Electro Nautic opens pre-orders on a wave-skimming hydrofoil for two
If you want decent range out of an electric watercraft, you need to eliminate drag – and that's the thinking behind the WaveFlyer Volaré, launching in Sydney this weekend. Smaller than some jet skis, it hovers over the water for a smooth, quiet ride.
When we last wrote about the WaveFlyer back in 2019, it was a prototype hydrofoil system fitted to a jet ski. Things have changed significantly on the way to production. The Volaré looks more like a small, sleek tender boat, and seats two side by side, with a 7-inch digital dash and control joystick diplomatically situated in the middle.
As with most hydrofoils, the Volaré has its electric propulsion units at the back of its retractable foils, which lift up level with the hull for shallow water work and transport. Where the prototype looked impossibly balanced on two inline foil blades at the front and rear, the production machine looks equally impossibly balanced on two blades side by side, toward the back.
Under the water, these blades are connected with the actual foil wings that do the lifting work. The rear is bent into an anhedral "A-tail" shape, which Electro Nautic claims as a world first, boasting "unmatched active stability and maneuverability." Both foils have control surfaces on the trailing edge, and that's how this beast is steered once you're up on stilts. The company points out that this foil shape leaves no wingtips poking out either side that might slice up swimmers or marine life, although we'd imagine the main blade would still leave rather an impression at speed.
As with all hydrofoils, the process of flying the Volaré is too complex to be done manually. It rides less than 70 cm (2.3 ft) over the surface, but losing your balance and smacking into the water at a top speed of 40 km/h (25 mph) would not be pleasant. So it uses a fly-by-wire control system that's capable of balancing the craft for you at all times.
This control system offers two different modes when you're up on the foils: cruise mode, which is focused on keeping everyone comfortable and feeling safe, and performance mode, which lets you throw the thing around a bit, banking it into fast turns and delivering sharper, more responsive handling. This sounds like jolly good fun.
The fly-by-wire system also supports remote control, so you can treat the WaveFlyer like an enormous R/C boat using a phone app. Electro Nautic is pitching this feature mainly at rental operators, who could use it to guide the boat to safety if the pilot falls off. For the same reason, it's got a built-in geofencing feature that can keep the Volaré away from certain areas and restricted to others. And you can shut the whole thing down remotely if it gets stolen.
At 290 cm (9.5 ft) long by 125 cm (4.1 ft) wide, it'll take up about as much room on a trailer or in the shed as a jet ski. They'll launch and land at a boat ramp, or you can just drag them up onto the sand. It'll carry up to 200 kg (440 lb) worth of people riding on the foils – you can squeeze in 250 kg (550 lb) if you pull the foils up and drive it as a regular floater, but then you'll be going very slow, getting about a quarter of the range, and everyone will know you're too porky to get your flying boat out of the water.
As for range and endurance, these are related to battery size, and that in turn is related to price. The base model gives you 1.5 hours and up to 35 km (22 miles), and will cost you US$49,990*. There's a 3-hour/65-km (40-mile) version for $54,990*, and the top of the range will give aspiring King Dingalings 4.5 hours and 100 km (62 miles) for $59,990*.
*Editor's note (Nov. 22, 2023): Electro Nautic has contacted us to point out that pricing for the WaveFlyer has changed since the publication of this article. Anyone interested in current pricing information should contact the company.
The latter is a pretty solid day out – not to mention a pretty dang solid price tag. Hydrofoils will always be more expensive than regular boats, due to their inherently more complex dynamics, fly-by-wire control systems and strong, lightweight materials. Plus the majority are electric, which adds significant cost, particularly in the battery pack.
But as many hydrofoiling watercraft as we've covered over the years, they're still an extremely rare and eye-popping sight. And they're not just for show either – they can deliver a preternaturally smooth ride over choppy water, they radically extend the range possible from a given battery, and they're nearly silent and leave almost no wake, making them about as friendly to locals and wildlife as it's possible to get in a pleasure craft, while also being emissions-free. Plus they look like a ton of fun. There will certainly be a market for this gear.
Reservations are open now, with the official launch to be held this weekend. Electro Nautic says it'll start delivering WaveFlyers this year. Check out a short video below, showing a single-seat prototype in action.
Source: Electro Nautic