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PEP WAVES electric boat building competition 2024
May 23, 2024

Making WAVES with electric boats

Written By: Caitlin Scott



This spring marks the first time a UW-Madison team traveled and competed in the “Promoting Electric Propulsion” (PEP) boat races, sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the American Society of Naval Engineers (ASNE).

WAVES ME team logo

The UW team originally started as a senior design group that took over a project started last year. They created a new student organization called WAVES – Wisconsin Autonomous Vehicle Engineering Society – and are aiming to recruit younger members and establish the PEP competition as an annual event like the SAE team competitions.

The PEP electric boat building competition in Virginia Beach, VA is a relatively new race and has grown to include 35 universities and 370 students in just six years. The competition consists of a 5-mile race for two divisions (manned and unmanned) and every boat must be fully electric. The manned division has someone physically in the boat driving and the unmanned division is either remote controlled or some level of autonomous driving. The UW boat was the first ever to qualify in both manned and unmanned divisions, which was very exciting.

Year 1 of competition for the WAVES team was not without its challenges.

Most teams have small, remote-controlled boats that are simple to purchase and ship to the competition. In contrast, the WAVES team boat has a 14 ft hull they had to drive 17 hours to Virginia Beach themselves. At competition, while racing in the unmanned division, they hit a crab trap in the water.  This type of thing isn’t an issue for most of the other, smaller boats, but unfortunately the WAVES team was unable to complete the 5-mile distance. Then at mile 4 their replacement battery popped out and they couldn’t replace it. It wasn’t the outcome they’d hoped for, but the learning experience was invaluable. The team values their work with their bigger boat, which was a judges’ favorite, and they are considering working with two boats next year. Check out the full results and see competition videos.

UW WAVES PEP boat on the water 2024
The 2024 UW WAVES PEP boat on the water in Virginia Beach.

As competitors in 2024, the WAVES team qualifies for funding support through the PEP event for next year. The team is looking forward to improvements including new batteries and a new hull and hopefully not driving home to Wisconsin through a tornado. The team is grateful for support from Mercury Marine and Mechanical Engineering department advisors Glenn Bower, Eric Kazyak, and Mike Cheadle. Kudos to the student members for all their efforts in 2024. We can’t wait to see what you do next year!

Special thanks to Chase Monkemeyer and Dennis Tylets for their help with this story.

Read more about the Electric Boat Competition

Featured image: WAVES students Trent Anderson, Nathan Meyer, Sam Lowry, Nicholas Haakenson, and Jonah Elisofon with their boat. All images provided by Chase Monkemeyer.