Given the amount of activity and media attention in the automotive sector in pursuit of all-electric vehicles, it was only a matter of time before a recreational boat manufacturer developed an electric boat.
Of course, there already are fully electric boats on the market, but they’re usually small, slow, displacement hulls that typically shuttle geriatric tourists around harbors or other protected bodies of water.
All that is changing. Nautique Boats by Correct Craft has announced a prototype all-electric ski boat, with performance characteristics similar to those of gasoline-engine ski boats. Nautique offered no word as to when production models would be available for sale—the company is still testing for performance, quality, safety, and durability—but an electric prototype that runs and drives is a genuinely big deal.
“When we first decided to explore alternative power for a ski boat, the performance had to meet or exceed the standard set by the Ski Nautique,” said Greg Meloon, vice president of product development at Nautique Boats.
Built using a 2008 Ski Nautique test mule, the prototype features twin electric motors developed for automotive applications and marinized by LTS Marine of Montreal. The two motors connect to a special transfer case that consolidates power to a single propeller shaft.
“It is now working, we’ve got proof, and we’ve actually worked with Nautique to make sure we’ve got the best package for showing people that you can be behind a 100-percent electric boat, and skiing like there’s no difference,” said Michel Sousy, director of business development for LTS Marine.
It’s worth noting that unless replenished by a solar recharging system, wind, or hydroelectric power, no electric vehicle is emissions-free. According to the United States Energy Information Administration, 44.8 percent of all electric power comes from coal-fired plants; 24.2 percent comes from natural gas, and 0.9 percent comes from petroleum. The rest comes from nuclear, hydroelectric, and other sources, which would include solar and wind power.
Wattage comes from lithium-ion battery packs located to maintain performance through an appropriate center of gravity. When fully charged, the battery power is equivalent to eight gallons of gasoline, which Nautique Boats says can accommodate up to four slalom skiers during a session and achieve speeds of nearly 40 mph. The system requires minimal maintenance and produces no tailpipe emissions—because there is no tailpipe.
Of course, one challenge for any electric vehicle is the range of operation. Given that a gasoline-powered ski boat will average about 2 mpg, the 8-gallon equivalency figure Nautique provided means the Ski Nautique E could travel about 16 miles on a single charge, depending on speeds—though the range quoted is not an official figure from Nautique. That kind of range won’t halt the sales of V8s in tow boats, but knowing that ski boats are often used for a few ski runs in the morning and then again after work in the evening, the electric powertrain makes perfect sense.
“We have identified our target market for this project as a slalom skier or wakeboarder that typically stores his or her boat at the ski site,” Meloon said. “There are many private watersports lakes around the world that are dedicated to competitive skiing and wakeboarding. We have calculated the range for the Ski Nautique E in terms of how many skier passes we could pull, starting with a full charge and then finishing with the boat still having enough power in the batteries to return in ‘slow’ mode to the dock.”
The other challenge is the time it takes to recharge the batteries. The Ski Nautique E is downright manageable in that respect. With current technology, the boat fully recharges in 4.5 hours, according to Nautique Boats. That means you could take it out for morning runs and return home after work to a “full tank,” if you will. That figure should improve as technology advances. And because all homes have electricity—but precious few have fuel pumps—Nautique makes a pretty strong case for this boat. It’s definitely an interesting concept and the timing seems right.
“Our original goal was to accommodate two skiers taking eight passes each in the slalom course, which is more than the average skier’s “set,” Meloon said. “We have consistently exceeded this goal in testing, and could easily pull three to four skiers.”
For more information, visit the Nautique website.
Editor's Note: Brett Becker is a freelance writer based in Ventura, CA. He covers the marine, automotive and racing industries for various print and web titles.