Saving the Planet and People through Solar Powered Jet Skis
By Mike Hasler
Long an icon of cool for not only traditional water enthusiasts but also gun-toting comic book anti-heroes, the Jet Ski once packaged high speed on the seas with head-turning performance. Although conceived and marketed many tides ago, it wasn’t until the early ‘90’s that Jet Skis – in tandem with Roller Blades – not only emancipated our land and sea travel restrictions but allowed David Hasselhoff all kinds of opportunity to resuscitate good-looking women. But gas-powered Jet Skis were loud – Balls to Mary they were noisy – and the nautical novelty followed the way of all Old World vehicles by dumping its gasoline exhaust into once-clean waters.
But that is on the wave of change. Originally designed for use under the sun, British Inventor Ross Kemp is fleshing out jet ski prototypes powered by the sun. The “ASAP” (which, in a course plotting twist, stands for exactly what you think it does) is a solar-powered personal watercraft with marine rescue for a mandate. Kemp has designed and redesigned the watercraft for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, a charity rescuing lives at sea around UK coasts. Fearing Intellectual Property theft by the competition, the ASAP’s specs are still top secret and will be until the production model slides off the boat trailer, but the latest design brags a slick top layer (for a prototype, the machine is surprisingly stylish) and a sea foam Green concept: instead of a combustion engine, the smart hybrid of surfboard, water ski, and catamaran runs on an electric motor, which means the craft gets it legs from the source of a sun worshiper’s delight. The yellow orb of English legend increasingly powering cars, concept boats, and unmanned aerial vehicles is now offering its power to seaborne recreationists, but will the sun-powered ASAP be an instant market replacement for its gas-powered summer cousins, or is Kemp just dipping a hot toe into a cold ocean?
If you’re a gasoline junkie coming clean to solar power, you may be afraid to ask the simple question, “Can photovoltaic paneling really absorb solar radiation, convert it into direct current electricity, employ an inverter to convert that DC to AC for distribution throughout a device and continue to do so on a cloudy day?” Duh. Two words. Batteries. Blue skies provide the power, internal batteries store that juice for withdraw on days when water plans are covered in cloud.
Due to the need for production secrecy, Ross Kemp can’t publish the intended means of energy storage for the ASAP, but the current technology for collecting solar power in photovoltaic cells (which continue to decrease in size from the monoliths you may have seen in the 80’s) combined with the steadily declining cost of equipping things with PV panels and the Green generation’s quest for cleaner mechanical operation will mean the ASAP won’t cost a mint upon its market breakout, unlike other products to hit the mainstream in the 1990’s. (I’m looking at you, Laser Disc). In fact, the first black ink being typed on tickets states the craft will launch at a third of a traditional Jet Ski’s price tag.
Thrill seekers probably care less about gasoline consumption and How it Works than they do The Race, so this potential replacement for petrol-powered water fun begs the Big Question: is it fast? Well, no, unless you consider 15 miles an hour to be breakneck speed the way old ladies once considered the steam engine dangerous for that same unholy velocity. The ASAP won’t outrun any bored Great Whites, but it will get lifeguards to a desperate hand faster than their own two arms (and victims will be saved from gulping the tail stream old school ‘skis jet out). Plus it’s a prototype, so you know ASAP 2.0 (due yesterday, Ross) will focus on getting successive models up to competition speed right quick.
The ASAP’s design has won Ross Kemp an award for Best Start-up Business in the UK and attracted the investment attention of men like Sir Richard Branson. But before you can say Virgin territory, Kemp wants to see the craft used altruistically, and has added another item to the checklist of inventions inspired by necessity. “While doing my (lifeguard) training,” Kemp says, “I found it incredibly hard to tow a body in the water.” Rather than lift more weights and text Michael Phelps for stroke tips, Kemp, “…saw an opportunity to design something from scratch.” Don’t give up on your dreams, kids.
And don’t you give up on other people’s dreams, Kawasaki. While universally referred to as a Jet Ski, it’s interesting to note that title is actually the brand name of Kawasaki’s Personal Watercraft, (as Jet Skis are officially categorized) but like the words Escalator, Zipper, and Kleenex, people will generally recognize the brand name in discussion before they’ll recognize Moving Staircase, Slide Fastener, and Facial Tissue. The Japanese company coined the Russian-sounding name after they stole the craft’s concept from Arizona’s Clayton Jacobson II (of whom, it could be argued, stole his name from his dad. Karma!). Jacobson was the man to mold Ben Franklin’s original idea into reality, and vacationers seeking iced tea and a little CeeLo Green have paid for it since.
In sixty degrees of separation, Kawasaki also makes a Ninja, and it is to that ancient hero and modern source of humor that Ross Kemp’s ASAP takes its Quiet cue from. Reports have the completely electric-powered ASAP maneuvering a body of water without almost no sound, and what little aural action is caused by the spinning of its encased propeller and the natural lapping of its wake will probably disturb water creatures more than weekenders. Normal operation noise definitely won’t get the ASAP banned from any national parks (unlike legal action taken against many of its gas-fueled ancestors) unless those parks have a law against innovation. Added to everybody’s vacation highlight of jet-skiing-done-quietly is that the solar-powered wave rider emits nothing but efficiency:
- no exhaust fumes
- no oil slick
- no coins at a floating gas pump.
If you still think solar power can’t work on a cloudy day, and you think other things, like, even at fifteen miles an hour there’s a good chance of jet skiing off the edge of our flat planet, fear nothing! You can either reschedule your vacation or send a request to Ross Kemp to install a charger A.S.A.P. Then, while you wait out the rain and await Ross’ automatic reply, you can rediscover the joys of other aquatic vehicles built for recreation and later re-purposed as lifeguard aids, such as the surfboard (historically used as a rescue paddleboard) or those rigid orange cylinders that did nothing but slow Pamela Anderson down. Just don’t eat before you enter the water, or The Hoff may come running, and nobody wants that anymore.