As society comes closer to the tipping point for mass adoption of electric cars, the question remains: how close behind is the boating world to that critical milestone? In the past two decades, electric car manufacturers have not only proven that electric cars are viable, but that they can be affordable and practical as well. From the first mass production hybrid cars of the late 1990's and early 2000s, including Toyota's Prius, and Ford's Escape Hybrid, to the fastest fully-electric sports cars in the world from Tesla, Lucid, Lotus and Rimac, builder's have irrefutably demonstrated to buyer's that electric cars can be high performance machines in addition to being efficient and environmentally-friendly. But where do boats stand on that front, and is the marine industry ready for the shift?
Technology Leading To The Tipping Point
The Oxford English dictionary defines the term tipping point as "the point at which a series of small changes or incidents becomes significantly enough to cause a larger, more important change". In the world of cars, those small, incremental changes have included things such as the advancements and proliferation of charging stations (including ultra-fast, smart "vehicle to grid" and wireless charging stations), innovations in batteries and storage systems, regenerative breaking systems, hybrid drive innovations, semi-autonomous features (such as General Motors intelligent breaking and steering systems) and advancements in lightweight, mobile solar array systems, to name a few. So what are the comparable incidents the the marine industry?
Innovations Behind Electric Boats
For years boat builders have been including more environmentally-friendly and alternative power features on new boat models, including features like small electric turbines, solar panels and battery banks, electric propellers and waterjet propulsion. But boat builders are now also putting increased pressure on engine manufacturers to provide entire e-propulsion systems for use on their vessels, or in some cases developing their own systems.
Standardization Of Systems
Companies like Correct Craft are now implementing the Combined Charging System (CCS) on their proprietary electric propulsion system. CCS is a standard for charging electric vehicles, which allows high-power fast charging and is used on cars including BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Tesla and Volkswagen.
Battery And Energy Storage Systems
Water-tight battery packs and liquid-cooled batteries are making their way into boats too. Advancements in purpose-built marine-grade energy storage systems for electric boats are going hand-in-hand with that push. Those include systems being pioneered by Norway-based electric propulsion system manufacturer Evoy, who is also busy building their 150-horsepower electric outboard motors (the first in their Gale Force Series which will eventually include 300-HP and 450-HP models as well).
Hydrofoils (underwater wings) are another area that is being explored in electric boats and boating. This feature can reduce friction and energy consumption by up to 80% thus increasing the range and capability of electric vessels. Swedish tech firm Candela has been building hydro-foiling, long-range electric craft and has just announced they've raised €24M from EQT Ventures to boost the company’s R&D and scale up production to meet demand for their electric leisure and commercial vessels. In 2021, Candela also launched the C-POD electric motor, a sustainably made electric propulsion motor that contains two ultra-compact yet strong permanent magnet motors that helps silently propel their boats at speeds of up to 30 knots.
Trailblazing The Way To Electric: The Major Players
A number of major players in the marine industry - from both boat builders and engine manufacturers, battery companies and start ups are helping pave the way to electric boating in 2022 and beyond. Here we'll take a look at some of the biggest names and what they're doing.
Mercury Marine, perhaps the biggest player in the world of modern outboard engines, has recently announced that the company will start developing electric outboard motors within the next two years, with the planned motors available to the public market by 2023. This is a clear indication the market is moving toward that tipping point. The manufacturer has confirmed five "set launch dates" for the electric outboards, with the first line of the products to be launched in 2022. Outboard engines power the lion’s share of center consoles, day boats and fishing boats these days, and their shift to electric will begin to change the face of boating.
Heading into 2022, automotive giant General Motors has also announced it is investing $150 Million into backing the electric boat startup company Pure Watercraft, a Seattle-based electric outboard motor and battery manufacturer. GM's Ultium battery platform and HYDROTEC fuel cell platform give the company the potential to make boats into zero emission vehicles.
Twin Vee Powercats
At the close of the 2020 calendar year, Twin Vee PowerCats announced they company would be launching Twin Vee Electric, a division of the company focused on designing and developing boats that combine the "unrivaled ride experience that the Twin Vee catamaran is known for with a fully electric propulsion system". At the time, Joseph C. Visconti, President of Twin Vee Powercats, Inc. stated "we’ve assembled a great team that has been hard at work developing this giant innovative leap forward for Twin Vee."
Beyond building their own proprietary electric-powered boats, the company has also introduced a new division of its business called Electra Power Sports that is building electric propulsion systems that will be available for other manufacturers use, in addition to being offered on Twin Vee models. These motors will be available to a wide variety of boat builders, boat dealers and boat owners seeking to power or re-power their boats with a fully electric outboard propulsion system as an alternative to gas-burning engines.
Torqeedo, based in Gilching Germany, launched their small electric outboard technology in 2005 and continues to innovate with large outboards up to 80 hp Volkswagen has partnered with Austria’s SILENT Yachts to create a 50-foot solar-electric cruising powercat. BMW has been making great strides, working with Torqeedo for years to create high density lithium batteries that were originally created for their own BMW i3 and i4 electric coupes. Marinized for boating applications, these power solutions are making electric planing hulls possible.
