Will Boats Become Electric?

Boats will become electric when the dollar-for-dollar cost against internal combustion is at a level of parity or close to.

The maritime industry as a whole isn’t entirely suited to electric propulsion. For example, large container vessels will fare better using other sources like wind energy or even hydrogen.

On the recreational side, however, the case for electric power is looking stronger and stronger. Quieter boating experiences and far less maintenance costs over a boat’s lifetime are a couple of reasons to go electric.

So let’s evaluate the current state of electric boats, the market scenario and trends, and determine if electric boat motors are any good for the future.

Key Takeaways

1️⃣ Recreational boating is increasingly favoring electric propulsion for its benefits.
2️⃣ Electric outboard motor market share is projected to rise substantially by 2030.
3️⃣ Marine applications are exploring various renewable energy sources for a greener future.

Current State of Electric Boats

Before diving into the mechanics of how electric boats work and envisioning the future of boating, it is important to define what an electric boat is.

In respect of this article, we define electric boats as any watercraft that has its mechanical power provided mainly through an electrical motor.

This includes any boat that meets the following prerequisites.

Conversions From Gas To Electrical Power

The future is electric, and conversion to electric boats from existing internal combustion is the next logical step toward widespread electric boating.

This includes vessels with a gas-powered (gas or diesel) motor replaced with an electric unit.

These include the following conversions:

  • Low-power units can be used to motorize canoes, inflatables, kayaks, paddle boards, etc.
  • Outboard motor conversions (tiller and integrated steering) where the motor is an independent propulsor unit for a boat.
  • Inboard motor conversions where an electric unit replaces an existing gas-powered inboard motor.
  • Inboard/outboard (stern drive) conversions.

Available Electric Motor Models

With these definitions in mind, the following models of electric motors are available.

Low-Power Electric Motors Available With Clip-on Holders: These motors are supplied as thrusters that can be attached to various types of craft (inflatables, kayaks, etc.)

Motor BrandCountryWebsite
BixpyUSAlink
NewportUSAlink
TEMOFrancelink
ThrustmeNorwaylink
TorqeedoGermanylink

Outboard – Tiller/Trolling – Electric Motors: The following established manufacturers provide tiller model outboard motors for leisure craft.

Motor BrandCountryWebsite
Aqua WattAustrialink
BixpyUSAlink
ElcoUSAlink
ePropulsionAustralialink
HaswingChinalink
MercuryUSAlink
Minn KotaUSAlink
MotorguideUSAlink
NewportUSAlink
TEMOFrancelink
ThrustmeNorwaylink
TorqeedoGermanylink

Outboard – Remote Steering Electric Motors The following established manufacturers provide remote steering (which are generally more powerful) model outboard motors for leisure craft.

Motor BrandCountryWebsite
Aqua WattAustrialink
ElcoUSAlink
EvoyNorwaylink
Krautler ElektromaschinenAustrialink
Minn KotaUSAlink
Pure WatercraftUSAlink
Ray Electric OutboardUSAlink
Parsun PowerChinalink
TorqeedoGermanylink
YamahaJapanlink
Zero JetNew Zealandlink

Inboard Electric Motors The following established manufacturers provide inboard motors for leisure craft that can be found on new builds or retrofitted to existing craft, converting from gas/diesel to electric power.

Motor BrandCountryLink
AquaMotAustrialink
Aqua WattAustrialink
ElcoUSAlink
EvoyNorwaylink
Krautler ElektromaschinenAustrialink
TorqeedoGermanylink

Inboard/Outboard (Stern Drive) Conversions

There is only one company that specializes in stern drive motors, and that’s the Japanese firm Yamaha.

Clean Sheet Designs

It is a watercraft that is a clean sheet design, with the primary power source being electric power.

Available Electric Motor New Build Craft: The following companies manufacture new build electric vessels.

