Pure Watercraft brings boaters a Tesla-style motor

Obviously, water and electricity don’t mix. But one Seattle company called Pure Watercraft has taken up the engineering challenge of building a Tesla-like EV motor for boats.

The startup began taking pre-orders for its Pure Outboard today with a $500, refundable deposit via its own website.

A former rowing coach, Andy Rebele started Pure Watercraft in 2011 with a mission to replace typical gas-powered motors with a quiet and eco-friendly alternative that had real range and power.

“Making a high-performance electric vehicle that works on the water is hard,” he said, “but that’s why it’s worth doing.”

Every component of the Pure Outboard, including the battery pack, is waterproof, or more technically “IP67,” which means it can be submerged in 1 meter of water for up to 30 minutes without issue.

As far as speed, this motor can push a lightweight, 27-foot boat at about 21 miles per hour. Or it can make a smaller, 16-foot boat actually plane, Rebele said.

On a single, fully charged battery the unit runs up to 40 hours pushing a lightweight, 27-foot boat at 3 miles per hour.

Pure Outboard looks a bit different from a gas motor. It’s got a large propeller. And the lower strut is used not just to hold the motor on the boat, but also as a heat exchanger. A cooling loop inside uses the water around it to keep the electronics cool as the unit is running.

The system doesn’t let any seawater pass through, have any shifting gears, or require any fuel. That makes it a “zero-maintenance” design, Rebele said.

The battery can be pulled out and charged indoors. But most users will plug their motors into a standard outlet where they dock.

While the price for the Pure Outboard system including a motor, battery pack and charging station, hasn’t been finalized yet, the CEO says it will be close to $12,000.

Harvard, Stanford and the University of Washington are in the process of purchasing engines for their competitive rowing teams, after early prototype demos, the company said.

Besides the horsepower, coaches like the lack of gas fumes and quiet quality of the Pure Outboard, as hearing loss plagues the profession. Those are the same things that luxury boaters and families would appreciate, too.

Something of a newcomer to hardware engineering, Rebele is a familiar face in the Seattle tech scene.

He started a Web auction startup called CityAuction, which he sold to Interactive Corp in 1999. And he used some of his personal funds to create Seattle’s live-work spaces for entrepreneurial teams, the Hacker Houses.

A company like Pure Watercraft could have never attracted funding from venture capitalists without a working prototype, Rebele said. Hardware that’s just an idea scares them, and they haven’t seen boaters as a worthwhile market, he suggested. So, he’s self-financed the business thus far.

Now that the Pure Outboard is slated to ship to customers, that may change.

There are about 2 million boats registered in the U.S. today that are powered by outboards in Pure Watercraft’s power class, which is between about 2 and 50 horsepower. Two million Pure Outboard systems at $12,000 a pop would add up to $24 billion in minimum potential sales.

Long-term, Pure Watercraft could also adapt its intellectual property to create motors for other boats.

Whether it’s venture-funded or -bootstrapped, the company wants to positively impact the environment and improve the perception of boaters.

“Recreational boats alone put out about 1/3 of the total pollution that cars do,” Rebele said. “So even if there are not that many people out on boats, they have an aggregate impact on the air and our water that’s far disproportionate to their numbers.”