New speed records, race circuit with Tom Brady electrifying boating

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We’ve seen electric vehicle competition heat up on land. Could we be seeing the beginning of another one on water?

Electric boats probably won’t be filling up U.S. waters anytime soon, but boat builders, sports stars and students are pushing the boats’ limits and driving this $3.3-billion-a-year business into the mainstream.

The most ostentatious signs of electric boats’ future are the speeds that two groups have achieved in recent weeks. In August, Canadian boatbuilder Vision Marine hit 116 mph, and in recent days, Princeton University’s electric speedboating team topped 117.5 mph.

Those speed milestones serve as a fitting prelude to the new electric boat racing series that starts early next year with investors such as former NFL great Tom Brady and Rafael Nadal, holder of 22 Grand Slam tennis titles.

How the fastest electric boats compare with traditional boats

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Princeton’s record, certified by the American Power Boat Association, officially stands at 114.2 mph after averaging two runs of 111 and 117.5 mph. That easily surpassed the previous APBA record for electric boats of 88.6 mph set in 2018.

Andrew Robbins, CEO of the Princeton team, said he knew from his first 83 mph run this past spring that team members had something special underneath their refurbished hydroplane hull, which is older than any of the 40-some students in the club.

‘It’s an interesting feeling. As you go faster, you start to feel you’re no longer touching the water – you’re floating,’ Robbins said. He went for a second run and the boat unofficially bettered the standing record by almost 3 mph.

How do students get a boat up 117 mph on a lake?

‘We’ve been able to curate a very, very good group of team partners,’ Robbins said. ‘We knew if we were going go this fast, we had to work with the best in each field.’

That group has included Black Sheep Racing and Flux Marine, a start-up that builds electric outboard motors. Two of Flux Marine’s founders, Ben Sorkin and Jonathan Lord, are 2018 Princeton mechanical and aerospace engineering graduates.

The team also counted on Black Sheep Racings’ John Peeters, holder of 61 speed boat racing records, to pilot the 14-foot carbon-fiber boat. Below, Peeters reaches 117.5 mph during his second run Oct. 26 on Lake Townsend in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Electric boat acceleration much like an EV’s

Don’t expect the Princeton club to start mass-producing their boats anytime soon – unlike Vision Marine, which has used the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout to showcase the power of their electric motors. They raised their top speed from 109 in 2022 to 116 this year.

Much like the quick acceleration electric car drivers experience, boats with electric motors can rapidly reach their top speeds.

‘Oh, the torque. That’s how we can hit 116 miles an hour on a three-quarter-mile track,’ said Bruce Nurse, investor relations representative of Vision Marine. ‘It’s the torque and how fast it gets up to plane.’

The trade-off, as with electric cars, is the faster you move, the faster you deplete your battery. But Nurse points out that the recreational boaters who buy boats with their engines aren’t looking to set new speed records on the lakes, rivers or coastal waterways.

How is an electric motor set up in a boat?

High-voltage electricity, water and people aren’t generally a good combination, so builders take extra care with the manufacturing and installation of the motors.

‘We started out with a typical EV battery that you put on a chassis. It long, it’s wide, it just doesn’t fit in a hull,’ Nurse said. Since then, Vision Marine worked with Octillian and Neogy to design and develop their own marine-certified outboard electric motor. For now, Vision Marine provides motors only for new boats.

Princeton’s boat is half the size of Vision Marine’s. It also has only one motor versus two. So cutting weight became key, including four modest lithium batteries.

‘The trouble was building in an electric powertrain that could suit the hull well. So mostly it’s keeping our weight down and our our power up,’ Robbins said. ‘Making a powertrain that was specifically curated for that hull was probably the trickiest.’

A vision for less pollution in waterways

About 7 in 10 Americans (72%) say they would consider purchasing an electric car because of the environmental benefits and to save money on gas (70%), according to the Pew Research Center.

On the water, the environmental benefits go beyond reducing emissions from gas-powered engines. The Ocean Conservancy estimates U.S. boaters annually spill, throw away or dump 30 times the oil that escaped into Alaskan waters from the Exxon Valdez in 1989. A portion of that oil can be attributed to recreational boaters’ fueling miscues.

‘We understand you’re not going to get rid of gas and diesel engines,’ Nurse said. ‘We know the consumer out there is becoming environmentally conscious. That’s why you’re seeing the EVs taking off.’

Tom Brady and the electric boat racing series

The UIM E1 World Championship offers to bring together more environmentally friendly racing with a fleet of electric boats called RaceBirds, boats from which you might expect Luke Skywalker to emerge after watching them skim across the water.

‘I think the E1 Series is a really cool competition,’ Robbins said. ‘The style of boats has never been raced before – whether they’re gas or electric.’

The series, which begins Feb. 2 in Saudi Arabia, is made up of seven teams led primarily by global sports stars, including Brady, Nadal, cricket player Virat Kohli, former soccer player Didier Drogba and motorsports racing driver Sergio Perez.

‘The boats look amazing,’ Brady said shortly after taking his E1 series ownership role in July. ‘They’re sleek and cool and modern – exactly what you’d think for an electric racing boat.’

This post appeared first on USA TODAY