CompanyVessel TypesWebsite
Alva YachtsCatamarans, yachtslink
Arc BoatsLuxury cruiserlink
Aqua WattMahagoni Boat, compact runabout, RIBS, motor barges, skiffslink
CandelaDay Cruiser, Hydrofoil, long Range Cruiser, foiling water taxi, electric passenger vessellink
Domani Yachtslink
Duffy Electric BoatsCruisers, Cuddy Boats, Cruiserslink
ElectracraftPassenger Sport Boatlink
Nautique BoatsWake beats, surf boats, ski boatslink
Pure WatercraftBass Boats, Coaching, Launches, RIBS, Pontoon boatslink
RAND BoatsRunabout, speedboats, cruiserslink
Sunreef YachtsHigh-end Solar Power Yachtslink
Twin VeeCenter Console, Twin hulllink
Vision Marine TechnologiesTenderslink
Zero JetTenders, RIBS, etc.link

💸 Market Analysis

The total market for outboard motors of all types is approximately 300,000 per annum. This represented a total turnover of $3.6B in sales in 2022.

The electric outboard market has still to gain substantial traction, with the total sales value in 2022 being USD 137.5 Million. This is under 4% of the total value of outboard motor sales.

The largest market share won by the electric boat manufacturers is in the trolling motor category. Electric trolling motors account for over 60% of the sales in this category.

The future market size will depend on the willingness of boaters to switch to alternative technology. The trend is expected to follow a similar profile to that experienced by the electric vehicle (EV) market.

Most commentators predict the market will be valued at US$ 265.8 Million (93% growth over 2022) by 2030.

This means that the market will grow at a steady (but not excessive) rate until +-2030. After this, with many government regulations starting to penalize the gas-powered market, the growth rate should increase.

Solar-Powered Boats

Designers are constantly testing new technologies in the hope that they will provide a breakthrough in renewable energy. The electric motor and boat manufacturers in this article produce motors that run off batteries.

Some offer solar arrays that can be added as a charging source; however, the power is ultimately derived from the battery.

Solar boats take this concept to the next logical level: they use the sun’s energy (converted by solar panels into electricity) to provide direct power to the boat’s motor.

Because the sun’s energy is only available for use during a part of the day (Peak solar hours), they also provide a battery backup that can be used after hours or in poor light conditions.

Boat motors that run purely on solar power are low-power units capable of slow speeds (+-6 knots). When they run off the battery supply, the capabilities tend to reduce even further, and speeds of 4 knots are not uncommon.

The current state of battery technology only enables solar power boats at two ends of the boating market.

  • Low-speed tenders or leisure fishing craft. Aqua Watt is an example of this type of solar power boat manufacturer.
  • High-end yachts that have sufficient “real estate” to mount a sufficient number of solar panels to make the system functional. An example of this type of solar power boat manufacturer is Sunreef Yachts.

As battery and solar panel technology improves and the capabilities increase, solar power boats will become more viable in the future.

Charging is crucial when we talk about boats and large battery setups. So, learning the ins and outs of charging an electric boat becomes a key skill for boat owners.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Boats

Hydrogen is the chemical element that is the most abundant in the universe. Hydrogen power is the future energy source for many transport categories, including aviation, road, and marine – or so everyone says.

The potential advantages are substantial. Hydrogen power is completely carbon-free, producing just water as a by-product of its use.

Hydrogen in itself does not contain energy. It is used as the medium that stores and carries the energy.

The technology has the potential to be implemented in two ways.

Using Existing Internal Combustion Engines

Although hydrogen can be used as a fuel source for internal combustion engines, it is up to 50% less efficient than reacting it with air in a fuel cell. Added to this, it is also very noisy.

This approach has been sidelined in favor of adopting more innovative solutions.

Using Liquid Fuel As The Primary Medium

The other approach being looked into is to use a liquid that is rich in hydrogen, such as methanol or ammonia.

The problem with this route is that the methanol reactions generate CO2, and ammonia produces polluting nitrous oxides, which make them no greener than existing fossil-based fuels.

Hydrogen Fuel Cells

When hydrogen is used in a fuel cell as a separate electricity-generating device, it produces power by using chemical reactions. In these, the hydrogen is converted into electricity and water vapor. 

