Did you know that electric motors on boats have been in continuous use since 1899, mostly on submarines? Today, electric boats are growing in popularity for the same reasons as electric cars. They eliminate the issues with emissions in the water and can be part of the global effort to be more green.
In this article, we will explore some of the most common problems people experience with electric boats.
Let’s get started.
Too Few Models
Electric boats are seen as recreational boats. The challenge is to make production profitable and convince major boat companies to offer electric-powered options.
Potential buyers need to be able to see the boat as compatible with their current lifestyle. Many potential buyers will wait to see how the electric boat market plays out before taking a chance on unproven technology.
With such a small market share, it could be difficult for some potential customers to take an electric boat for a test drive.
Since there are so few models out there, potential buyers might not see electric boats in use, reducing the possibility that they will buy them. Buyers looking for reliability, durability, quality of workmanship, and the reputation of the manufacturer will find it difficult in todays austere maketplace.
Most electric boats do not go extremely fast.
Engineers are designing electric boats with greater speed capabilities however, many who use current models point out their lack of speed.
The fastest electric boat clocked in at around 80 mph, which is fast by any measurement, but production models are considered slow in general.
Going faster speeds takes more energy from the battery reserve. Compared to similar sizes gas-powered boats, electric boats go slower to preserve battery life.
There needs to be adequate downstream infrastructure to support electric boats. This includes dealers, charging stations, repair facilities, emergency services, and battery recycling options.
Without charging stations, some potential buyers could view electric boats as a potentially risky purchase.
This ties into the initial investment versus the long term benefits. Once a larger proportion of boat owners are using electric boats, then the technology will take off.
Innovations such as these are typically slow. It could take from 10 to 15 years for even a small amount of the market to be developed enough to make electric boats viable.
With many new technologies, it takes up to three major versions for it to have mass-market appeal. Many electric boats are released in small batches or are prototypes and have yet to have major releases.
Electric boats can only go only as long as their charge will allow and, therefore, have a limited range.
If you’re not able to recharge your batteries or if don’t have large backup batteries onboard you might not be able to get very far from the dock.
Much like with automobiles, electric hybrid boats have a much longer range making them an important part of the transition to electric power.
Solar Panel Issues
Using solar panels to recharge your boat is a great idea, as long as the sun is out! However, with proper prior planning and the right equipment such as backup batteries, you can have a successful trip on a cloudy day or at night.
Energy storage on electric boats with solar panels is a big concern. There is an inability to regulate the electricity that flows from solar panels, this is especially true when cloud or shade cover reduces the output.
This energy fluctuation is one reason why solar panels should only be used to charge batteries.
The batteries are the energy storage medium for electricity and allow for a steady energy output to the engines. Without batteries, solar panels would be too variable in output to serve as a viable energy source.
Engineers are using hardier materials to produce lightweight, flexible, and durable solar panels, but the current technology has several problems.
For starters, solar panels are sensitive to salt water and the weather making them ill-suited to use on boats.
Another potential problem with solar panels is that you can’t walk on them, they can be heavy, and they take up space.
Use caution or cracks could develop in the solar panels, which would lead to a loss of current.
While battery technology has come a long way, they still have many issues. They can be heavy, difficult to recharge, difficult to dispose of, and have high production costs.
There is about a 15% reduction in price for each doubling of manufacturing in batteries.
This means it is difficult to compete with fuel in terms of energy density versus cost, making fossil fuel-driven boats cheaper and more economically viable.
The idea behind using electric power is to reduce environmental impact. Unfortunately, batteries may not meet this criterion.
Without robust recycling programs in place, batteries become environmentally problematic.
Too Few Charging Stations
There are currently not enough charging stations for electric boats to be in widespread use. While most docks and slips for rent will have an electric outlet, high output power-stations are rare in the marine world.
When high output power stations become more available, electric boats will become more common.
Power stations designed to rapidly charge electric vehicles are crucial for the long term prospects of all electric vehicles, including boats.
