The automotive industry is knee deep in the great transition to electricity, but one place where the gas is still strong is on the water. Seattle startup Zin boats wants to begin what could be called a fundamental change by showing, as Tesla did with cars, that an electric boat can not only be better for the planet, but better in almost every other way.
With a minimalist design like a silver ball made almost entirely of carbon fiber, the 20-foot Z2R is less than half the weight of a comparable vehicle. It takes off like a shot and is easy to manipulate while traveling a hundred miles on one charge – and you can fill the “tank” in about an hour for about five dollars.
Are you waiting for the other shoe to fall? Well it’s not cheap. But then there are only a few boats.
Piotr Zin, who gives the company its name, has been designing racing sailboats for 20 years and works for BMW, GM and other large companies in the industrial design sector. Shortly after settling on a houseboat on Lake Union in Seattle, he realized that the waterways he had enjoyed all his life may not exist for the next generation.
(Disclosure: Zin actually moved in next to my mom, and I found out by chance that he was working on it when he visited her.)
“The reason I started doing electric boats specifically is because I had a child and came to Jesus,” he told me. “I realized: if we don’t do anything personally About the quality of the water we live in, it won’t be here when my child is my age. “
Traditional gas-powered boats are a thing of the past, like driving a car from the 1970s half under water. Surprisingly, they are electric boats the same age. Like electric cars, they enjoyed a brief fashion at the beginning of the 20th century. Likewise, until recently they were never considered useful for “real” boating.
As with most things, it comes down to physics: “The force required to move a boat compared to the force required to move a car is absolutely enormous,” said Zin. “It’s like driving a car at full throttle in first gear.”
This level of traction limited electric boats to being the aquatic equivalent of golf carts – in fact, carts and some of the more popular old-school electric boats share many components. If you’ve ridden in one, it was likely a Duffy who has been making models for puttering around 3-4 knot lakes since the 1960s. Perfectly pleasant, but not exactly exciting.
“We tested this boat on 55 but decided not to sell it to people. It’s just crazy. ”
What changed everything was the increasing density and decreasing cost of lithium-ion batteries. The Z2R uses BMW batteries combined with a special Torqueedo motor and can travel a hundred miles or more at cruising speeds (e.g. 15 knots). It is charged with a normal power plug or the high-amperage charging cables found in most marinas. In this case, another 50 miles will be added to the tank while you eat a sandwich.
Given the fuel efficiency of traditional boats and the rising price of marine gas, electrical operation could save a boat owner thousands each year. (Maintenance is also virtually non-existent; Zin recommended hosing them off every now and then.)
But it’s also more than capable of going extremely fast.
“The top speed is well over 30 knots,” noted Zin. “We tested this boat on 55 but decided not to sell it to people. It’s just crazy. “
Having ridden it myself, I can confirm that the Z2R really does jump off the line in a way that, along with its near-silence, seems impossible. Just as Tesla’s consumer sedans rival Lamborghinis 0-60 times, the immediate response from is almost frightening.
“The boat was designed around the battery. The unique thing about using an electrical system is that we can place the motor anywhere we want, ”said Zin. Sitting flat on the floor lowers the center of gravity and balances the weight distribution compared to most speedboats. “They look at a lot of traditional boat buildings, they stuff everything in the background. Then when you put the hammer down, you cannot see anything for five seconds. There is no bow rise in this boat – it sits flat. “
When you’re that level there’s almost no risk of you tipping it over, or many of the other failure modes that result from one-sided constructions that behave poorly at speed. Ease of use and surprising performance seem to be a family trait of electric vehicles.
“For most builders, it’s not about innovation, it’s about how we do it. ”
Zin is proud to have redesigned the boat from the ground up. Both high-performance fluid dynamics software and true-to-scale models were used to determine the shape of the hull.
