On a sunny day late last April, Pure Watercraft, the Seattle-based manufacturer of electric outboards, welcomed several dozen guests to the Mt. Baker Rowing and Sailing Center on Lake Washington to present the carbon-fiber prototype of a 25‘ 9“ (7.85m) pontoon boat with twin motors and a fixed HYSUCAT-style foil between the hulls. Later this year, the company promises to start producing a fiberglass version of this boat in an old steel mill in Beechttom, West Virginia, on the banks of the Ohio River.
The firm, having grown its workforce to approximately 100, spent considerable time and money to build intellectual property by developing and refining its outboard. It features a passively cooled 25-kW continuous-power permanent-magnet AC motor in the lower unit and an 8-kWh battery pack (see “Electric Startup,” Professional BoatBuilder No. 185, page 28). “Our idea is to do the deep engineering, make a product that can be high volume, safe, and low cost, tackle the difficult stuff ourselves. In the future we can expand from there,” the company’s founder, Andy Rebele, told me back then. That future has now arrived.
It’s a big move for Pure Watercraft, following the 2021 announcement that General Motors acquired a 25% stake in the company to the tune of $135 million payment-in-kind commitments and $21 million in cash. (Since inception, Pure Watercraft attracted more than $50 million from other investors.) The GM partnership means that Pure Watercraft gains access to an economy of scale far beyond the norm in boatbuilding, including the automaker’s supply chain and manufacturing resources, most importantly for batteries.
Thus far, Pure Watercraft has packaged its outboard motors with OEM-made inflatable tenders, bass boats, and crew coaching launches. But as far back as 2017 the company started work on what Rebele calls a “social boat hull,” meaning a pontoon boat. Pure Watercraft turned to Bieker Boats of Anacortes, Washington, to design the hull shape and a rigid foil that connects the hulls approximately at amidships and sits a few inches above the hull bottoms to minimize the likelihood of striking floating objects. This lifting foil lowers energy use by 21% at top speed. Paul Bieker, known for his work on America’s Cup boats Oracle and Luna Rossa, previously designed foils for larger power catamaran passenger ferries in service on Puget Sound.
Pure Watercraft’s pontoon boat prototype was built at Betts Boats in Anacortes, from 2x 400-g/m2 (23.6-oz/sq-yd) carbon fiber on the outside, and 1x 400 g/m2 (11.8-oz/sq-yd) inside over a thin, high-density Soric infusion core. The test craft displaces about 3,800 lbs (1.7 t), and according to Bieker’s numbers, the foil carries approximately a third of the displacement at 20 knots and 42% at 24 knots. The production boat will be built of cored E- and S-glass and vinylester resin and is expected to weigh around 4,200 lbs (1.9 t). Part of that displacement (about 960 lbs/436 kg) is the 66-kWh Chevy Bolt battery pack, putting a premium on weight distribution.
During a test ride with Rebele on the lake, the boat felt nimble and smooth, producing little wake, and easily skipped past 20 mph as indicated by the throttle. The foil is effective at speeds above 12 knots, and the sweet spot for the lightly loaded boat was around 17.6 mph or a touch above 15 knots using the power trim for fine-tuning. Fast and hard cornering is not the forte of pontoon boats, as they tend to heel to the outside of a turn, and this boat, with a beam of 8‘6“ (2.6m), is no exception. Equipped with a solitary Bluetooth-enabled single-lever throttle controlling both motors, the test boat displayed the energy use of only one, while the production version will display the total power output. Rebele said the goal was to keep the boat simple, hence the decision against complex and costly features required for a fully foiling craft, which would drastically increase price and shrink the customer demographic.
Pure Watercraft advertised starting prices of $95,000 for the twin-motor model and $75,000 for a single-outboard version, well below the $350,000 sticker for fully foiling electric boats of similar size. “We have to reach the broader market to have a meaningful impact,” Rebele said. “That drives everything we do—striving to reduce cost so that we can price our boat competitively with conventional boats.” Pricing, he said, is not based on subsidies but on economies of scale such as sourcing a high-volume EV battery pack from GM; production efficiencies, which borrow from automotive assembly practices (a strategy that Chris-Craft pursued in the 1920s, see Chris-Craft Française, PBB No. 203, page 60); and limited custom options.
