University Of Michigan Team Preparing Electric-Powered 22-Foot Liberator For Shootout Competition And More

University Of Michigan Team Preparing Electric-Powered 22-Foot Liberator For Shootout Competition And More

Based out of the highly regarded Wilson Center smack dab in the middle of one of the country’s most premier universities, a considerable amount of engineering students has been working on a unique project that is sure to get a lot of attention from the performance boat community—and beyond thanks to its University of Michigan affiliation. Might it get similar attention to the NCAA’s all-time winningest football team that plays at The Big House in Ann Arbor? Unlikely, but thanks to that program and the extensive alumni network from the esteemed university, the boat being prepared by the University of Michigan Electric Boat project team to compete at the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout in Central Missouri August 24-25 is sure to have a lot of fans cheering it on.

The University of Michigan Electric Boat project team is preparing its new 22-foot Liberator Boats catamaran to compete at the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout in less than two months. Photos courtesy UMEB

The team, consisting of more than 50 Michigan students, is putting the finishing touches on its new electric-powered 22-foot catamaran from Liberator Boats in Crowley, Texas, which has been equipped with a custom safety canopy from nearby Skater Powerboats in Douglas, Mich., and an Arneson surface drive. The team is working with a variety of the boating world’s best and brightest to bring the boat to life, including Skater Powerboats founder Peter Hledin, champion tunnel-boat racer Rusty Wyatt and the most respected marine designers and engineers from the UM Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering department. So anticipation—and expectations—are high.

“Our goal is to do at least 120 miles an hour in the boat at the biggest event we know of where we could accomplish it—the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout on its three-quarter-mile course, and hopefully again in the event’s kilo run,” said team co-captain Arend Vyn, a rising senior studying mechanical engineering. “We’ll have the boat at the Shootout On The Strip at the lake alongside the Princeton Electric Speedboating team’s next-generation kilo-record boat, which will not be competing in the Shootout (per event rules, it is not long enough). We have other plans to campaign the boat this summer at a few different poker runs and offshore races in the Michigan area, notably our public unveiling of the boat at the Boyne Thunder Poker Run street party. We’ve also been talking to the Princeton team about joining their kilo run in the fall.”

The crew at Liberator was willing to make modifications to its 22-footer to meet the University of Michigan Electric Boat team’s goals.

According to the enthusiastic and sharp Vyn and another passionate member of the University of Michigan Electric Boat team I had the pleasure of meeting via an introductory Zoom call back in April—Nick Robbins, who is the younger brother of Andrew Robbins who I’ve interviewed several times as a representative of the Princeton Electric Speedboating team—the team selected the Liberator for a variety of reasons. The boat was large enough to compete at the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout, small enough to fit in one of the Wilson Center garages and safe and stable enough for going fast. The safety aspect is the main reason they reached out to Skater to build a capsule for the normally open-cockpit, center-pod-style catamaran that is built to handle a substantial amount of weight for its size.

“The Liberator is a five-person, 22-foot boat that we expected could handle the extra amount of weight from the batteries required to power the boat,” Vyn said. “We talked with Liberator about the battery weight and they were happy to make some modifications to accommodate our requests.

“A few of us from the team made the trip over Thanksgiving break to pick up the boat and bring it back,” he added. “My Thanksgiving was great—I got some good Texas brisket. When we came back, we finished the school semester and then basically started on the boat at the beginning of this year. In early January, we spent a full week at Skater’s shop in Douglas and worked with their whole composites team to build the canopy. That was an amazing experience.”

Thanks to a Skater-constructed canopy and windshields from Lee Aerospace, the 22-foot Liberator is ready for top-speed competition.

Robbins, a rising junior studying business who grew up around performance boats thanks to his parents, was well aware of Skater and excited to work with the well-respected company founded by Peter Hledin 50 years ago.

“Everyone at Skater has been very helpful with this whole process,” Robbins said. “Not only did they facilitate us to build a canopy for the boat, they’re also helping us out with other elements of the boat to try to make it more efficient and faster, such as giving us an Arneson surface drive. The Liberator is a versatile platform, which is great. It allowed us the option of inboard or outboard power. Originally we were considering an outboard on the back as that is what the majority of 22 Liberators are equipped with, but after some other design choices and communication with Skater, we opted for the Arneson drive.”

