Andy Rebele — investor, entrepreneur, and avid boater — enjoys a challenge. In 2011, Rebele founded Seattle-based Pure Watercraft to bring electric vehicle innovations to the boating community, pitching it as the “Tesla for boats.” After four years of design and development, Pure Outboard, the company’s flagship product, is available for pre-order starting today.
“This one (project) has challenges in every arena,” says Rebele. Reaching future customers, engineering a product, and entering a new market are just some of the hurdles. Rebele remains undaunted. “Every one of those is intellectually interesting,” he said. “This is a lot more of a challenge and an interesting process than it would have been trying just to stamp out another internet thing.”
The founder and former CEO of CityAuction, which sold to IAC/InterActive Corp for $54 million in 1999, saw a unique opportunity when he discovered a lack of electric engines available for boating.
Inspired by developments in high-performance electric vehicles, Rebele founded Pure Watercraft to bring Tesla-like innovations to the water. The company has raised more than $3 million to date, a majority of which has come from Rebele, and it’s currently in the process of additional fundraising.
Rebele and a team of engineers set out to design and develop a lightweight, efficient, and low-maintenance electric outboard engine. The Pure Watercraft team incorporated a specially designed, compact motor, larger propeller, and passive cooling systems to maximize power and reduce weight.
Similar to Tesla, the Pure Outboard uses engineered, thermally managed batteries. In each battery pack, individual cells are surrounded by a lightweight wax and graphite casing that disperses heat and provides a ten-year life span. Two battery packs give a range of up to 28 miles to a lightweight coaching launch traveling 9-13 mph.
Rebele’s experience as a rower and rowing coach convinced him to pursue an electric outboard. “I knew how much it would change a rowing coach’s life,” he explained.
Pure Outboard offers out significant noise reduction compared to traditional gas outboards, helping to prevent hearing loss and improving communication on the water. After testing out Pure Outboard, rowing programs at Harvard, Stanford and the University of Washington have pre-ordered systems.
GeekWire experienced a prototype of the Pure Outboard during a recent demo on Lake Union in Seattle. We joined Rebele in a launch typically used by rowing coaches for its low-wake design. It was impossible to tell the engine had started until we glided away from the dock, a silent and smooth experience.
As the GPS measured our speed-over-ground at 20 mph, Rebele continued speaking, without raising his voice, to demonstrate the difference from a traditional outboard experience. For boaters accessing the water for rowing, fishing or pleasure, the decreased noise is noticeable both above and below the water.
In addition to the environmental benefits, Rebele says, “The main thing people respond to is the quietness.”
Select niches in the boating industry already use electric engines such as Duffy electric pleasure boats, which reach top speed at 6 mph. Trolling motors, smaller electric outboards are frequently used by anglers as a secondary propulsion source.
More powerful electric outboards are less common and not widely used. Torqeedo, a German producer of electric motors and an industry leader, began offering a high-powered outboard in 2015, a decade after its founding.
With the launch of Pure Outboard, Rebele sees the creation of a platform that Pure Watercraft and other boat builders can continue to develop. Revealing his tech roots, Rebele compares Pure Outboard to an operating system and the engine’s potential as varied as applications in an app store.
Rebele believes both frequent boaters, such as rowing coaches, and less frequent pleasure boaters who desire a higher quality boating experience, can benefit from Pure Outboard. The company’s target market includes the 2 million U.S. boaters using 5 to 50 HP gas outboards.
“We bring a professional level of electric vehicle technology to a power class of boat that has previously not had one available.” Rebele said. “We enable people to have a clean, quiet, convenient way of boating.”
Pure Watercraft is now accepting pre-orders via its website with a refundable deposit of $500. Although the price is expected to start around $12,000, the company says on its FAQ, “We are not yet ready to announce the price, but we expect it to cost a little more than a new conventional outboard. You’ll also need to purchase at least one battery pack, and a charger. The battery pack is expected to cost about $1 per watt-hour – a competitive price point for similar battery packs.”
Pilot production is scheduled to begin by the end of 2016, with plans for increased production by the end of 2017.