VIDEO: Hydro-Foils, Solar Power and Sails: The Future of Electric Boats

There is nothing quite like the feeling of an early morning cruise down a river. Tranquillity and calm permeate the air as you glide smoothly over glasslike water, the hum of the outboard mingling with the relaxing sounds of waterbirds taking off. The effect of your morning motor on the marine environment is, however, not as zen as you may think which could be one of the reasons why electric boats are becoming an increasingly popular alternative.

According to retired Queensland academic and marine industry researcher Gary Fooks, outboard motors, especially those of the two-stroke variety are clogging up our waterways and marine environments, causing as much damage as a small oil spill. Although most outboards these days are cleaner four-stroke engines, research from New Zealand shows that a manganese fuel additive used widely in the US can contribute to fish mortality and damage fragile marine ecosystems.

The future of automobiles is pretty decidedly electric, Volkswagen says 70 per cent of the cars sold in Europe will be powered purely by batteries by 2030 and the boating industry is set to follow suit.

According to MarketWatch the Electric Boat industry was worth A$11.85 billion and that number is set to grow to A$25.67 billion in 2027. Electric boat manufacturers are keen to ride the green wave and offer boats that are not only less dependent on fossil fuel but have less of an impact on the marine environment by reducing noise and vibration pollution.

The fastest growing market for electric boats is in North America, but electric propulsion boats and ships still only make up about 2 per cent of the enormous global boating and shipping industry. So, the room for growth and expansion for firms interested in developing their electric capability is huge.

This lucrative industry is receiving a lot of attention due to the environmentally destructive consequences of continuing to use fossil fuel powered propulsion systems in boating and shipping. With over 130 countries now having made a commitment to reducing their emissions to net zero by 2050, time is running out for combustion engined marine vessels.

Here are some of the most cutting edge, advanced electric or hybrid electric boats on the market at the moment. While many electric propulsion boats are designed to be used as tenders or runabouts due to their limited range, there are many larger vessels making use of hybrid electric diesel engines and even sails to limit their impact on the environment.

Silent Yachts 60

The first ever production yacht to cross the Atlantic using solar power, the Silent Yacht 60 is the perfect electric boat for those looking to reduce their environmental footprint but still want to experience the luxuries of home. It can sleep up to 12 guests in 6 cabins with 9 crew and has all the onboard amenities you would expect from a A$3.25 million boat, all powered by the impressively large solar panels on the top of the vessel.

Many Electric Boats have luxurious interiors
Source: Silent Yachts

The 19 metre long yacht has a beam of 8.97 metres and a catamaran style hull. The two X-2 Electric motors produce 30kW each giving it a cruising speed of 7 knots and a maximum speed of 11 knots. While the Silent Yacht 60 is not the quickest boat, the lack of speed is made up for in spades by its unlimited range, which is of course dependent on conditions.

Electric boats can go places others can't thanks to reduced weight
Source: Silent Yachts

Onboard life is comfortable and the luxurious fit-out of the vessel means guests will be well catered for. There is a massive saloon on the main deck with cabins below and a comfortable fly bridge at the top. All amenities and gadgets are powered by the 143kWh battery which will switch to a backup diesel generator if conditions do not allow for solar power and battery is low.

Black Pearl

Continuing the theme of yachts not only being powered by electricity but generating that electricity themselves, the Black Pearl takes advantage of its ability to be propelled by wind power. It uses this propulsion to generate electricity itself, which it then utilises for cruising or to power the onboard amenities.

Electric boats often have other methods of propulsion such as sails
Source: Boat International

Costing more than A$285 million to build it is probably owned by Russian businessman Oleg Burlakov. The 107 metre, partially electric boat has a beam of 15 metres and can sail at a very speedy 30 knots. It can cross the Atlantic without using any fuel and cruises at low speed, under 11 knots, completely silently using two 400kWh electric propulsion motors.

The Black Pearl is a hugely expensive example of an electric boat
Source: Boat International

The award-winning vessel is, after all, a superyacht so onboard entertainment and amenities are second to none. An on-deck jacuzzi, convertible cinema, full beam beach club, and a tender garage keep the 12 guests entertained. Interiors have remained a closely guarded secret, however. Renderings by design firm Nuvolari Lenard give us a clue as to what we could expect to see onboard with interiors showing off a Louis XVI French inspired design.

Source: Nuvolari Lenard

Sunreef 80 Eco Yacht

With owners like tennis ace Rafael Nadal and Formula 1 World Champion Nico Rosberg, Sunreef Yachts have a range of eco-friendly electric boats. They feature all the amenities and inclusions of a superyacht but use as much renewable power as possible. The Polish designed and built catamaran hull yacht can generate up to 32kWp from its 164m² of onboard solar panels.

Owners can choose from a hybrid diesel electric or fully electric propulsion system and the battery is 30 per cent lighter than the average batteries used in a yacht. An impressive range of 3,500 nautical miles and a maximum speed of more than 20 knots is achieved using two 360kW electric engines powered by a 640kW battery.

Source: Sunreef Yachts

It has a full-sized sail for the ultimate in eco-friendly propulsion and can be fitted with wind turbines and “high-performance kites” for even more power generation and range. Inside the vessel, luxurious leather furniture and premium fittings fill the 360 square metres of deck. There are four staterooms with queen or king beds, as well as crew quarters and a hot tub on the flybridge.

Candela C-7

While there are still relatively few superyachts with electric motors for propulsion, there are many smaller tenders and runabouts currently in production that are solely powered by electricity. Some of them are very fast! Swedish firm Candela has already started producing the C-7, an electric boat that makes use of hydrofoil technology to achieve a maximum speed and range that is the envy of other electric boat manufacturers.

The C-7 flies over the water thanks to its hydrofoils which lift the hull out of the water. This allows the boat to reach a maximum speed of 30 knots, with a range of 50 nautical miles at 22 knots on a single charge of its 40kWh battery. While not as long range as conventional fossil fuel powered boats, the C-7 can go as much as three times further than comparatively powered electric boats.

Source: Newatlas

Another bonus of using hydrofoil is the vast reduction in noise and wake. Gliding silently at speed over the water is an undeniably amazing feeling and the reduced wake is a welcome advantage for wildlife and other water users. In fact, Candela is offering test drives of the C-7 in Venice where wake pollution damages the historical buildings of the city.

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