any speed. It has customized SeaDek marine flooring, premium sound by Rockford Fosgate and a digitally controlled Poco lighting system that can create nearly every possible colour in the spectrum. At the stern there is a 3 foot swim platform with teak ladder and upholstery throughout the boat is heat-dissipating Alcantara fabric.
“We created the Voltari 260 for speed, of course, but also to provide freedom to explore open waters on long run times” says Heaps. “We have all these great minds working together and we also have great friendship. We have a team house we share in Florida, where we are building and planting the flag in the busiest boat market in the world. We are all beyond proud of what we have accomplished, and what we are going to accomplish as a team.”
The Voltari 260 is available for demo rides in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and Kingston, Ontario, Canada.