Robbins said the electric motor the team decided to use is a Beyond Motors AXM4, which is an axial flux e-motor that is capable of producing 430 kilowatts or 575 horsepower with 950 Newton-meters or 700 foot-pounds of torque. He called the power-to-weight ratio outstanding since the motor only weighs 48 kilograms or 106 pounds.

“The axial flux motors are some of the newest electric motors out there—they’re built in Slovenia,” Vyn said. “It’s been pretty cool from our standpoint to work with companies from all around the world for this project. There is a lot of electric vehicle technology coming out of Eastern Europe, in places such as Hungary, Switzerland, and Slovakia. It makes for a cool story when we can show where our sponsors are, and we have to present the whole globe to encapsulate it all.”

During our Zoom meeting, Vyn, who was sitting in the Wilson Center, pointed his camera toward the motor, the battery design, the canopy and the removable hatch behind the canopy that lifts off for access to the motor and battery pack.

Although the battery pack wasn’t completely assembled yet, Vyn said it was made up of approximately 4,600 cells.

“It’s the same type of cell that you’d see in one of those big flashlights,” he said. “They’re called 21700. They’re high-quality lithium-ion rechargeable batteries that are very power dense so they can output a lot of power very quickly, meaning we can basically push our motor to the limit and our batteries won’t really go through any struggles, which is super cool.”

Robbins said the team’s in-house-designed battery pack is similar to Tesla’s Model Y pack, in terms of the output and capacity, but significantly lighter at about 65 percent of the weight.

“Our battery pack has some really cool technology—some patent-pending stuff—to make it work for our application,” Robbins explained. “The Arneson drive we’re using is the ASD7, but instead of the 1.32:1 gear ratio we’re going to a 0.75:1 ratio because the axial flux motors have lower rpm and higher torque. The peak rpm is only around 4,500 and we want the prop to spin a bit faster than that so we’re going with the drop ratio.”

Because no one on the team has real high-speed boating experience, the team is working with accomplished tunnel-boat racer Rusty Wyatt of Toronto to drive the boat at the Shootout and to assist with setup and testing.

“We’re super excited to have Rusty on the team and he’s super excited about the opportunity,” Vyn said. “His experience is so valuable and he has such a positive attitude. Of course he’s pretty busy this year competing overseas in his rookie season with the F1H2O series, but he’s committed to our team and setting some records with us.”

Check out the slideshow above for more images of the project boat and its components.

Considering the University of Michigan Electric Boat team was established in 2020, the students and their advisors have come a long way in four years. Vyn and Robbins credited both the student and faculty commitment as well as the Wilson Center facility itself.

“The mentorship we have available is second to none,” Vyn said. “We have the opportunity to talk to professors who really know their stuff and design experts right across the street from us at the Naval Architecture & Marine Engineering department. Those people are like the best in the world for all things boats and ships—not necessarily speedboats and racing, but their insight is still huge.

“The projects going on here at Wilson Center go well beyond our electric boat,” he continued. “I think there are like 30 projects happening right now. On the other side of the wall from us is an electric bike project that is expected to go almost 200 mph. There’s also a solar car team that got a lot of attention for building a racecar to compete in Australia.”’s Jason Johnson, top right, enjoyed a Zoom conference call with Nick Robbins, top left, and Arend Vyn, who took the meeting from the Wilson Center with the UMEB project boat behind him.

Robbins agreed, stating that the resources at University of Michigan are incredible.

“To have the space we do at the Wilson Center is amazing,” Robbins explained. “This place allows students to really do cool projects like this and continue to go bigger and better with them. For me, what’s amazing is I’m not even an engineering student. I’m a student at the Ross School of Business and I’m still able to come in here and get some engineering experience to complement my business education.

“I also have to give due credit to the rest of our team,” he continued. “We have an incredible group with engineers working all over the world, presenting at international conferences, attending potential future electric boat competitions, spending long hours at our shop, and advising virtually to ensure the raceboat gets finished and can compete at the highest level. These are some of the best and brightest, and their dedication has been the root of our incredible progress over the past year.”

Robbins said the team, which is a tax-free organization for any people or businesses interested in partnership or gift-giving (if you’re interested, please contact Nick Robbins via email: [email protected] or phone: (810) 956-2733), is planning to test the boat with Wyatt in a couple of weeks. Of course, plans to report on the testing and other progress the team makes leading up to the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout in late August.

The Liberator—with its full wrap—is going to be unveiled at next week’s Boyne Thunder Poker Run street party.

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