Every professional bass fisherman and inland lake walleye guide has an electric motor on his or her boat. So do millions of other anglers fishing for anything from sunfish to sailfish in some areas. So when I titled this column about electric boats being something in the future, it was with the full realization, the future is now and has been for some time, at least for some boaters.
I’m not talking about electric “thrusters,” bow mounted to position anglers close enough to target areas to make accurate casts. I’m talking about boats which head out for extended cruises with no sails or petroleum powered engines to get them where they need to go.
Though there are hundreds of “boat shows” across the country held each year, The Miami International Boat Show is the biggy. It’s what the Oscars are to the entertainment industry, Daytona is to NASCAR fans. It’s the first big show of the new “boating season” and the place when new models, new gear, new “anything boating” is often premiered and spotlighted.
One headline I saw announced: Electric Boats “Take Charge” at Miami International Boat Show.
When electric “trolling” motors were invented they were designed to be clamped on the transom alongside or in place of the ol’ Evinrude on a person’s fishing boat. Within a few years, fishermen and electric motor makers figured out they worked best on the bow and most models, these days, don’t even offer a stern mounting option.
Fifteen years ago, a company called Torqeedo pioneered an effort to put electric propulsion back on the stern, not as a fishing aid, rather as an alternative to gasoline powered outboards. Fifteen years ago a combination of the certainty about the environmental affects of petroleum powered motors and the uncertainty of relying mostly on crude oil from the war-torn Middle East, made investing in and inventing alternatives a promising venture.
Torqeedo started modestly with one-horsepower and three-horse models. These were not speed demons, by any means, but existing electrics were measured in pounds of thrust, not in “horses” of thrust. Those early models were successful — still are — but electric outboards are now available up to 80 horsepower in retail markets and there’s a Swedish company with a 150 hp prototype soon to go into production.
Additionally, working in the marine industry gave the Torqeedo designers and engineers the ability to design and invent under the radar of governmental interference as was happening in the electric “land” vehicle market. Reliance on government grants to fund R&D efforts, government regulations, as well as lobbying by “traditional” vehicle manufacturers against electric vehicles resulted a slow, almost one step forward, two back, struggle to get highway e-vehicles on the market profitably. Not so on the water.
There are no government subsidies available for nautical electric power makers, or incentives to convince consumers they should buy them. It’s strictly market driven innovation and the results were evident at Miami in February.
Visitors to the Miami show could get on board a 44 ft. power catamaran refitted with Torqeedo’s Deep Blue Hybrid system which, like hybrid land vehicles, integrates electric engines powered by hi-tech batteries which can be charged by conventional chargers, on-board solar arrays as well as an onboard diesel generator, as needed.
Want something more “fish-worthy?” Zin Boats debuted a 20-foot runabout, totally electric powered, which can hit 35 miles per hour at top speed and can travel 100 miles on a charge at cruising speeds. Most fishermen don’t have a need to travel more than 35 mph, (on the Great Lakes, the conditions to safely or comfortably go that fast are rare) and most boaters seldom go more than 100 miles on any one fishing trip.
Like electric automobiles, the current initial price for electrically powered outboards or boat is two to three times what a conventional unit costs, but as technology develops for better motors and batteries, that cost is coming down. So to answer the to the question in my column title for many of you is: YES!