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Could an electric boat line be hot in the future?

I find it fascinating that there’s a quiet revolution taking place in batteries, and if my mind runs away with that knowledge I begin to imagine hybrid boats and even more pure electric boats in our near future!

Batteries, I find, actually go way back. The first battery became commercially available around 1865. It was a large, heavy, toxic wet cell using an electrolyte solution to work. Interestingly, go look in any boat in your showroom and you’ll see essentially the same lead acid battery! Hardly any change in battery principles in 140 years. (Dry cells did emerge at the end of the 19th century.)  But today, there’s an unprecedented need for new, high tech batteries that can produce much more power and do it faster for applications such as cars and, I imagine, some boats.

We already have new, high-tech batteries. The current front runner is the lithium ion battery found in everything from toys to cell phones. But this battery is slow to discharge (or charge), good for our laptop but not for our car or electric boat. Moreover, current lithium ion technology is reportedly such that impurities can contaminate the chemicals inside, causing overheating and fire. Remember Sony’s recall of millions of batteries.

Toyota and Matsushita, for example, are teamed up to develop cars that run on newly designed lithium ion batteries. Right now, Toyota and Matsushita have a monopoly on their nickel metal-hydride battery used in the successful Toyota Prius. But for reasons of weight and durability, they’re headed toward lithium ion technology.

General Motors also reports on its website that it recognizes the changes in battery technology and has developed its Volt concept car using lithium ion batteries. Lithium ion innovations are already a reality, taking up half the space of Toyota’s nickel metal-hydride battery and weighing 60 percent less. Meanwhile, at the University of St Andrews, engineers are using a new manufacturing technique that has resulted in a prototype 1,000 times faster at discharging than conventional lithium ion batteries.

Advances in battery efficiency, especially lithium ion, are moving at light-speed now and will change the face of many things, not just cars. Could it mean more electric boats than just California’s Duffy Boats, Florida’s Vision Boat Works and Canada’s Electric Boat Co. Could it mean they can all dump their current 8-16 lead acid batteries for lithium ion batteries weighing hundred of pounds less? Will it mean a ski boat would use the power of a gas engine to pull the skiers but run on electric when it’s just cruising along for the day? Could sailboats eliminate their gas or diesel auxiliary and use electricity when not under sail? Could a bass boat run all day and then some on its trolling motor?

I can imagine a lot of things could change in boating in the future, thanks to battery advances. It’s fun to think about it.


8 comments on “Could an electric boat line be hot in the future?

  1. Hans Menzel

    I have not heard or researched about the above mentioned electric boat companies, but we do sell the Boesch electric boat, which is a Tournament Ski Boat, the hull actually holds the open Men trick World Record by Nicolas Leforrestier. The Boesch electric boat does run 49 km/h and has a range of about 3 hours at that speed. To recharge it takes 30 min.
    I have also been on board the Boesch 750, a 25`Boot with twin electric drives and a top speed of 47km/h.
    Back in Germany we have teh situation, that boating by LAW is illegal on any body of water, exept waterways. However electric boats are legal.
    On the biggest lake in Austria are only 337 boat permits issued, and if one changes hand. the ongoing price is about 450.000 US$, but electric boats are exempt right now. therefor about 100 of these high power electric boats were registered in the past 2 years.
    please check

    for more information, please contact me

    Hans Menzel

  2. Pat

    Well Norm you have hit a nerve,
    We have over the years worked with every electric out board propulsion manufacturer to supply the existing as well as the emerging market place for electric powered boats. Batteries and energy storage are issues but sourcing a reliable well manufactured cost effective motors or propulsion systems are even more so.

    Over the last decade we have packaged our small & medium sized recreational pontoon boats as well as our commercial USCG T classed 35ft x 12 ft wide boats with motors from Ray Electric, Reservoir Runner, both Minnkotta systems (Neptune & Edrive), Outboard Electric Company (Now called Elite), Briggs & Stratton (we really had high hopes with them), the new German arrival Torquedo and, the Joyride system just being introduced by Motorguide/Lenco.

