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Boundary Layer pivots from container ships to hydrofoiling personal watercraft

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Foiling personal watercraft
Image Credits: Boundary Layer

Boundary Layer, which was gunning for local air freight, and announced a slew of launch partners earlier this year, today announced a shift in strategy, with some high-performance foiling personal watercraft. Think low-flying SeaDoo, and you’ve got the right idea.

The new product is called Valo, and will be able to carry a couple of passengers. Powered by a 108 hp electric motor, the craft can foil two feet above the surface of the water, at a top speed of 58 mph (50 knots), which will make it the world’s fastest production foiling craft. Fingers crossed you don’t come off the craft at those speeds; that’d be profoundly uncomfortable.

“We advise that you don’t fall off at 50 knots,” Ed Kearney, founder and CEO of the company behind Valo, Boundary Layer Technologies, said drily.

The company says the hydrofoils will be fully retractable, which would enable trailering on a conventional boat trailer.

“Valo will be a complete revolution to personal watercraft. The first Jet Ski was on the market 50 years ago this year, and it’s time for a major upgrade,” Kearney said. “It will be fast, agile and tremendously exhilarating, all while being near silent and leaving zero wake. It will be like flying a stunt plane but on water. We see this as a completely new form of water-based mobility.”

Boundary Layer wants to steal air freight’s lunch and transport it by water instead

It’s a curious pivot for the company that was previously focusing on commercial foiling passenger ferries. Moving from light, high-speed shipping to a leisure craft can’t have been an easy choice for the Y Combinator-backed company, which announced it had raised a $4.8 million round from Lower Carbon CapitalFifty Years and Soma Capital. At the time, the company claimed it had $90 million worth of preorders from ferry operators for their 220-seat electric passenger vessels.

“The other projects are on hold. We see a huge opportunity for electric foiling, ferries and container ships to replace fright. For us, the question is ‘where do we start?’,” Kearney told us in an interview. “We had letters of intent for those vehicles, mostly passenger ferries. The customers were looking for the next step of technical progress. But it has been a very challenging time for them, between the global environment in terms of oil prices and geopolitical turmoil. They will be waiting keenly for us to get to the next stage, where they can have their vessels.”

So the original set of customers will have to be a bit patient for now — but why the pivot to personal watercraft?

“I’ve been on a lot of foiling boats, but nothing quite lives up to the full potential that foiling should be bringing to a watercraft. It should be going like downhill skiing, carving through deep powder, or on a road bike going down a hill leaning into corners. This is the kind of thing that we can bring to the experience,” Kearney laughs. “That doesn’t exist today. And I really want to rip from the San Francisco Marina to Sausalito in eight minutes.”

The company’s founder says the pivot is more about a shift of focus.

“We simply shifted from ‘big first’, to ‘fast first’,” says Kearney. “What we love about Valo is how fast we can get to market. We are bringing all the technology we were developing for massive container ships and ferries and using it to deliver one hell of a recreational product.”

The company claims that the design and build of the first prototype of this craft is “almost complete” and that the company expects to start offering the first customer demos in Q1 2023. The company will be building a small number of limited edition “Founders Edition” craft by mid 2023, before releasing the production vehicle in 2024, with an expected price tag of $59,000.

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