Electric boats have been around for over 120 years and were common between 1880 and 1920 before the internal combustion engine became popular. Most electric boats have a rechargeable battery, and the invention of the lithium battery has done wonders for electric boats.
Come with us as we learn more about electric boats, lithium batteries, and how lithium technology has spurred electric boat innovation.
What is an Electric Boat?
An electric boat is a water vessel that doesn’t use fossil fuel combustion to operate. It still has a motor, but its power by batteries. These motors and their batteries can recharge using the grid, solar energy or through regenerative engines.
How Have Lithium Batteries Improved and Enabled Electric Boats?
For many years the only viable battery technology was lead-acid, but the limitations prevented much innovation. Lithium batteries have many advantages over traditional lead-acid batteries and have caused a resurgence in interest in electrifying boats.
For starters, lithium batteries are smaller and lighter while packing much more energy. This smaller size is especially beneficial in a boat because weight can directly affect buoyancy, speed, and maneuverability. Lithium batteries also run four times longer than a lead-acid battery with the same weight.
Additionally, and most importantly, lithium batteries are more efficient. In a direct comparison between a lead-acid battery and a lithium battery with equal volts and amps, the lithium battery ran at 98% efficiency. In contrast, the lead-acid battery only ran at 80% efficiency. It shows that the lithium battery is almost 20% more efficient.
Another crucial advantage of lithium batteries is that they’re more eco-friendly. Lead-acid batteries are known to leak acid and lead that’s eventually discharged into the water. This leaked acid pollutes the water and harms any organisms within.
Lithium batteries are more economical and cause less pollution. Even if lithium waste manages to leak into the water, it’s far less harmful than lead.
Electric Boats Are on the Rise
Because of increasing technological advances, electric boats are becoming more popular, and electric boat companies are not settling for something that will just float on water.
Instead, many boat companies try to make electric boats that run faster and are more similar to your diesel or gas-powered speed boats. Arc, Naiver, and Vision Marine are a few of the leading electric boat companies.
With a business plan modeled after Tesla, Arc hopes to produce a high-end boat that can compete with any other speed boat on the market. Their first model will host a 200 kWh 800-volt battery pack with at least 475 horsepower and a speed of 40 mph.
And this model will produce a wake behind it for boarding or skiing in the water, which is unusual for an electric boat because a wake’s drag can be heavy and require significantly more power.
Many electric boat manufacturers would not deem wake-creation a good use of battery power. But Arc’s innovative 800-volt battery is energy-dense enough to manage the drag and even “plane” at higher speeds.
However, Arc’s initial models are priced around $300,000. That’s not in the budget for most families. But Arc’s business plan is to sell a limited number at that high price point and use the proceeds to produce more economical models.
But economical merely refers to the price. The less expensive boats will still have the most important features and all the power and speed of the original models. So, an Arc model may be in your price range soon.
Navier is a boating company created by two engineers who met at MIT. To create lower ownership and maintenance costs, these two designed the Navier 27. The vessel is s a fully electric boat that can reach a high of 30 knots but can manage 70 miles round trip running at only 20 knots.
The Navier 27 has higher speeds and efficiency because of the three retractable foils located near the bow and on both sides of the stern. The Navier 27 is competitively priced at $300,000 and marketed explicitly toward a higher-end clientele.
Vision Marine created the E-Motion 180, which is the first electric boat to use a lithium battery. The E-Motion 180’s engine boasts 180 horsepower and speeds up to 60 mph.
And the price is manageable at only $5,000 more than a standard internal combustion engine. Any boat with an internal combustion engine mounted between 18 and 26 feet can use the E-Motion 180 engine.
What Are the Benefits of Electric Boats?
There are many benefits to electric vessels. For example, boats are noiseless and require less maintenance, offsetting the price. They’re also odorless and non-polluting, making them a great eco-friendly option. So, let’s look at each of these advantages in a little more detail.
Although you may hear a gentle hum, electric engines are virtually noiseless; especially when compared to their fossil fuel counterparts. Imagine how much more relaxing it would be on the water without a noisy engine.
A silent engine is especially beneficial in natural lakes or ponds where a noisy engine would disturb the wildlife. With an electric boat, the engine is quiet enough that you can get closer to the animals without scaring them away.
Cheaper and Less Maintenance
Compared to a diesel- or gas-powered engine, the moving parts in an electric engine are at a minimum. And, because there are fewer moving parts, maintenance needs decrease, saving you time and money.
However, you should still bring your electric boat in for regular inspection because you may find some updates or improvements to make the engine run more efficiently.
Odorless and More Environmentally Friendly
No one can forget the distinct smell of a diesel engine.
Scotland’s electric vehicle association stated, “One large cruise ship can produce as much particulate matter as 1M cars, and . . . the air quality on deck is as bad as our inner-cities.”
But unlike diesel engines, electric engines don’t give off toxic fumes or bi-products. The main bi-product of electric motors is heat, which is harmless to the environment.
How Much Does an Electric Boat Cost?
Upfront costs are higher because buying an electric boat is more expensive than a diesel/gas-fueled boat. That being said, your expenses tend to decrease in the long run.
In fact, diesel, maintenance, and repair costs can equal up to more than $17,000 in five years alone for a classic sailboat. And a boat with a diesel engine will lose value as the engine racks up miles.
In contrast, once you’ve purchased an engine and lithium batteries, electric boats require very little maintenance and few repairs. There are also no hefty refueling prices for fossil fuels, and the motor runs smoothly even years after the purchase date.
But, of course, the value will also continue to decrease as electric boats become more popular.
How Far and Fast Can an Electric Boat Go on Battery Power?
Electric boats have only recently become popular because the public wondered how far and fast an electric vessel could go. Many doubted that these engines could travel as far or as fast as a traditional diesel or gas-fueled motor.
But with the improvements and use of lithium batteries, statistics industry experts believe electric boats will be just as fast and travel just as far as their fossil fuel counterparts.
Depending on the size of the boat, the electrical system, and the batteries used, research shows that these vessels can go anywhere from 16 miles to 100 miles on a full charge. Their speed may range from 5 knots to 20 knots, depending on the same factors.
Can You Convert a Boat to Electric?
Most mechanics or individuals with knowledge about motors can convert a boat with an internal combustion engine to an electric one. For example, Sailing Uma, a YouTube channel that follows a couple who travels the world in their electric sailboat, removed their non-working diesel engine and converted it to an electric one.
To convert to an electric engine, you’ll need a compatible electric motor and a power bank. Many companies create electric engines, and you can even find some companies with engines that will recharge your batteries as you move through the water. So, do your research to find the right one for your boat.
For your power bank, the best option is lithium batteries. They’re more efficient, and Dragonfly Energy (and Battle Born) lithium batteries charge five times faster than standard lead-acid batteries. So, whether you’re charging while docked, using a generator, or using your regenerative engine, your lithium batteries will require less time, fuel, and energy to recharge.
Lithium Batteries Are Moving Electric Boats Forward
In conclusion, electric engines are taking the marinas by storm. What was introduced as a new idea over 120 years ago has only increased in popularity with innovations in technology.
The lithium battery is one innovation that has dramatically increased the efficiency and productivity of electric boats. It’s directly linked to an increase in the popularity of electric boats. Ultimately, the electric motor and lithium battery are exponentially changing the future of boat designs for the better.