Challenges Of Electric Propulsion On Boats
While there's been an expansion of new infrastructure and technology across the nation to support electric cars, the marine environment still poses certain unique challenges to electric propulsion that do not come into play in the automotive industry. For example, consider that boats are often kept on the water (obviously) and that water and electricity don't necessarily go together so well. Thus it can be challenging to get charging stations out on the end of a long dock, or even out to a boat's mooring on the water.
So-called "range anxiety" is another real issue that is even more of a concern for boats than it is for cars. Whereas if you run out of juice in your car, you can likely pull to the side of the road and wait for help, when you're out on the water you don't have that luxury. A boat that loses its propulsion system is in serious trouble, and is quite literally dead in the water, left adrift at the mercy of the currents and tides.
Advantages Of Electric Boats Over Gas/Diesel Boats
Still, there are reasons why electric boats are perhaps even more appealing to buyers than electric cars. First, there is the beauty of silent boating. Electric propulsion systems can offer a nearly silent boating experience. When boaters are out on the water, they often want to enjoy the peace and quiet of the natural resources around them. Not only are electric motors much quieter than internal combustion gas or diesel engines, they do not smell or emit toxic fumes either. Thus they disturb the ecosystem far less and do not pollute the water around them. Cost of ownership is also lower due to reduced or eliminated oil changes and filter and impeller replacements.
Another advantage of electric boats is easier winterization in cold climates. Plus electric power provides torque instantly, so boats get up on a plane faster (similar to how the instant torque in a car get electric cars up to speed faster than internal combustion cars).
Marine Industry Following Automotive Suit
As the bigger players in the marine world start to follow their automotive counterpart's suit, it's clear that these pushes will be part of a broader electrification of America from coast to coast, in virtually all aspects of life. In September 2021, Ford announced it would be leading the nation's rapid shift to electric vehicles by investing $7 billion dollars – the largest single investment by an automotive manufacturer ever in the U.S. – which is actually only a portion of the $30 billion the company plans to invest in electric vehicles through 2025. This unprecedented investment into electric vehicles will likely only push the marine industry to do the same.
Speed And Electric Propulsion
In the car world, some of the most expensive, fastest cars on the market are now electric cars. Take for example the Lucid Air (top speed of 168 MPH, 0-60 MPH in 2.5 seconds), the Tesla Model S (200 MPH top speed, 0-60 MPH in 1.99 seconds), the Lotus Evija (200+ MPH top speed) and of course the new Tesla Roadster and its competitor the Rimac Nevera, both capable of whopping top speeds in excess of 250+ MPH (the Nevera does 0-60 in a sizzling 1.85 seconds).
Likewise we'll soon be poised to see some of the fastest boats on the water becoming electric as well, and can expect those top speeds to rise. As of August 2020, the title of the world’s fastest electric boat goes to the Jaguar V20E which clocked in at 77 knots (88.6 MPH) during a speed run on January 2019. This boat is a one-of-a-kind build and was a joint project between the speedboat manufacturing company Vector and Jaguar. Officially the world’s fastest production electric boat (available to general consumers) is the SAY29E Runabout Carbon, which features a pure carbon composite hull (weighing a mere 837 pounds) and clocked in at 50 knots (57.5 MPH) back on June 24th, 2018 on Lake Zell in Austria. The Evoy1 boat hit 55+ knots (equipped with a 400-HP continuous/800-HP peak electric inboard) earlier this year and their team is planning an official record event in the near future. Vision Marine Technologies has its Bruce 22 electric boat powered by a 180-HP fully electric outboard motor that achieved 49 MPH in September 2021, on the Lake Of The Ozarks.
Other Companies Shaking Up Electric Boats This Year
Delphia Boats, acquired by the French Groupe Beneteau, just announced they’ll be addressing Europe’s inland navigation with electric powerboats. Sweden’s X Shore debuted their new Eelex 8000 at the Palm Beach International Boat Show 2021. The 26-footer is all electric and built partially from flax fiber (rather than pure fiberglass) and an epoxy that is 40% plant based and more biodegradable.
Slovenian boat builder Greenline Yachts has a large selection of hybrid and electric drive models from 30 to 65 feet. The Greenline Hybrid 33 cruises up to 6 knots using electric power with six 1.3 kW solar panels on the hardtop and a lithium-ion battery bank below.
Correct Craft is electrifying the wakesports segment of the market with their award-winning Ingenity system. The company is so confident in their vision that they purchased an additional 300,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Orlando, FL adjacent to their Nautique headquarters.
Elco from Athens, NY, began with small electric outboards but is now reaching into the coveted inboard market.
Swedish engine manufacturer, Volvo Penta, is moving forward with an introduction of electric motors installed inline between their diesels and IPS pods and they’re working with Fountaine Pajot production catamarans on a Lucia 40 sailing cat.
Japanese diesel engine builder, Yanmar, has significant market share and is a top choice for inboard engines for recreational boats. Although not specifically electric, Yanmar too has an eye toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions and recently conducted a demonstration of its hydrogen-powered fuel cell which produces 250kW, or the equivalent of 335 hp. Larger production boats will be a great target market for this motor.
And then there’s California-based Electroprop which sells pre-packaged 6- and 21-kW onboard systems for small boat builders as well as individuals in the aftermarket.