    Each time we have had at least one or combinations of the following- reliabilty, warranty, durability, & cost issues. We believe in the not to distant future all existing power systems will be powered via fuel cells to electric motors both internal & out board. In the northwest they race on weekends electic powered drag boats at very high speeds using an automotive starter motor. These things are amazingly fast. Though they have no duration. Look them up on the web. You will be amazed.
    Proving that Electric is the future all you have to do is just ask the Navy. The majority of all our high speed craft including aircraft carriers, submarines, etc. are all powered by electric motors. As are all our trains in this country hybrids.
    Soon we will see lawnmowers powered by fuel cells then our motor cycles & boats.

    As of today, we have just completed building another proto type boat for the Motorguide/Lenco Joyride system. The easiest system to operate to date. The goal is to run at a top speed of 10 mph and have a typical full day of run time on a single charge. Currently all other systems are hitting a top speed ceiling of 6-7 MPH so a 3-4 MPH gain is substanial.
    So you see though battery technology gains are improving the need for more cost effective propulsion systems is even greater. I hope some one is listening as oportunity is knocking!!!
    my 2 cents

  3. Ted Fagerburg

    Here in Europe, electric powered boats have been popular for at least a decade. However the level of interest in electric boats has increased significantly within the past two years. As an example, there were at least three different electric powered boats were displayed at last January’s Düsseldorf boat show. These included a ski boat by the Swiss company Boesch, boats by the Austrian boatbuilder Frauscher and an electric option on a new high-end builder of wooden boats in Hungary. The latter builder also displayed his electric powered offering at the Venice boat show this spring. Why Venice and why builders in Austria and Switzerland? Because environmental pressure is moving against internal combustion engines in more and more inland waters as well as in environmentally sensitive areas such as Venice. Krautler, the Austrian builder of the power and control unit was also prominently displaying their technology on the Boesch stand. Featured was a water cooled 52 kW (70 hp) 252 volt three phase electric motor with an extremely sophisticated power management system.

    The Netherlands and Germany are also emerging markets for electrically powered boats. The radically new Torquedo electric “trolling” motor from Germany is now being distributed in the US. I put “trolling” in quotes since it is being promoted as a primary propulsion unit capable of moving displacement craft at hull speed. I have seen numerous Torquedo units used as auxiliary motors on sailboats. (This is nothing new to me – back in the days I worked for Mercury Marine, my 19′ full keel Cape Dory Typhoon was powered by a 12 volt Mercury Thruster (the original type with planatary reduction gears for improved torque) which gave me all the oomph I needed to get in and out of the harbor in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.)

    An interesting offering at the recent Marine Equipment Trade Show (METS) in Amsterdam was a hybrid unit which incorporates an electric motor mounted in line with a small diesel engine. A clutch allows the electric motor to drive the prop without having to turn the diesel engine. With the clutch engaged, the diesel engine drives the prop and also spins the electric motor which then acts as a generator to charge the ship’s batteries.

    Just a couple of weeks ago I ready with interest about Lenco’s new joy ride primary propulsion unit. That should appeal to boaters on sheltered waters or on areas where gasoline engines are forbidden. Things are happening quickly in this field.

    And Norm is right – changes in battery technology will drive the rate of change even faster.

  4. Woodrow Doerr

    In the movie/DVD “Who Killed the Electric Car” (2006), mention was made that new batteries had been developed that would increase range. GM’s EV1, for example, first hit the market with a driving range between 90-120 miles. Supposedly, the new batteries increased the range to around 300 miles!

    Does anyone know what types of batteries they were referring to–before and after?

    My understanding is that GM bought the battery company and technology, then bought Hummer, then shut down the EV1 electric car program. It wasn’t very well publicized so I don’t have a lot of details. (I’m from Michigan, and sometimes I think the Detroit Free Press writers are “in bed” with auto execs.)

    I wonder about those 300-mile batteries and their effectiveness in the marine industry. I took a short cruise last summer on a Duffy electric boat. I really enjoyed it, though it did lack the power I prefer in a couple situations.

