Our Friends Electric

Reducing our impact on the environment has never been more important than it is now. The yachting industry is ramping up research and innovation to bring more electric boats to the market. Frances and Michael Howorth take a look at some of the very best electric tenders and discuss the challenges faced by the designers and engineers

The growth potential for fully electric and sustainable tenders is huge and the superyacht industry is showing a healthy appetite for the concept. Once you’ve tried out a boating experience in complete silence, without engine fumes or vibrations, it is almost impossible to go back. There is an increasing number of boat builders making moves in the electric tender space, meaning more and more boat lovers are coming into contact with electric boats. Once they do, it seems they’re hooked. If an incredible user experience and saving our planet is not enough, the fact that powering an electric boat through the water comes in at a fraction of the cost of a diesel or petrol engine. If that does not convince you then nothing else will!

So what is holding things back? Last September we drove an all electric Tesla Model X from the UK through France in time to attend the Monaco Yacht Show. In the UK our run about, town car is a Nissan Leaf so while we hear the arguments such as range and charging infrastructure against electric vehicles we simply do not understand them. Neither range nor charging an electric tender on a superyacht is a problem. When it’s running low you simply head back to the mothership and plug in the cable.

Oscar Fors the COO of X Shore believes the next big thing is super-charging up to 150 kW, similar to speeds available for advanced cars today. This will allow boats to charge in something like 30 minutes. “Today, most boats have onboard chargers that convert the AC-power from a regular 3-phase outlet to DC-power for the battery. Super-charging, or DC-DC charging, can remove the bottleneck of the onboard charger and charge the boat at a speed that is five times faster, if not more,” he says.

Konrad Bergström the company’s President and Founder comments, “And while the industry has already made fantastic progress when it comes to speed and range, technology is evolving so quickly at the moment, that I predict the coming generation of electric tenders will not only be customisable, but also a lot faster and able to travel even greater distances.”

Joakim Hildén the CEO of Q-Yachts in Finland believes improved manoeuvrability and ease of use with the help of modern technology similar to implementations already seen in other fields is the next big thing for electric tenders. He continues, “The car industry has shown us the way with Intelligent Driving Assistance now it is up to the electric boatbuilder to be just as creative when it comes to waypoint following and joy-stick self-docking capabilities.”
Not everyone has taken the all electric pill. Florian Helmberger, is Head of Sales at Frauscher. He says, “Contrary to some we don’t believe in huge jumps in capacity. For bigger boats and yachts as well as commercial vessels Diesel hybrid and hydrogen solutions will become more popular.”

At Zin Boats they are convinced of the need to look at the long term aspects of electric boating and how protecting our environment is the key to sustainable boating for generations to come. There are many good approaches to revolutionising this industry. The company believes that delivering performance and comfort is the best way to go. No compromises. They say, “We will always give our customers
the best technology available. One boat at a time we hope to make the electric propulsion the way for the future.”

Paul Lavoie is the Co-Founder, CEO and brand visionary behind the Beau Lake Team. They build and hand-finish, electric-powered boats with a vintage luxury look about them. With part of all profits going towards providing clean water in developing countries they are also keen on cleaning up shorelines at home. It is Lavoie’s belief that design is always driven by aesthetics and performance. He says, “We won’t compromise that to deliver the engine power and travel range our customers want.”

As power and range are increased in an electric boat, bigger batteries are needed. And space and weight in a vessel is always at a premium. It’s a design challenge in any category. But for electric boats the effort delivers bigger rewards. Electric boats are able to convert 95% of its battery capacity to shaft power versus combustion craft at only 20%. The Beau Lake Tahoe 14’ electric is fitted with a Torqeedo motor and batteries. The size-to-output ratio is highly efficient.

The world wants now a solid state lithium product. But that is about 4-5 years away. In the interim, the scientists at MIT are working on ways to come up with a different answer. Until then, in the consumer watercraft world, Lithium batteries as we know them will continue to propel us. The good news is that the battery capacity to deliver the travel range boaters want, increases every year. And as result, the price per kilowatt is also decreasing.

Tjasa Luin Peric is the CEO of Alfastreet Marine who have gained a strong foothold in the electric tender market with their 28 Cabin or 28 Open model. Based in Slovenija, they specialise in electric propulsion and offer a varied selection of electric engines and battery packages to assure the best performance on the water. Customers can choose between high and low-speed electric engines, as well as offering the semi-hybrid option for unlimited cruising. The largest of batteries is 50 kWh and offers cruising up to 10 hours, depending on the vessel speed and exterior conditions. Peric says, “It is always important to understand the usage and needs of the owner to put together the right electric combination, due to this reason the first approach towards clients is always collection of the information. In the nautical industry we have the same problem as the automotive industry where everybody is looking for the range, but unfortunately today the market can’t offer any better solutions and it seems that we will have to wait for another couple of years to offer a better combination between the speed and range. At the moment this is the most challenging thing in the world.”

The most challenging aspect for electric boat building for Stephen van den Berg the President and Founder of Ribbon Yachts in the Netherlands was design and weight. He says, “The shared challenge has been finding the magical tipping point where we achieve the most efficient engineering solutions and the best styling solutions without any compromises.” He adds, “For the weight challenge we made the Ribbon 28 Monza entirely of pre-preg carbon fibre. This provides the most optimal structural performance while keeping the weight to a minimum.”

The vision for DutchCraft, sister company to Zeelander Yachts, was born from the experiences of Sietse Koopmans, the company owner and founder of both companies while he cruised the world on his explorer superyacht, covering over 100,000 nautical miles visiting 46 countries. As a long-time yachtsman, Sietse understands the needs of owners – and that these might change from time to time, depending on where you are and what you are doing. “So,“ he says, “Versatility of use and safe, worry-free boating are top priorities at Dutch Craft as are outstanding levels of comfort.” Koopmans believes that, “Electric boats are the way forward offering many benefits over boats driven by internal combustion, but he concludes sadly, “To buy an all-electric planning boat today you are still going to have to pay double the price of that for a regular boat.”

Michael Goddaert, created Domani Yachts and has always shunned boats that pollute the air and made his company name building and selling a highly sought after range of day sailing boats. Now having started to build electric boats he says, “The advantage of no smell, no vibration, no fire hazard created by fuels is a huge plus. The total noise free experience is really unique and an eye opener. Compare it to you driving an electrical car, and I am sure you will agree it’s a totally new experience.” He adds, “Certainly it offers more design options and with an open floor plan you can adapt a tender for different purposes; be it the transport of goods, a water taxi configuration or even enclosed limousine with a solar panelled rooftop to be able to charge the batteries. Our focus at Domani will always be on a more zen, onboard experience at reasonable speeds and opting for maximum efficiency, zero emission and a good feeling of being in harmony with the surroundings and environment.”

The move away from fossil fuels began long before the ongoing world instability and volatility in the oil market. The mainstream accepts electric vehicles today to an extent it did not have even a few of years ago. That acceptance has driven decisions by car manufactures, including the world’s largest: VW, to convert to electric. This is echoed in the boating world by the increasing number of players entering the electric category. All this activity and success continue to raise awareness, acceptance and appeal of the electric powered boat. The future is fully-electric and sustainable, and from the evidence before us today it would seem that this future is just around the corner.