Mar 23 2021 All Articles

The rise of electric boating

The rise of electric boats

First there were electric cars, then electric aircraft, and now electric boats.

Solar Sailor. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Electric boats have actually been around for a long time… for centuries, in fact. The history books tell us an early electric boat was developed in Russia, by a German inventor in 1839. It was a 7.3 m creation which carried 14 passengers at… 4.8 km/h. Fast forward 140 years to the 1970s when interest in this quiet and renewable marine energy source started its steady increase.

Fast forward another fifty years and, thanks to worries about climate change, electric cars are making a comeback and electric boats are following. A number of manufacturers are vying to become the marine equivalent of Tesla, the Californian company which builds some of the most fashionable and fastest electric cars.

“The future of boating is electric – and silent” said Lacy Cooke in her piece on inhabitat.com. She reports how Dutch firm Soel Yachts has manufactured its first solar-powered electric boat in New Zealand, which it likes to call a “Tesla on the water”. (To read more about this and why electric boats will be the best in the world see here).

There are already over 100 manufacturers of electric boats and ships, according to a recent IDTechEx report. We don’t have to look far to find a Kiwi-made one. Check out Kiwi company ElectricBoats.biz which prides itself on being New Zealand’s first electric boat business – releasing a six-metre electric boat in 2019, followed last year by an Electric Catamaran – Powercat 3400.

If the whole concept of electric boating is somewhat mystifying, www.electricboats.biz is a good place to find some answers.

Just last year, one of Europe’s leading builders of electric boats – Ruban Bleu – appointed The New Zealand Electric Boat Co as their NZ distributors for electric boats and ECO pod motors. Their range of high-quality craft is aimed at the hire market with many fleets of them operating for hire on the waterways, lakes and harbours of Europe. In New Zealand, the Electric Boat Co offers the opportunity to hire an electric boat on Kerikeri River. The company also sells new electric boats and can supply and install a wide range of complete propulsion systems for conversion of existing boats to electric power.

There’s more happening on the electric boat scene in New Zealand than many people realise.

The advantages

Think electric boats and think quiet and clean. The advantages are significant says Electric Boats director Sean Kelly:

  • Efficiency – massive fuel savings
  • Silence – quiet engines and no vibration
  • Green energy – solar energy panels
  • Maintenance – low maintenance costs
  • No CO2 emissions – no trace and no fumes

By the way, they’re not slow either – speeds of 70 or 80 km/h have been noted.

Read here for more on the pros (plus the cons) of electric boating.

Mariner speaks to electric boat manufacturer Sean Kelly

Mariner Insurance took time out to speak to Sean Kelly about the two boats his business has built and what they are being used for.

Both boats are (at the time of writing) at an enviable location - in Auckland at the Viaduct. Sean has donated the use of the smaller one to not-for-profit organisation Sea Cleaners where it’s been busy keeping the Viaduct and waterfront area clean during the America’s Cup action.

Sean says the smaller boat has also been used by the Department of Conservation on Lake Taupō as a patrol boat. And, after its America’s Cup Viaduct duties, it will be loaned to various organisations keen to trial it.

Both are demonstration boats, Sean says, but anyone keen to have an electric boat built can contact him at sean@electricboats.biz. Electric boats are suitable for both commercial and private use.

“We will build an electric boat of any size for anyone,” he says.

Electricboats.biz has other elements in its offering too. The business has developed its own energy and interfacing system that can manage electric boats of any size; and a generator that’s quarter the size of a standard generator and boasts quarter of the fuel consumption – a massive energy saving.

Sean and his team also convert boats to all-electric or hybrid.

Al Capone Electric Boat - Source: Electricboats.biz

Boats of the future

So, what are the predictions regarding electric boats? Is this concept really going to float?  Industry Research, a leading market research company that tracks emerging technologies, has this prediction to make regarding United States sales:

“Sales of electric outboard motors will grow from US$63 million in 2019 to US$120 million in 2024.”  See here for more.

Sean Kelly says any figures showing soaring interest are no surprise.

“With so many advantages over gas and diesel-powered watercraft, the electric boat market is experiencing a surge in sales with no letup in sight.

“Due to an increasing number of people spending time outdoors fishing, diving, and leisure boating, interest in electric boats is becoming the consumer’s preference. For personal recreation, charter boating, rescue operations, and even capturing criminals at sea, both the interest and need for electric boats is on the rise. As demand for electric-powered and hybrid boats increases along with ever-improving technology, you can expect to see even more impressive offerings in the future,” he says.

What Types Of Boats Are Going Electric?

American-based website www.boatus.com features an article by Fiona McGlynn on where electric boat technology stands and when we can expect electric boats to become more mainstream.

She spoke to Christoph Ballin, co-founder and CEO of Torqeedo, a German company that produces electric outboard, inboard, pod, sail, and hybrid drive systems, offered around the world.

Ballin estimates that close to two per cent of recreational boats are electric, with the greatest adoption in tender and daysailers. He sees great potential for electric on larger sailboats, "My target is that in 10 to 15 years, combustion engines will be the exception on sailing yachts."

It's not just dinghies and sailboats that are going electric, though. Some luxury yachts now have hybrid propulsion.

See this New Zealand website to get a taste of the recreational and commercial electric boats available. Oh, and check out this site for what’s described as an electric hydrofoiling catamaran sea bike! And yes, of course electric jetskis exist too.

Hybrid boating

As you may expect, a hybrid boat combines an electric motor and combustion engine to propel a boat through the water, so you can quietly cruise knowing you've got fuel to get home if you drain the batteries. For the range-anxious, hybrids may offer the best of both worlds — extended range and lower emissions and fuel costs. 

Thinking of buying a hybrid or electric boat, or converting yours? 

Talk to us about what you’re doing with your boat, and we can tailor one of our boat insurance policies to fit. As a specialist marine insurer, we know no one type of marine insurance fits all watercraft, so we have tailored our policies to suit a range of vessels, and the way you use and store them. 

Just give us a call on 0800 466 467 and let’s talk boats and insurance quotes.