  5. Shanda Lear-Baylor

    Dear Norm,

    Yes, you are right. Electric boats are a present reality. It is great to see how much development is going on all over the world. I remember my dad, Bill Lear, showing me the drawings he was working on to try to build a better battery. He knew that, whoever could accomplish that, would bring in a whole new range of possiblities.

    I have been taking people out every evening for the last two weeks to see the Christmas lights here in Newport Beach Harbor. What people remark most about is the peace and quiet.

    I took the local reps for Learjet out recently and told them that they would have to brace themselves to go SLOW. They loved this second generation LEAR and one of the pilots said, “I feel so relaxed, can’t we just stay here? I don’t want to go home.

    After the New year, we are launching our “bring ‘em to California” dealer recruitment program to fly selected dealers and their sales managers out to sunny Newport Beach, all expenses paid, to experience the Learboat and to discuss the opportunity for the dealer to be granted an exclusive Learboat sales territory. We plan of having 50 dealers in the United States by the end of 2008.

    Next week we are sending our first boat to Hungary where our first European Dealer there, who is also a Cobalt dealer, will display our boat at the local boat show inviting hotel owners from all the 16 hotels around Lake Balaton.

    Because of the stability of the LEARboat and the seating around a table, there is a huge rental market for hotels and convention facilities on protected lakes and bays. As an additional profit center, these boats are ideal as an extention of their brick and mortar meeting rooms. The LEARboat, like the Learjet before it, is like a luxurious private meeting room. Instead of dining high in the sky you are literally dining ON the water. This is one marine market that is growing.

    Thanks Norm for having the vision, that we share, that electric boats are the HOT new boat of the future. All the best and Happy New Year. Shanda

    Shanda Lear-Baylor, CEO and President

    Lear Electric Boats
    MRAA 5 Star Certified Dealership
    Sales: 2510 West Coast Hwy., Newport Beach, CA 92663
    T. 949.722.7757 F. 949.722.8188 M. 714.308.4287

    European Community, NMMA and ABYC certified
    Manufacturing: Lear Baylor, Inc.
    7215 Garden Grove Blvd. Ste. C
    Garden Grove, CA 92841

  6. Michel

    I am doing just that, I have decommissioned an old 10 hp four stroke mind you but still sick off an 18 foot pontoon. With the 10 i would get 11 km per hour tops. Last ride 8 km needs a really good tune up. I have also decommisioned an oil furnace and replaced it with primary pellet stove heat. I have a small 1125ah to run it in the winter if the grid fail. Batteries need attention at least twice per year so carrying my unused fuels sells to the boat in the spring works for me I had the batteries to start. I hope the torqueedo 2.0 rated as powerful as a 6 hp is suitable on our moderate size lake. A four stroke 10 hp about 1000 more than the big torqeedo. Better have some experience in electricity. Looking forward to the big gas, oil and sound saving. I now plug in my boat at night how cool is that.

  7. rick waters

    i have been wondering for a couple of years now why there hasn’t been a mad rush to design, build and market some serious electric boats. with the developments of electric cars, it only makes sense. the technology has to be adaptable, at least to a certain level. not knowing all the specifics about power requirements of certain length and weight vessels or limitations of the electric drive systems, i am sure there may be several applications where it is just not feazable yet, but, if there were ever an ends that justified the means this would be a prime example. anyone that has filled up the tank on a thirty foot cruiser and taken a daytrip knows what i am talking about. as a kid i spent many a weekend sitting around the marina waiting for my folks to take the boat out and until i realized that this two hundred eighty horse powered behemouth was lucky to get two miles to a gallon, i was baffled. “why the heck did they spend all that money on this thing, weeks stripping, caulking, and painting it each season, and then even more money for a place to moor it, only to sit behind it and drink beer?” well… rechargable lithium power cells combined with s solar panel covered dock could definitely bring boating back within the reach of the average middle class guy. i look forward to seeing what comes of this and which manufacturer sets the bar for all the rest.

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