It was a historic moment when Princeton Electric Speedboating (PES) team’s boat, “Big Bird,” reached a blistering speed of 114.2 miles per hour, shattering the world record for the fastest electric-powered boat.
Princeton’s attempt on Oct. 26 surpassed the previous mark of 88.61 mph set by Jaguar Vector Racing — a professional racing group — in 2018. The record-breaking run occurred on Lake Townsend near Greensboro, North Carolina at an American Power Boat Association (APBA) sanctioned course. For an APBA-sanctioned record, a boat must complete one kilometer in one direction, then, after a short break, complete the same kilometer in the opposite direction. The official speed recorded is the average speed of the two runs.
Piloted by professional hydroplane driver John Peeters, Big Bird clocked a speed of 111.08 mph on the first pass and 117.50 mph on the second run, averaging 114.20 mph, well over the previous world record. The run also topped an unofficial single-point speed record set by Vision Marine in August with a top speed of 116 mph.
The PES team is composed of over 40 undergraduate and graduate students, many of whom skipped class to prepare for and witness the event. Going into the day, the team felt confident in the boat’s record-breaking abilities.
“The previous day [of testing] had gone really well for us,” said Andrew Robbins ’25, CEO of PES, in an interview with the Daily Princetonian. “We were looking to break the Jaguar record right out the gate. In the first run, we wanted to go down, put out a pretty quick pass, and have everything go well.”
Robbins, a junior studying Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, serves as both president and CEO of the team, and is responsible for managing day-to-day operations for this project.
“We weren’t necessarily anticipating breaking [Vision Marine’s] unofficial record right off the bat,” stated Robbins. “It happened that the boat ran a little bit faster than expected, so we took both records in one go, which was awesome.”
“Faster than expected” turned out to be faster than any electric speedboat in history, and the team of students and supporters watching from the shore cheered in delight as they witnessed the culmination of their hard work. The team sought to break 120 mph on their following attempt, which then ended prematurely after the boat’s propeller shaft broke at the onset of the attempt. Nonetheless, PES finished the day as official world record holders and is eagerly looking forward to reaching even higher velocities in the future.
The team first started working on Big Bird in February, 2022. The engineering process consumed the next 20 months, as PES partnered with Black Sheep Racing, Flux Marine, and multiple other organizations to gather the necessary components for the boat. Robbins described the engineering process as a combination of known and unknown quantities.
“We [took] a couple [of] known quantities and put the best of each individual sector together. So in this case, we started with an existing Pro-Outboard hydroplane,” explained Robbins.
The hydroplane in question was a 14-foot, bright yellow gas boat with a blue stripe down the middle — hence the name Big Bird — built in 1993 by Ed Carlson, one of the most well-respected and renowned hydroplane builders in history. The storied hull was a “known quantity” for the team, as it had already set numerous gas records in the past.
The team’s engineers then worked with Flux Marine — a sustainable boating company based in Rhode Island — to develop an electric power train specifically tailored for the boat.
The biggest engineering challenge was the question of keeping the boat’s weight low. “One of the big drawbacks of electric vehicles, particularly electric boats, is that the battery pack required to make them run for long duration is very heavy. And so in this case, our battery pack was about 330 pounds, and the boat weight was only about 975 pounds with the driver,” said Robbins. “Keeping [the weight] low and making sure that we're able to get high discharge was probably our toughest feat, but [we had] a good team behind it.”
The team worked tirelessly throughout the year to put the boat together. Robbins credited J.W. Myers, owner of Black Sheep Racing, for being a great help throughout the entire process.
“We got in touch with J.W. through a friend of his, Mike Schmidt, who initially reached out to potentially use his boat, and he had put us in contact with J.W. thinking that, you know, he might have a boat for us,” stated Robbins.
Myers also played a large role in securing John Peeters, a personal friend with whom he had worked for over a decade, as the boat’s driver.
“[Myers and Peeters] are a phenomenal team,” affirmed Robbins. “For us it was an honor and a pleasure to work with them, and they were just happy to be part of the project . . . They were a huge component [of the project]. Without them, it wouldn't have been possible.”
Peeters is the second-highest decorated boat racer in the world, with 61 records to his name. In another interview, Peeters stated, “I’m so lucky to be a part of this and to share in these accomplishments. This was a group effort, and that was so neat to me. They had a picture of a kid pumping his fist in pure joy, and you don’t get that every time. To capture it live was really special to see.”
With the record already under their belt, the Electric Speedboating team looks to the future to reach even higher speeds. The next goal? Not just breaking 120 miles per hour, or even 130. To Robbins, it's 149.
“The next step is to go much faster,” Robbins told the ‘Prince.’ “We’ve got a custom hull that’s being built by Black Sheep Racing. J.W. [Myers] is heading that construction, and then we’ve got a custom battery pack being built by Daneco Ltd. out of the UK, and that should increase our power by about 75%. The mark is to be in the high 140s. 149 is the goal.”
The number 149 is significant, as the APBA requires more stringent safety requirements at speeds exceeding 150 mph. While this may sound outlandish, Robbins believes the team has the resources and capability to pull it off.
As they work on engineering a newer and faster powerboat, the team is also preparing for other upcoming competitions. Their next confirmed event, the Promoting Electric Propulsion Race, is a five-mile race between different colleges that will occur from April 15-16, 2024.
“We’re really excited for that race,” said Robbins. "[Last year] we finished about three times faster than anybody else on the course, and we hope to extend that lead significantly this year. Hopefully, we’ll be raising the bar on the electric water speed record sometime following that.”
PES’ commitment to electricity and sustainability is also of note, especially in such a gas-dominated boating industry. The club has been electric since its inception in order to participate in numerous college competitions, including the aforementioned Promoting Electric Propulsion Race. Being electric also has other benefits for the club, according to Robbins.
“We have found great success in the electric industry and it looks to be growing rapidly, so we are happy to be in the heart of it,” he wrote to the ‘Prince.’ “Being all-electric has helped us get more donors. One of the goals of the team is to promote sustainability within the marine industry and work to improve our waterways while going fast and having fun. This goal is generally well regarded with potential team donors and partners.”
Though committing to fully electric boats has come with its fair share of challenges, the team has proved that they belong among the elite.
“When we started [this project], a lot of people said, ‘there’s no way you’re gonna beat that record, look at your competition’” Robbins said. “To be on the same level as Vision Marine is an honor and something that, if you think you can make it happen, you go for it. When we started this project, we told ourselves, well, we might try and fail . . . but it’s definitely worth going for.”
With a team of students like Princeton Electric Speedboating, anything is possible, even a world record.
Peter Wang is a contributor to the Sports section of the ‘Prince.’
Please send corrections to corrections[at]princeton.edu.