In the News

Electric Boats: As In Cars, Battery Power Offers Advantages On The Water

August 14, 2014

The world now has something around half a million plug-in electric cars on the roads, and electric propulsion is slowly spreading into other types of transportation.

One of them is electric boats, which have been around for more than a century but are now seeing renewed interest.

Just as with automobiles at the turn of the last century, battery-powered electric boats competed with steam launches and even a few rackety, dangerous, crude motorboats with internal-combustion engines.

Then gasoline and diesel fuel won.

Electric-boat renaissance

Today, with the cost of lithium-ion batteries falling steadily and marine enthusiasts slowly starting to understand the benefits of electric propulsion, several manufacturers of boats and powertrains see opportunity in boats using electric motors to turn their propellers.

…executives suggested that a preference for quiet boats is one of the drivers that will boost the popularity of electric marine propulsion–one they see in talking to customers. But another is the sheer hassle of maintaining and servicing gasoline engines in boats.

Cruising yachts aside, most privately-owned boats don’t actually cover all that many miles each year. But the annual maintenance required to prepare a gasoline boat for winter storage and then recommission it each spring is substantial–above and beyond repairs and general upkeep.

Either keeping the pack on a trickle charger or removing it to warm storage is all that’s needed, although it’s likely marina owners may worry about the loss of some annual revenue associated with all that maintenance and storage.

Finally, there’s the emissions issue: Boats powered by gasoline are remarkably high polluters, as the gasoline and oil slicks surrounding multiple boats in any marina indicate.

Similar reasons Overall, the reasons that electric cars will continue to grow–better driving experience, lower operating costs, reduced emissions, less maintenance–apply to boats as well. In boats, the light weight of lithium-ion batteries is less important than in cars, and of course the aerodynamics of road vehicles and the hydrodynamics of water resistance change the equations of weight, power, and shape.

But just as you may have noticed the first electric car in your neighborhood, keep an eye for the first electric boat on your nearest body of water.

It’ll be the one not making any noise.