On the water, operational efficiency is essential for battery-powered boats. At 15 knots the display indicated that we “burned” 11.5 kW (actually a total of 23 kW), or approximately 1.3 kWh per statute mile, validating the inclusion of the fixed foil that helps boost speed and moderates range anxiety. Regarding range: During his presentation, Rebele showed a picture of the GPS track the boat laid down while doing a loop around Lake Washington, a distance of approximately 35 nautical miles, in 3.5 hours on one battery charge.
Recharging via a Level I charger (110V) takes 30 hours to go from 50% to full charge, according to Pure Watercraft’s published specs. Level II charging (220V) takes five hours to do the same, while Level III (DC fast charge and supercharging) theoretically will boost the 66-kWh battery from zero to 80% capacity in an hour. Rebele said low-cost Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) enables him to charge the boat overnight using a split 240V line from a dryer outlet. To keep cool at these specifications, the battery needs fresh air, which is supplied through the starboard cowling forward of amidships. Unlike the cylindrical 18650 lithium-ion cells in Pure Watercraft’s own 9.6-kWh battery packs, the GM-supplied Chevy Bolt batteries use pouch cells. The battery chemistry is closely guarded, but as EV batteries go, most work with NMC622 chemistry, which consists of six parts nickel and two parts each of manganese and cobalt. “GM does not alter the battery pack for us,” Rebele said. “We enclose it in a compartment in our composite hull. For cooling, we use the same charger and chiller as in a GM car; nothing special is needed. The heat exchanger is placed in the helm [console], which helps limit exposure to salt spray.”
A couple of years ago GM and its supplier LG Energy upgraded the Bolt’s battery to offer better range but encountered problems that were attributed to manufacturing defects. After several cars had caught on fire without being in an accident, GM recalled approximately 140,000 vehicles to replace their battery packs, which reportedly cost the automaker $1.8 billion. Earlier this year, GM announced it is retiring the Chevy Bolt, in favor of larger models on a different battery technology.
Specifics of the boat’s warranty were not yet made official, but Rebele hinted they should be “similar to the principles for the Pure Outboard System components,” which all carry an eight-year limited warranty. “Every lithium-ion battery has intrinsic risk; so does every powerboat carrying a tank of petroleum-based fuel,” Rebele noted. “Our 66-kWh battery pack would release far less energy in a fire than a tank of gasoline. Everyone is well aware of the issues that arose with the [Bolt], especially GM. You can imagine that they would not risk their brand on a relatively low-volume product (compared to cars) if they could not be confident that the battery pack is safe.” At press time, Pure Watercraft was conducting validation testing of the pontoon boat with GM in Michigan. The first boats should roll off the assembly line at the old Wheeling-Pitt Steel building in Beech Bottom in the fourth quarter of this year. Pure Watercraft will continue to make and sell its own 9.6-kWh packs with its outboards, now assembled at a facility in Tukwila, Washington, and later also in West Virginia.
While establishing a boatbuilding operation in a state without a traditional boatbuilding legacy and reportedly investing at least $5 million to create 100 manufacturing jobs by the end of 2025 look like risky moves, they were well calculated. “During the site selection we looked at West Virginia, and they were really optimally located for us to optimize inbound and outbound logistics,” Rebele said. “We receive composites, wire harnesses, batteries; we’ve got 90% of the parts sourced. We make the outboards ourselves there and then assemble it all.” To run the operation, Pure Watercraft will dispatch engineering staff from Seattle and add an experienced manufacturing manager.
Aside from the relative proximity to General Motors’ manufacturing sites and a composite company in the region that was contracted to supply fiberglass parts, Pure Watercraft also found open doors in the West Virginia Legislature and Congressional Delegation, including Governor Jim Justice and Senator Joe Manchin, who helped close the deal. “We’re an all-of-the-above energy state, whether it’s fossil, coal, gas and oil, whether it’s renewables, whether it’s batteries, this is the place to be because we’re going to make sure everything has an opportunity to survive here and to give us energy security our country needs,” Manchin told West Virginia’s MetroNews.
It will be interesting to see Pure Watercraft’s impact on the market now that the firm partners with one of the world’s largest automakers and is getting ready to start producing a foil-assisted electric pontoon boat powered by a Chevy Bolt battery.
Pure Watercraft, 2151 N Northlake Way, Suite 101, Seattle, WA 98103, USA, firstname.lastname@example.org