Electric Outboard Motors, Sustainability for Washington Rowing

Executive Summary:

The University of Washington prides itself in being a world leader in sustainability and has a mission aimed towards excelling students to become leaders in the community, state and the nation. At Washington Rowing, our goals stem from the university; we pride ourselves in the pursuit of excellence, starting with our athletics and extending it to our academics and professional lives. As one of the university's oldest sports and one of the oldest intercollegiate sports in the country, Washington Rowing strives to continue our long-standing tradition of excellence by becoming leaders rather than reactionaries in every aspect of our lives. The next step in our pursuit of excellence is to reduce our environmental impact and extend the notion of creating a more sustainable sport to the rowing community across the country.  Furthermore, to educate the Seattle community about Pure Watercraft and its benefit to all users of our city’s waterways.

Washington Rowing is requesting a grant from UW CFS to take the first step towards a more sustainable sport and community.  With a CFS grant Washington Rowing can purchase a Pure Watercraft outboard motor and outfit a coaching launch with all electric power.  Pure Watercraft is a Seattle based start-up company eager to reduce the impact of small gasoline-burning watercraft on the environment and rowing is a perfect example.  Washington Rowing’s fleet burns thousands of gallons of gasoline a year and is docked regularly for charging throughout the day. The new outboard would prevent the burning of thousands of gallons of gasoline and the release of thousands of pounds of CO2 over its lifetime.  More importantly, it would demonstrate our program’s and our school’s commitment to a more sustainable future and the support of a local company.  To adhere to and advance our mission, our goal is to be community leaders in developing environmental sustainability for the sport of rowing. With UW CFS we can achieve that goal and educate the rowing community around the country about the benefits of electric outboards.

We are requesting assistance with the purchase of the motor for a launch (the term used by rowers for the boat which coaches sit in while observing practice). The cost of the motor is $8,000. The remaining expenses for the boat itself would be covered by UW Rowing. This motor costs the same as most other Honda 25 HP motors. However, the cost of the motor’s maintenance would drop significantly, saving the team money in the long run while also diminishing its environmental impacts. Of the $8,000 spent, approximately $5,200 should be saved over the next 8 years.  The 8 year distinction is a minimum lifespan of the motor that is promised to run much longer by Pure Watercraft.

Student Involvement:

There are three main focuses on student involvement for the project; proposal writing, community outreach, and student-led research.

From the start, Washington Rowing has designed this project to be student run with minimal involvement from coaches and administrators except when absolutely necessary.  I, Weston Brown, will be heading the project with involvement from 7 other students working on the project from business, environmental, and engineering backgrounds.

Beyond the proposal writing and preliminary research that goes into the project, the majority of student involvement will be in outreach and community involvement. It will be the student’s role to help spread the knowledge of electric launches to other rowing teams both locally and abroad. The 40 area rowing clubs (which will be discussed further in the outreach segment of this proposal) hold monthly board meetings for their members, and these will provide exceptional opportunities to visit the local clubs and provide sustainable education.

To further investigate the breadth of environmental impact, and the benefit of switching to an entirely electric-powered fleet, Washington Rowing is working with the College of Engineering and Pure Watercraft’s research division to analyze the acoustic vibrations emanating from both types of outboard engines. By involving undergraduates in the experimental setup and data analysis, we will extend the scope of student involvement to academia, and introduce students to our passion for effecting positive change in our environment.

In the future, we hope to expand the research component of this project by exploring in-house renewable energy generation, the effect of turbulence on sediment agitation, and novel methods of filtering point-source runoff. As athletes who spend most of their time on the water, we are acutely aware of the effect that urbanization has on our environment. We believe that maintaining a forward-thinking mindset is crucial for the success of Washington Rowing in building world-class students, athletes, and citizens of the world.

Education & Outreach:

The rowing program at the University of Washington has become a leading program within the domestic and international communities of rowing. With this standing, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to impact the community positively. Transitioning into electric motors within our own fleet of launches is only one step in creating a positive impact in the rowing community.

In addition to our own transition, we will work to educate others within the rowing community in efforts to help adapt electric launches into more clubs around the world. There are forty rowing programs within the Seattle area alone which provides us with incredible accessibility for outreach. Educating board members, athletes, and coaches about the footprint that rowing has on the environment could spark a movement towards a more sustainable rowing community here in Seattle. Eventually, we would expand our education efforts across the country and advise clubs around the nation about Pure Watercraft Outboard and the positive impact the rowing community could have in the effort to aid our environment.

Reaching out to other clubs and rowing programs is a phenomenal opportunity to impact the community. One of the biggest opportunities we have within this realm is opening booths at regattas. The Head of the Charles in Boston and Windermere Cup at our home course in Seattle have thousands of spectators from within and outside of the rowing community.  Over 11,000 athletes participate in racing at the annual Head of the Charles Regatta and 400,000 spectators come to watch throughout the weekend. In addition to that, 32 different countries come to participate in the regatta.  Washington Rowing already has an established presence at these events and in efforts to reach the broader community outside of Seattle, we would hold a Pure Watercraft tent while in attendance at the regatta to educate the community about the electric launch initiative.

Should this project be funded the turnaround from funding to action will be swift. If the grant is approved, the electric motor will be purchased as soon as funding is received.  We anticipate that the grant money will be awarded in April and if ordered then, the motor would arrive four months later in August. Washington Rowing will use internal funding to purchase the launch for the electric motor to be attached to.  The delivery of this launch will take approximately three months before fulfillment. There has been coordination with Master Mechanic of UW Small Engine Repair Mike Horm who will be ready to put together the system once both components have arrived. With the launch received in July and the motor in August the system will be ready for use for the start of school in September of 2018. The administration of Washington Rowing will communicate with the student group through all steps of the process until completion.  Once the motor installation has been completed and the launch is put in the water, student led research can commence.  Similarly, students involved in this project who will be in the Seattle area over the summer can begin travelling to local club board meetings to being the initial education process.