The fuel cell technology is based on the oxidation of a fuel. This leads to a reduction of an oxidant, and the result is that electrical energy, water, and heat are produced. 

AdvantagesDownsides
It is a zero-emission power source with no other detrimental effectsThe technology is currently very costly.
Refueling time is fast and can be compared with fossil-based fuel systemsThe production of hydrogen is an expensive process
The range offered by hydrogen systems is substantialLimited hydrogen infrastructure is available, which will take years to rectify.
The equipment is heavy.

Wind Energy

Other renewable energy technologies are being explored for marine use. The most obvious is wind energy.

The wind is already used as the primary power source for sailing boats. The research examines ways of taking this a step further and using it as a reliable way to produce low-cost electrical power.

Wind turbines are already in use on boats and can provide energy when the conditions are optimum.

Current turbine technology is relatively inefficient and expensive when compared to solar. If the efficiencies can be improved, wind energy production potentially offers a viable alternative to fossil fuels.

Hydropower

Hydropower seems a “no-brainer” for use in marine applications. When a propellor (turbine blade) is placed in moving water, it will begin to turn. As it turns, it can be used as a generator which produces electrical current.

In existing hybrid systems, this is already being used to good effect on sailboats. The electrical motor serves a dual purpose.

  • When current is fed into the motor, it provides propulsion
  • When the boat is under sail, the water current flow rotates the motor, which converts into a generator and can be used to recharge the batteries.

Designers focusing on hydropower for marine applications are placing a separate generator in the water flow, which provides electrical power for an engine.

The downsides of hydropower are as follows.

  • The turbines are relatively inefficient.
  • Placing the turbine in the water produces drag, which has to be overcome by the motor. This increases the motor’s power consumption.

🔮 Future Outlook

Whether you stand on the side of the global warming community or not, an alternative has to be found for the finite supply of fossil-based fuels.

The future outlook of using renewable power supply systems is very positive. It is not a case of “if” but “when” it will be adopted.

Equip yourself with the right electric boat conversion kit as boats transition to electric.

Government Policies

Only 7% of the global commercial and private vessels fleet are powered by electricity. Less than 10% of new build vessels are designed to be powered by electrical motors. 

Governments worldwide are developing (or have already implemented) legislation that promotes adopting “green” technology in the marine industry.

The current legislation implies a voluntary conversion to renewable energy and is focused on offering incentives and rebates for boat owners to switch. If this does not work in the long term, there is no doubt that they will start to penalize entities that do not cooperate.

📈 Market Trends

The impacts on the marine market are significant.

Potential Impact on the Maritime Industry

Converting to renewable energy is one of the most profound and complex challenges facing the marine industry for the following reasons.

  • The available technology still needs to be at the point where it competes on a dollar-for-dollar basis with fossil-based fuel systems.
  • Renewable marine technology is not yet sufficiently mature for wide-scale adoption across each marine market sector.
  • The capital expenditure required to change over to the new tech is massive.
  • As we consider the shift to electric boating, it’s imperative to assess the reliability and safety of electric boats in comparison to traditional marine vessels.

❓ Frequently Asked

What are the challenges in setting up charging infrastructure for electric boats?

Setting up charging infrastructure for electric boats requires significant investment in terms of technology, equipment, and facilities. Challenges include ensuring the availability of charging stations at marinas, docks, and other popular boating locations, ensuring compatibility with various boat models, and addressing concerns related to safety, power supply, and grid capacity.

How do electric boats perform in terms of speed and range compared to traditional boats?

Electric boats generally offer quieter and smoother operation, but their speed and range may vary based on the battery capacity, motor efficiency, and boat design. While some electric boats are designed for leisurely cruising at lower speeds, advancements in battery technology and motor design are enabling electric boats to achieve competitive speeds and longer ranges comparable to traditional boats.

I’m the founder and chief editor here at Kite Ship. The electrification of boating is the most exciting thing to happen to the marine industry in a generation! Welcome, and I hope that we can provide the portal you need to dive into the world of electric propulsion and power.