So I just moved to the Thousand Islands region in upstate New York, and quite suddenly, I have boats on my mind. It all started when we started looking at buying a house in Morristown. We have an offer in, I won't say much more until we close, but it occurred to me that Brockville, Ontario is just across the river from us. My wife is looking for good organic produce, which admittedly is a bit scarce, and apparently Brockville has the best local Farmers Market in the region. My wife asked me: if we had kayaks, could we row across the Saint Lawrence to shop at the Farmers Market?
Kayaks are fun, but not particularly comfortable, so I figured I would also look into pricing for personal watercraft—Waverunners, and Sea-Doos, which have some exciting new models (the EX and Spark, respectively). But then, another issue came up: aren't those things loud, and dirty? Yes, they are. So I looked around for alternatives.
What I find interesting is that 2021 seems to be a turning point for the entire industry. More than ten years ago now, Honda entered the PWC market, and abruptly left again (with the AquaTrax); and increased regulation of PWC from the EPA has put a pressure on the market to move to 3 and 4-stroke engines, which has made the new models heavier, and thus removed much of the maneuverability of the earlier iterations.
[re: the new 4-stroke engines]—They also run cleaner. Environmentalists claim one personal watercraft powered by a two-stroke engine operating for one hour creates more pollution than a car creates in ten years of driving.
It’s because two-strokes run on a mixture of gas and oil and spew unburned fossil fuels out into the atmosphere when they’re running. Four strokes are designed to run on gas alone and can be equipped with catalytic converters to reduce their relatively low emissions even further.
quoted from Cottage Link magazine.
So the market is shrinking, and manufacturers are scrambling to build up some more alternatives to heavy, expensive, and clumsy (by comparison) 4-stroke gas-powered engines. Engine Builder Mag has a good piece on this.
The bigger four-strokes weigh 800-1,000 lbs. and these are not tossable machines like a two-stroke in the 400-lb. range. When they were just making the bigger four-strokes, they became more expensive and heavier, great for offshore and more stable, but in small lakes they are massively overpowered skis that you can’t do a lot with. The market was actually shrinking until they started looking at the sales they lost and came out with the Sea-Doo Spark, which is a three-cylinder four-stroke, but only weighs in the 400-500-lb. range. As soon as they began to make those types of skis that were more tossable, then the add-on sales started coming.
But I'm not particularly enamored with doing tricks, I'm just looking for affordable ways to shuttle across the St Lawrence to buy some organic veggies, and generally explore this amazing region without pissing off my neighbors with a loud and dirty gas-guzzler. To be fair, the Spark in particular is quite efficient, in terms of mileage, but the carbon footprint is still not close to zero, and I'm also very interested in the increased maintainability and ease-of-use that comes from electric motors. So I'm going to break down my findings into 3 groups—current market leaders that are available now, viable prospects that are still in development or are too expensive for the general market, and honorable mention for the projects that seem either to have disappeared, or are simply not available in North America.
Taiga Motors is a Canadian company, based in Québec that made a splash with their attractive prototype for an electric snowmobile (now in pre-order). Building on the success of their Taiga Snow 2, they have also moved into the PWC market with the Orca (also in pre-order). Starting out at a $15,000 price-point, this is still not affordable for a lot of potential buyers (at roughly 2x the price of a reasonably-specced Sea-Doo Spark), but wow is it a gorgeous machine, and as we will see in a moment, that is still a very competitive price.
Pure Watercraft is another company, like Taiga, that just recently acquired funding to move into general production. The RIB Classic 360 looks really sharp, can hold 6 passengers, and is priced at ~ $24,000. That is a good-looking boat—with a cruising range of 40+ miles, and a top speed of 25MPH.
Vision Marine Technologies is a boat-maker that deserves credit, along with Duffy, for being early to the electric boat market. These products are not in pre-order, they are available now, with a 30-day lead time for customization. And what I love about the Fantail 217, for example, is the use of classic lines. While manufacturers like Pure Watercraft and Taiga Motors are going all-in on a modern, futuristic look, Vision Marine is maintaining elegant contours and quality trim that remind me a bit of a gondola. Their boats just exude class and understated style, and starting at roughly $21,000, the Quietude 156 is an impressive cruiser that tops out at just 6MPH—not particularly fast—but solid, well-made, and totally chill. Yes, please.
Image above—the WokArt is not electric, but it does look really fun, and it is available for order right now at just under $10,000.
There are two more electric PWCs that deserve mention, although for now the prices are so high that I can't imagine them breaking into the general market. These are expensive toys for very rich people, and hopefully will contribute to a downward trend for the cost of electric personal watercraft as the years go by. The WAV from Nikola Motors looks amazing, and seems to (perhaps?) be in pre-order, but at $80,000 is just too expensive to be an option for most of us. Right now in St Lawrence county, $80k could buy you a house. Also, these machines are not shipping yet and it is not clear exactly when production will start. The Narke 'ElectroJet' GT95 also deserves mention, but starting at €39,000—roughly $46,000—this also is not within reach of any middle-class families. It is marketed as a 'high-spec yacht toy,' and that's definitely what it is. So if you want an electric personal watercraft that is even remotely affordable, Taiga Motors is the only game in town. Go Canada!
NOTE: the Kymera body board looks pretty cool, and at $5,000 is perhaps vaguely affordable, but is not at all a PWC. However, it certainly is a cool concept.
In my research for this piece, I ran across a few products that look very promising, but seem to have disappeared, or have no indication of being available to the North American market. I will list them here in the interest of completeness.
The Gliss Speed began prototyping an electric 'water go-kart' more than 10 years ago, but seems to have dropped off the face of the earth in 2018. That's a shame, because it is a unique concept and seems like a cool design.
The Quadrofoil also looks amazing, and apparently can be ordered in Europe, but the dealer info for North America seems to be outdated, so it's not clear that is is available to my local market. Also, starting at roughly $45,000, it is too expensive for the general consumer, and doesn't really qualify as a boat or a PWC.
The Rev Project is an 'electric jetski' conversion project from Western Australia. It seems to have been more of a proof-of-concept than anything else.
If you have any feedback on this piece, feel free to make contact. Thanks for reading—and see you on the water!
Cover image: the 2021 Fantail 217 from Vision Marine Technologies.