The initial cost of electric motors or boats can be much higher than conventional boats. Although operating costs may be lower in the long term, the high initial price can scare away many potential buyers.
As with any new technology, an increase in demand will drive an increase in production which will drive down costs.
Electric boats of comparable size are more expensive than conventional gas boats. This cost is a big barrier for more wide-scale implementation of electric boats, especially in the commercial sector.
Potential buyers can currently buy a better quality and higher-end fuel powered boat for the same price as an electric boat. Demonstrating that electric boats are a more economic option is crucial for the industry going forward.
Until the break-even point for an electric boat is more comparable to a fuel-powered boat, buyers will continue to prefer fuel-powered models.
Many electric motors require a bit of knowledge and effort to be used properly. Some people embrace the task of learning about new technology and love gadgets, others prefer more familiar, user-friendly options.
Others might be slow on the approach and this can be a barrier in the widespread implementation of the technology.
Potential buyers are turned off due to the lack of information available about electric boats.
One of the biggest problems is that many people don’t think of electric power as having potential in boats. Most consumers aren’t aware that electric-powered boats even exist.
All-electric boats are perceived as being best suited for small or medium-sized boats. As this perception changes, the use of electric boats will also change.
The use of hybrid systems, especially in larger boats, will be a crucial step in changing perception as we transition to sustainable power sources for boats.
One of the biggest problems for electric powered boats is the lack of familiarity and the sense of unproven technology. Producers must overcome the issues to make electric power an option in the future.
Other Things To Know About Electric Boats
Moritz Hermann von Jacobi introduced the electric motor in May of 1834. With the backing of Tsar Nicholas I, he furthered developed the motor at the Imperial Academy of Sciences in St. Petersberg.
He installed the motor in a 28-foot paddle boat and made a journey across the Neva river carrying 14 passengers in September of 1838. This is the first documented launch of an electric boat.
Electric boats made their debut at the 1893 World’s Fair, where attendees sailed around in 55 electric boats. In 1899, the same company, Elco, released an electric boat named Wenona with a motor that allowed her to travel up to 68 miles at 6-12 knots on a single charge.
Wenona is still around today and runs on her original motor!
Other than submarines, electric motors were pushed aside in favor of the combustion engine. However, they have experienced an increase in popularity since the 1980s.
As with all new technology, there are issues with moving to electric powered boats. The earliest adopters are often innovators and forward thinkers, but they assume the risk for the inherent failures that come during product development.
With continued interest in sustainable and environmentally friendly technologies, the future is bright for this emerging market.
There are a few problems with electric boats that come from the nature of the technology, its availability, and current market conditions. Also, the legal and regulatory environment can impact supply and demand for electric vehicles, including boats.
Some countries do well with new technology, Austria, for example, has an estimated 25% of all boats being electric.
Electric Boats Currently in Use
Electric boats are clean and quiet, giving them a lot of potential in the global market. The electric boat market is currently projected to be worth about $20 billion by 2027. As the technology is adopted and more widely used, it will gain traction and popularity.
There are currently many electric motors on the market that boat owners can rig to their boats with little to no modification.
The world’s largest solar panel boat currently in use is the Tûranor PlanetSolar at 31 meters. It navigated the world from Germany starting in 2010 and finishing in 2012.
Currently, there are more than 100 manufacturers of electric boat motors and more are coming aboard every day.
Electric motors have been used on boats since the mid-1800s and have always been used in submarines, although submarines are powered by fossil fuels or nuclear energy. Today electric motors are the preferred option for environmental sustainability even considering their current limitations such as range and recharging issues.
With continued technological advancement, electric-powered boats are positioned to become the preferred option for sustainability in future applications.
No matter what power source you choose, we wish you pleasant travels, calm waters, and fair winds. Be safe and have fun out on the water!
Morten is the founder of GoDownsize. He has filmed and interviewed people living in tiny houses and RVs since 2011. He grew up on the coast where his dad took him boating from a young age. He has completely rebuilt two RVs in which he travels with his family for months at the time. Read more about Morten here.