The respected sport boat designer Larry Smith, whose Scarab models, licensed to Wellcraft, won offshore racing championships and helped define the “Miami Vice” era of performance boating 25 years ago, thinks there’s a future in electric power for small boats. Still active at the Team Scarab shop in Santa Barbara, Calif., Smith has revived one of his previous Scarab designs as the 17 Kona, and is testing it with twin Torqeedo electric outboards. It’s a package he expects to debut, with no irony, at the 2012 Miami International Boat Show.

A 17 Kona runabout powered by Torqeedo 4.0 R Twin-Cruise is expected to plane and reach 30 mph.

A 17 Kona runabout powered by Torqeedo 4.0 R Twin-Cruise is expected to plane and reach 30 mph.

“Current projections have a goal of 1.2 million electric vehicles on the nation's roadways by 2015,” Smith told me in an interview this week. “I believe the electric boating segment will also expand, from today's cocktail cruisers to include fishing and sport boats, as more and more lakes become restricted to electric power.”

The 17 Kona is a sporty-looking, closed-bow 17-foot runabout with a beam of 6 feet 3 inches and a dry weight of about 900 pounds, according to Smith. It’s constructed with standard foam-cored fiberglass, not expensive, lightweight composite materials. The boat is based on a Scarab Sport model that Smith produced in 1995, intending it to be powered by a Volvo Penta jetdrive mated to a 4.3-liter V6 engine, a step-up boat for owners of the mini-jet boats that were a sales hit at the time. Four examples were built for a Universal Studios stunt show, and others became custom projects, but Wellcraft declined to license the design.

“We’ve sold it as a tender with a variety of power,” says Smith, “and have recently begun selling it with a 40-hp Honda outboard to rental operations for about $18,000. We have made several hull modifications to be able to run with electric power as well as small gas outboards up to 60 horsepower.”

The 17 Kona is presently available from Team Scarab for $14,995 with a single 2Kw Torqeedo Cruise 2.0 R electric motor and AGM batteries, a package suited for small, restricted lakes and what Smith calls non-planing “cocktail cruising.” But Smith says the 17 Kona will plane and reach a top speed of 30 mph when powered by a pair of 4Kw Torqeedo Twin-Cruise 4.0 R motors (the power equivalent of a 15-hp gasoline outboard) and a bank of eight Torqeedo Power 26-104 lithium batteries.

“It’s easy to go fast,” says Smith. “Right now the problem is range, but as development of batteries and solar panels accelerate, electric power for small boats will become practical. Right now we can run an inflatable tender 2.5 mph on just the power generated by a solar panel mounted on the top. Using solar to extend battery range will be key in the future.”

Imagine the foredeck of the 17 Kona covered with a solar panel, and you will be on the same page as Smith.

Smith says the 17 Kona with Torqeedo Twin-Cruise power with be priced “…similar to the Nissan Leaf EV. The batteries alone will cost $10,000.”

Smith is also working with Sea Eagle on a line of electric inflatable boats and fishing kayaks, powered by the lightweight 403 and 1003 Torqeedo motors with thin-film solar panels to extend range.

“It won’t be long before 95 percent of new cars are either all-electric or hybrids,” says Smith. “The public will be used to electric power, and expect it for small boats. This is the future.”

For more information, visit Team Scarab.