“Boat building is a very traditional business. For most building owners, it’s not about innovation, but about “This is how we do it”. Zin said. “However, there is a huge advantage in being able to use these tools. The computing power that we’ve had in graphics cards over the past few years, mainly due to the gaming industry, has pushed the possible further and further. “
Previously, in large computerized fluid dynamics suites, users had to enter their parameters and select some milestone speeds at X thousand dollars per data point – 10 knots, 20 knots, etc. The way the water would react to the boat and vice versa at these speeds and extrapolated for speeds in between. However, as the computing power increases, this is no longer necessary as Zin proved itself to a commercial CFD software provider when they used a separate computing stack to continuously calculate water behavior at all speeds and in high definition.
“Right now you can drive the boat [in the simulation] at any speed you want and see the water spray, including small droplets. And then you can adjust the shape of your hull to make sure those droplets don’t hit the passengers, ”he said. “It’s not exactly what most boat designers would do. So the use of high-end software that didn’t really achieve its full potential was amazing. “
If practically everything is built from carbon fiber (an ordeal in itself) the entire boat will be around 1,750 pounds – typically a 20-foot boat would be twice that or more. This is critical to ensure that the boat can travel long distances. Fear of range is more of a problem on the water than on the road. And of course that means it’s quick and easy to control.
Yet the boat barely screams speed. The large open cockpit is flat and spacious, with just a steering wheel, throttle and screens with friendly displays for range, media controls, GPS and so on. There is no vibration or engine noise. No aesthetic choices like stripes or lines suggest an explosive performance. The wood veneer (to save weight – and it’s matched to the speakers for better sound), the floor, and the cream-colored leather upholstery make it look more like a floating Mercedes.
It’s not an accident. Zin’s first customers are people who can afford a boat that costs around $ 250,000. He compared it to Tesla’s Roadster: a flashy, high-end vehicle that funds and proves the demand for a more practical one – an open-bow tender model that Zin is already designing and will cost more than $ 175,000 .
Conscience with a wallet
The target consumer is one who has money and an environmentally conscious attitude – either alone or out of necessity.
“There are a lot of inquiries from Europe, where the environmental regulations are stricter than in North America. But we also have a number of pristine lakes that are only electric to keep them clean, ”said Zin. “So if you live by a lake in Montana that is only electric, you have the option of going at five knots and you can’t even cross the lake because the boat is so slow … or you can have a fully functional motorboat that you have can go water skiing, the same speeds as in a gas-powered boat, but it is completely emission-free. I mean, this boat is as clean as it gets – there’s no oil, no gasoline, and nothing that gets into the water. “
I really asked myself why the whole industry wasn’t electric years ago. And indeed there is a couple of competitors, but it’s usually even more niche or one-off work where an electric motor is attached to an existing hull and it is said that it is an electric boat going 50 knots. And it does – for five or ten minutes. Or there are customer-specific boat builders who create something very beautiful for a Zin customer – Go to Monte Carlo and buy one at auction for a few million dollars.
Zin sees his boat as the first to tick every box and some that weren’t there before. As fast as a motorboat, but almost noiseless; same range but a fraction of the price to get there; Handles like a dream but practically requires no maintenance. It’s as smart as the smartest car, limiting its speed based on the waterway, automatically adjusting to stay within range of a safe haven or charger, and wirelessly updating software anywhere in the world. I didn’t even get a change to ask about his self-driving skills.
As the first-time technical founder of a hardware company, Zin cut out his work for him. He has raised seed capital to complete the prototype and production model, but needs capital to be able to fulfill his existing orders faster. Like many other startups, he was preparing to do whatever it took when the pandemic broke out and production ceased entirely. But they’re almost ready to start making again.
“I realized there was no longer a boat company,” said Zin. “One of the things we are building is this hull that contains everything and it randomly moves through the water, which makes it a boat, but that’s where the boat part ends. It really is a technology hub, and my company isn’t just a boating company, it has to be a technology company. “
He said his investors understand that this is not a one-off toy, but the beginnings of an incredibly valuable intellectual property that – with Tesla’s success – is self-writing.
“We don’t just have a plan like this, just a really fast boat,” Zin concluded. “We know what we want to do with this technology now, we know what we’re going to do with this technology in 24 months, and in 48 months, I wish I could show you some of these things. It’s tough and we have to survive this year, but that’s just the beginning. “