How Electric Boatbuilders are Making Waves across the Industry

There is a line in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1920 short story ‘The Offshore Pirate’ when the author, who is best known for writing The Great Gatsby, describes how silently a vessel named the ‘Narcissus’ sails at sea. Lyrically, he writes that “the yacht was quiet as a dream boat, star-bound through the heavens”. It’s an evocative passage, and one that — just over a century later — perfectly expresses perhaps the best quality of the burgeoning electric boat industry: how quiet and calm these new vessels are.

Like electric cars and bikes before them, boats are going green, clean and noiseless. The last two years especially have seen start-ups such as Los Angeles boatbuilder Arc supercharge their development. But Arc’s co-founder, engineer Mitch Lee, is keen to emphasise the evolutionary — rather than revolutionary — nature of this prospering, sustainable sector.

“Boat hulls are a work of art as much as a science” says Lee. “And, because there’s a rich history to their design and construction, we’d be foolish to ignore that. At the same time, electric boats have unique challenges.”

Arc One

The complex yet lightweight interior hull of the Arc One

The Arc One, for example, is the brand’s launch model: a limited-edition luxury cruiser with a custom-built 220kWh battery pack that weighs thousands of pounds. This load presented a problem — one Arc solved by building a strong-but-lightweight hull, using materials that were developed for space travel. It’s future-facing, wave-making stuff — but such innovation also demands an expedited development process.

“Thankfully, high-powered electric boats can be designed and built on rapid timelines compared to the aerospace or auto industries,” Lee explains. “And they’re also dramatically better for the environment compared to their gas counterparts.”

This low environmental impact, much like the boats’ quiet running, is another key benefit of going electric. While many of the Arc One’s specs are impressive (a top speed of 40mph; 500hp), the most stirring statistic is its resounding zero emissions. The LA-based brand is under two years old, but those numbers have already ensured that their first fleet has sold out.

“We expect demand in electric boats to only increase from here,” says Lee, “given how much nicer — and cheaper — they are to own and operate. Not to mention the environmental benefits. The hard part will be keeping up with the demand.”

Thankfully, the world is brimming with budding electric boatbuilders. The highest concentration can be found in Scandinavia, with Sarvo Marine in Denmark, Evoy in Norway and Navia in Finland. But Sweden is the single biggest producer of these clean-running runarounds, with Stockholm alone home to brands from hydrofoil-creating Candela to minimalist manufacturer X Shore. So why are Nordic nations such bastions of boating innovation?

“Scandinavia has a long history of boating culture, with every capital boasting beautiful waterfronts,” says Jenny Keisu, CEO of X Shore. “Sweden is made up of thousands of islands and home to many beautiful lakes and rivers. Combine this heritage with our shared societal prioritisation of sustainability, and it’s no surprise that you get a significant number of companies pushing the boundaries of the EV sector here.”

X Shore, founded in 2016, is spearheading a transition to a fully electric industry. A key part of bringing about this sea change is to reduce the overall weight of vessels. Like Arc above, the brand is working to develop and discover new materials — from the glass and carbon fibre composite used to build its hulls to the cork that has superseded traditional (but dense) teak decks.

“As a result,” says Keisu, “the X Shore 1 is much lighter than traditional boats, and only requires a 63kWh battery — both boosting its eco-credentials and further reducing its weight.”

But speed isn’t sacrificed. The X Shore 1 has a top speed of 40mph — around the same as a Riva Dolceriva — and super-fast charging means you can ‘refuel’ cleanly and conveniently to 80% capacity in just 50 minutes. It’s a remarkable boating breakthrough; a world away from traditional motor boats. Although Keisu may disagree.

“They’re not as dissimilar as many people think,” says X Shore’s CEO. “They’re just quiet. You can hear the water splashing against the hull without interruption from engine noise pollution. They produce no fumes, and they have minimal impact on animal life and waterways.”

Boatbilders

Currently, these waterways are where electric boats thrive. Whether they be city canals or rural rivers, smaller channels — where boats can’t reach planing speeds — are perfect for easy, efficient sailing. Some vessels can even run for up to 20 hours under electric propulsion. RAND Boats, in Copenhagen, is headquartered on such canals and conduits.

“And we’re future-proofing ourselves,” says Mathias Marcussen Sloth, RAND’s marketing manager. “As many of these areas are actually planning to ban traditional propulsion systems.”

While the wider boating industry isn’t quite ready to ditch diesel (in comparison, fossil fuel-burning cars will be fully banned from sale in the UK by 2035), future-facing boatbuilding start-ups are proving the viability of alternative energy sources. RAND, which first floated in 2013, has spent the last decade developing such high-power propulsion systems. And the brand’s sporty console boat, the Source 22, can hit 58mph — making it the fastest electric luxury leisure boat on the market.

“Though the big issue with this kind of power,” says Marcussen Sloth, “is that if you run your boat at maximum capacity, you will run out of power very fast. You can use an electric engine for rough seas and watersports, but you will have limited running time compared to a traditional propulsion, unless you are conscious of your speed and battery level.”

This is, admittedly, a limitation — but one soon to be overcome as batteries improve. We’re mere years away from wider waters being fair game, and electric boats sailing open seas just as silently as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘Narcissus’. And, even now, the ozone-friendly, unpolluting upsides are numerous enough to invest.

“Low running costs, less maintenance, no fume smells, the silent engine,” lists Marcussen Sloth. “There’s a higher intelligent connection with electric boats, as we have seen with electric cars — because the engine and interface of the boat speak better together. But, most importantly, electric propulsion means that you can enjoy sailing with zero harm to the environment.”

Arc One

Lenght: 7.3m / 24ft
Top speed: 40mph
Capacity: 12 people
Cruising speed: 20 knots

Arc One

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X Shore 1

Lenght: 6.5m / 21ft
Top speed: 30 knots
Capacity: 5 people
Cruising speed: 20 knots

x-shore

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Source 22

Lenght: 6.7m / 22ft
Top speed: 50+ knots
Capacity: 8 people
Cruising speed: 28 knots

SOURCE 22

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