Many pieces that need to be in place for research are already part of the waterway system. Vibration testing requires a linear array, which is already in place in Union Bay. Washington Rowing has a 1,000 m buoy line in that space, which will be perfect for attaching vibration meters to and gaining accurate and consistent measurements.

A large part of this project is engagement with other clubs and members of the community to create a groundswell of sustainability initiatives in the rowing community. Washington Rowing plans to add a significant social media push to our educational initiative, which will be possible at no cost to the organization. Additionally, our website (www.washingtonrowing.com) will be outfitted with a “sustainability” tab on the homepage which will provide anyone who visits our site with information on our electric motor initiatives. The program has a website programmer in house, and this platform expansion can be done at no cost.

Environmental Impact:
  • Energy Use
  • Living Systems and Biodiversity
  • Water
Project Longevity:

This program will continue and be effective as long as programs in the Seattle area and the Pacific NW are still converting from standard motors. Our 10 year goal is to convert all Seattle area rowing programs to electric motors. There will be many parts of the University of Washington that will be impacted by this project. Directly affected will be Washington athletics, specifically the Washington rowing teams, who will benefit from the additional motor, less noise pollution, and an educational tool for the program. The greater student community will also benefit from this project through opportunities for environment research. Lastly, the entire campus and waterfront community will benefit from the less noise pollution and decreasing amount of CO2 emissions that are produced daily in our waterways

Environmental Problem:

On an average day, Washington Rowing fields between 6 to 8 coach’s launches, and practices stretch between 15 to 35 km. Taking an average of 7 launches going 25 km a day and approximately 245 collegiate practices a year (including summer rowing) this adds up to 42,875 km of transport currently run by gasoline outboard engines.  That distance burns approximately 2,145 gallons of gasoline and requires yearly maintenance and frequent oil changes.

Annual fuel consumption for each launch is estimated at 310 gallons a year for the fleet which is equivalent to 1,240 kWh of energy.  On average, every kWh of electricity produced in Washington produces 0.26 lbs of carbon dioxide (CO2) well below the 1.22 lb average of the United States due to investment in renewable energy.  On the contrary 23.5 lbs of CO2 are produced when burning a single gallon of gasoline. (Weight of CO2 comes from combustion with air in addition to gasoline).  Comparing the output of Pure Watercraft electric and the current gasoline outboards, carbon emissions would drop by 6,963 lbs of CO2 yearly, from 7,285 lbs/year to 322 lbs/year for the outfitted launch.

This efficiency is delivered not only from using electric power but also from Pure Watercraft’s proprietary propeller design and motor case.  With no traditional drive shaft, the profile of the motor is much slimmer, creating less drag and a more efficient motor.

Looking beyond carbon pollution, continual oil changes and maintenance of the gasoline engines (not necessary for the electric launches) produces additional waste and pollution.  Carbon emissions are commonly used to measure the environmental impact because it is a number that is easily measure.  However, emissions of other harmful pollutants like methane and sulfur oxides would be dramatically reduced.

In addition to combustion related pollutants, sound and vibrational pollution have an important impact on the fauna in Lake Washington.  Conibear Shellhouse is situated immediately adjacent to the Union Bay Natural Area and the vibrations and noise contributed by gasoline engines undoubtedly have an effect on the fish population there.  River otters and several species of bird rely on fish for their diet and the reduction of noise and vibration by switching to electric outboards will further help the Natural Area be a sanctuary for wildlife.

Explain how the impacts will be measured:

Our educational outreach impacts will be measured by assessing the number of programs we communicate with directly in relation to the number that purchase their own Pure Watercraft electric motors in the future.

Success will also be measured by research initiatives assessing how we have positively impacted the carbon footprint of rowing, and on Seattle (example: decrease in vibration, sound, and CO2 pollution as measured through student research projects). These research projects are rooted in education and will be utilized to further educate on what it means to be a sustainable rowing program and a sustainable Seattle. 

Total amount requested from the CSF: $8,000
This funding request is a: Grant
If this is a loan, what is the estimated payback period?:


ItemCost per ItemQuantityTotal Cost
Motor 8,00018,000

Non-CSF Sources:

UW Rowing Launch Funding 1115,573
Project Completion Total: $23,443


TaskTimeframeEstimated Completion Date
Purchase Motor 4 months from purchase/order dateAugust 2018
Purchase Launch for Motor3 months from purchase/order dateJuly 2018
Install electric motor on Launch, get launch fully operational2 daysAugust/September 2018
Research initiatives commencedepends on project scopeMay 2019
Host informational booth at Head of the Charles Regatta2 daysOctober 21 and 22, 2018
Visit as many clubs in the Seattle area as possible by the conclusion of 2018 to educate board members on rowing’s ability to positively impact local and national sustainability efforts.4 monthsDecember 15, 2018
The “Erg Ed” program run by the George Pocock Foundation hosts a middle school field trip to Conibear Shellhouse. As part of the “learn to row” clinic, middle schoolers will receive information about the electric motor and sustainability.2 daysFebruary 2019
Continue educational initiatives with an education booth at the Windermere Cup Regatta.1 daysMay 4, 2019

Project Approval Forms: