Test Ride: One Rad Afternoon with the Gratis X1 Electric Personal Watercraft

If you’ve ridden a personal watercraft (PWC) — often called jet-skis after Kawasaki’s pioneering model — you know that they’re a fun, fast, and furious way to play on the water. But all that fun typically comes with a few notable downsides, the largest being gas-powered engines make PWC’s earsplittingly loud and a significant source of pollution, both of which have led some authorities to ban them.

All that may change, thanks to an innovative new PWC from Free Form Factory. Featuring an electric motor lifted from Zero Motorcycles that offers all the fun without the noise and emissions, the Gratis X1 furthers the resurgence of the stand-up PWC. We were lucky to get an early look at this groundbreaking new watercraft — the first of its kind, as far as we can tell — in San Diego recently, and found the Gratis X1 to be fast, maneuverable, and a full-on blast to ride. It’s also the quietest PWC we’ve ever experienced.

As we approached the Gratis, it sat on the beach idling, its engine totally silent and giving off no stinky exhaust fumes. The Gratis X1 features a grippy rubber tray to stand on, which seemed wider than a standard jet-ski’s and offered plenty of room to kneel as we got underway.

Free Form designed the Gratis to be as stable as possible, and we had no problem standing up as we brought it up to speed. To control the power, the Gratis X1 uses a right-side finger lever, similar to the front brake lever on a bicycle or motorcycle. Once up and riding, the Gratis X1 had a stable feel under foot and we opened up the throttle and sent it speeding across the water. The powertrain is not Tesla-silent, but it was a revelation to zip around the marina without the shriek of a two- or four-stroke engine following us around. No smell, no noise — just stoke. 

Turning the Gratis X1 proved challenging at first, but we were able to sort it after a couple of tries (and a quick dunk or two). In part, we had to overcome our monkey brain’s instinct to slow down while cornering. Like surf- and stand-up paddleboards, stand-up watercraft are easier to balance when they’re moving; stopping is a sure-fire way to tip over. The Gratis X1 features a proprietary hull design that aims to be stable for straight-line speed runs and nimble for carving corners. The molded plastic construction gives the Gratis a distinctive look and makes for a more durable product than traditional fiberglass and carbon-fiber construction. The curved hull gave the X1 a looseness as we started to turn, then the bottom rail grabbed and carved a line in the water. Once we mastered the feel of the Gratis X1 we were ripping corners, throwing spray, and it was 100 percent awesome.

The electric-powered Gratis X1 allows you to explore waterways often closed to personal watercraft due to laws and regulations regarding noise and pollution. Most national parks and seashores already ban gas-powered PWCs. In keeping with the environmentally friendly vibe, the hull of the Gratis X1 is made from recyclable materials. Free Form Factory also reuses trim and scrap materials, so there is limited waste in their manufacturing process. That means you can play hard and be good to the planet at the same time.

Another positive sign for the Gratis X1 is the resurgence in popularity of the stand-up PWC. This style of water toy went by the wayside for a decade or two, a practical victim of sit-down PWCs that proved easier to ride and could accommodate two people. But with the rise of extreme sports, the lighter, more stunt-able stand-up has seen a rebirth recently; so much, in fact, that Kawasaki recently re-released the Jet-Ski for 2017.

Fully charged, the Gratis X1 will run for an hour, and if you’ve ever ridden a stand-up jet-ski, that’s about as long as you can be on one without needing a break anyway. (At top speed, Free Form Factory says the battery should last about 30 minutes.) It takes about three hours to reach full charge when plugged into a standard outlet. T[1] he Gratis X1 will charge faster on a 220V outlet, which some marinas offer for houseboats and such.

Thanks to the electric engine, the Gratis X1 is tunable, depending on your intended use. Slow it down for a novice user or go full “race” mode by adjusting settings on the dashboard or with Free Form Factory’s app. We tested the Gratis X1 in sport mode, which offers the full range of its capabilities without the crazy-intense acceleration available in “race” mode.

The Gratis X1, available directly form the Free Form Factory website for $17,990, is rad to ride and offers a considerably more active experience than the more familiar seated PWCs. We loved the quiet engine and lack of stench as we cruised. For this test, we experienced the Gratis X1 in a relatively confined, calm marina environment. We can’t wait to head out to open ocean or big lake and let it rip.