Navier’s 30ft electric hydrofoil boat takes on water and prepares for production

Electric leisure boat startup Navier has successfully brought its hydrofoil watercraft concept to life and has opened up pre-orders — if you’ve got a few hundred thousand dollars. It might not be affordable, but it’s not like the other 30ft boats you can order that are a bargain either. At least this one doesn’t burn 10 gallons of gas per hour.

Navier just picked up a starting lap at the start of the year, which the boat was a 27ft twinkle in the eyes of its founders, Sampriti Bhattacharyya (whom I met on the ‘throttle at sea’) and Reo Baird. Now it’s a real 30ft boat that plows through the waves at 25 knots.

The craft is all-electric and uses the hydrofoil to get around the fact that batteries, while suitable for wheeled vehicles, quickly drain when you push water out of the way all the time you go forward. The hydrofoil essentially takes advantage of the physics of water resistance to forward motion to bring the bulkier part of the boat up above the surface, while the propulsion part remains below, attached by fine fins.

The basic approach is not unique – Candela also makes a few electric hydrofoils and is trying to tap into some of the same markets. But Navier touts a longer range — around 75 nautical miles versus the Candelas’ 50 — and a more user-friendly experience. That is, a more comfortable cockpit, greater focus on the user experience and a sport mode that allows the driver to control the boat more directly.

Its foils are also fully retractable, allowing the N30 to navigate shallows without scraping the bottom. Keeping them hidden also minimizes “biofouling”, i.e. algae and barnacles.

Bhattacharyya was quick to add, however, that she sees Candela more as a colleague than a competitor: the real competition is the gas-powered boats. “I think to free our lakes and oceans from fossil pollutants and rebuild the maritime industry, we all need to do more and faster. We need to replace our gas rivals – there are a lot of them, and more people in the ‘industry can quickly go electric, the better we can speed up saving the planet,’ she wrote in an email.

Aerial view of the Navier boat in its infancy.

Of course, at $300,000 apiece, they won’t replace dinghies with 5-horsepower outboards. This caters more to luxury clientele and institutional clients like water taxi services. Fuel is expensive, cutting into already thin margins in shipping operations. A ten-passenger boat that consumes no fuel could be ideal for shuttling commuters across a bay or lake, or for three-hour excursions. The amount of marine fuel expended on this type of voyage is enormous, and gas-powered boats do not run particularly cleanly.

The just-unveiled N30 was described by Bhattacharyya as “software driven”, which at first glance seems like an odd claim to make for a boat. But while most boats float, hydrofoiling is a process that must be actively monitored to maintain stability.

“It’s a combination of a boat and an airplane – there are a lot of very complex parts, but that’s what it takes to build something that’s more efficient in different stages,” said- she explained, likening the boat to a fighter jet, which compensates for natural instability with constant software-defined adjustments. “The software in the control system is what stabilizes it and steers it using information from the sensors and then driving the actuators. The user operates at a higher level (or outer loop) and drives it like a normal boat.

Interior of the first Navier N30.

It might sound a bit daunting, but pretty much all cars now do that too with traction control and all-wheel drive – you push on the gas, and the car determines how much power to send to which wheels, adjusting to the fly if you hit water or ice. Some cars let you have a bit more control if you like it, and that’s sport mode on the N30.

The plan is to integrate more high-level software features, culminating (as all vehicles seem these days) in a self-driving mode. For now, the boat has a self-docking capability, which probably sounds nice to anyone who doesn’t appreciate this potentially finicky maneuver.

Illustration of an example of a docking maneuver. Sounds easy in theory, but…

“The N30 can autonomously steer the boat safely to a user-selected mooring slip without further input from the captain. The automatic mooring system uses advanced computer vision and additional sensors to estimate the location of the boat relative to the selected slip while compensating for external disturbances such as wind while avoiding obstacles,” Bhattacharyya said.

There are three variants: open top, hardtop and cabin, which start at $375,000 and go up from there. It’s certainly a lot of money, but cabin cruisers this size aren’t cheap to start with, and it’s a state-of-the-art electric vessel that basically flies. Sure, this will be a toy for the very wealthy for the foreseeable future, but once production methods and technology become a bit more established, you’ll start to see this type of craft trickle down to institutional uses (like water taxis) and maybe even rentals. Either way, it’s nice to see a bit of innovation on the water, and I look forward to the days when the lakes are calmer and cleaner because of it.

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