So far, companies moving toward electric personal watercraft have stuck only a proverbial technological toe in the water, but the recent announcement that Sea-Doo is planning to jump into the market indicates that e-PWC could be a mainstream option for consumers in the near future.
The auto industry, with its ample funding for research and development, has long been the bellwether for many of boating’s technological propulsion innovations. Electric power is the new big deal for two- and four-wheel vehicles alike. Electric motors can already deliver plenty of torque-laden power, but the drag of a PWC hull on the water furiously devours this electric power, compared with the low resistance of rolling wheels on pavement. Another reason electric power is taking longer to enter the PWC market is that the craft have limited space to carry more batteries. Adequate power supply has been the main limitation so far.
Battery technology is coming along, thanks to companies such as Tesla, with its Tabless battery that offers five times more energy density than previous batteries. Solid-state batteries, a technology that Ford and BMW are backing with an investment of more than $315 million, can deliver twice the energy of lithium-ion for 40 percent of the production cost. Both of these technologies are years away from reaching consumers, though.
Sea-Doo Is in — Sort Of
Sea-Doo’s parent company is Bombardier Recreational Products, a powerhouse from Quebec that recently displayed an electric-powered E-GTI concept PWC. However, the deployment target is model year 2026, indicating that the concept is not yet ready for prime time. Still, knowing Sea-Doo’s penchant for performance, when the brand does unveil a model, it will likely be more comparable to the Tesla Model S Plaid than a Ford Focus Electric.
To that point, José Boisjoli, president and CEO of BRP, is on the record as saying, “We have always said electrification was not a question of if, but a question of when. We are leveraging our engineering know-how and innovation capabilities to define the best strategy for developing electric- powered products.”
Narke: Big and Bold
The first electric PWC to make it to market was the strikingly angular, Hungarian-built Narke GT45 Electrojet, unveiled at the Cannes Yachting Festival in 2018. First impressions are that it is huge and underpowered. Longer than Yamaha’s largest WaveRunner by nearly a foot and a half at 13 feet, 2 inches, with a weight of 827 pounds and pushed by only a 60-hp motor, it has a stately top speed of just less than 30 knots. Add the starting price of $49,995, and it is clear this carbon-fiber machine is more of a statement than a viable consumer product.
But the ElectroJet does occupy a niche. Because of its length, it’s classified as a small pleasure boat rather than a PWC, giving it access to protected lakes and bays where PWC aren’t allowed.
The Electrojet has a water-cooled, three-phase asynchronous eDrive motor powered by a 24-kW lithium-ion battery pack. Its triangular Petestep hull is designed to have low drag, superior wave penetration and excellent spray deflection.
Narke is taking orders for its new GT95 model, which has more than twice the power (127 hp) and a top speed of 37 knots. It retails for $57,022 with a $2,281 option of an on-board quick-charger that finishes its job in 90 minutes.
Taiga is Getting Ready
The second company to come to market with a production e-PWC is Québec-based Taiga Motors. It has had a functioning prototype since 2018, and it started selling the Founder’s Edition Orca in 2020. This model has a 180-hp motor first used on a snowmobile the company produces. It has enough kick for a top speed of 56 knots, which is the maximum agreed to with the Coast Guard for PWC sold in the United States. The motor has a five-one-thousands-of-a-second throttle response time. Price is $28,000.
Taiga now sells three models of the Orca, and the hulls on each of them are small compared to most multiseat PWC. It’s closest in size to the industry’s most compact model, the Sea-Doo Spark 2-Up, being 8 inches longer at 9 feet, 10 inches; less than an inch wider at 3 feet, 11 inches; and sitting more than 2 inches lower at 3 feet, 3 inches. All of this gives it the lowest center of gravity on the market.
The Performance model ($17,500) is Taiga’s heaviest. It weighs 588 pounds compared with the Spark 3-Up’s 425 pounds, but the Orca Performance has 180 hp compared with the Spark’s 60/90-hp ratings.
Taiga’s Orca Sport ($15,000) produces 120 hp and weighs 50 pounds less than its stablemate, and has a slightly slower top speed of 48 knots.
The third Orca model is the Performance Carbon ($24,000), which has a carbon- fiber deck and hull, and offers a choice of 16 saddle fabrics.
Powering the Performance and Carbon model Orcas is a 24-kWh lithium-ion battery, while the Sport has a 20-kWh capacity battery. Taiga promises a three-hour charge time using a 6.6-kW charger, and offers the option of a DC quick charge that will bring the battery to 80 percent in 20 minutes. Taiga claims a run time of two hours before needing to recharge, but with a listed range of only 31 or 37 miles, depending on the model, riders will have to cruise slowly to achieve that distance.
Taiga has entered the market slowly, producing a limited run of 100 Founder’s Edition models, which sold out in 2020. The company is planning to ship the new models starting this summer. The plan is to ramp up production dramatically when a new 200,000-square-foot factory opens in Shawinigan, Québec, in summer 2022, later expanding to 320,000 square feet. This space reportedly will give Taiga the capability of producing 80,000 PWC, snowmobiles and side-by-side off-road vehicles a year.
Those who have ridden e-PWC love the quietude, as do the surrounding residents. While the start of the e-PWC revolution has yet to take off in earnest, market share for these products is only expected to grow.
Will Yamaha Join the e-Parade?
Yamaha has not announced plans to jump into the e-PWC market, but the company rarely reveals its plans. Its engineers are developing electric motors for other purposes, so it’s possible that Yamaha will use e-motors to power future WaveRunners, as well.
In 2020, as part of its Transforming Mobility program, Yamaha began offering electric motors with power up to 200 kW (268 hp) to builders for implementation in various transportation platforms. Later this year, Yamaha is expected to unveil a compact e-motor that will crank out 350 kW (469 hp).
Yamaha also has an electric propulsion platform called HARMO that’s being tested in Japan on a canal cruise vessel. And company executives have signed a letter of intent with Honda Motor Co., KTM AG and Piaggio & C to set up a swappable batteries consortium for motorcycles and light electric vehicles.
This article was originally published in the June 2021 issue.