A walk about at the Miami boat show in February 2011 was a stroll through a world of beautiful beasts. And I’m not talking about the bikini models strutting around. I’m referring to the raw power of the internal combustion engines on a scale to make Prius drivers cry for their mama. There was enough horsepower on the show floor of the Miami Convention Center to put a smile on every man, woman, and child in Saudi Arabia. Center console boats with triple and quadruple 350-horsepower boats used to draw gasps, stares, and rows of camera-clad gawkers. Now people practically yawn as they pass a 1,400 HP boat that will run 80 miles per hour. Of course, we’re talking gallons per mile rather than miles per gallon.
Yet, there was a green leaf quietly beginning to sprout in some corners of the show. Among the mighty Yamahas and Evinrudes, and the 12-cylinder Caterpillars and GMs, were some humble electric engines, solar panels, dreams of a future without carbon. I must mention, of course, that the technology in the big outboard and inboard engines has already reduced our carbon footprint significantly. Four strokes and high-tech fuel injection has resulted in far less emissions and much better fuel economy. But so far the big guys have not unveiled anything truly radical from a green point of view. I stopped by the Nissan booth where their gleaming black outboards were on display. I figured a company as forward thinking as Nissan with the introduction of the new Leaf electric car might have something up their sleeve. If they did, they weren’t going to tell me. In fact, they seemed dumbfounded that I even asked such a stupid question. An electric outboard engine? What planet are you from, Zantoor?
So the most prominent leader in electric outboards is not Nissan, not Yamaha, not Mercury, but little-known (in the U.S. anyway) German company, Torqeedo (see article in Winter 2011 issue). Their largest outboard is equal to an 8-10 horsepower engine that will plane out a skiff, all electrically. Torqeedo has also teamed up with Sea Eagle and PowerFilm Solar to create a rigid hull inflatable that will run at three-knots forever using only fuel from the sun. Less than $4,000 buys the boat, engine, batteries, Bimini top, solar panel, and they even throw in oars, even though you will probably never need them.
Torqeedo also showed up in the kayak section of the boat show with their Ultralight, a bite-sized electric engine specifically designed for kayaks. This little thing was mounted on a Hobie kayak but has a universal mount for any kayak. It can push a typical kayak almost six knots for about an hour or two-and-a-half knots for six hours – that’s about 18 miles. The whole set up, battery, engine, throttle, and digital display panel weighs less than 15 pounds.
Kudos to Volvo, Seaway, Torqeedo, Sea Eagle, Powerfilm Solar, and the rest of the forward thinking companies that have recognized the need for hydrocarbon reduction in our boating lives. Hopefully some of the mainstream engine makers are listening, watching, and planning. I’m just hoping for a fully electric 115 HP for my 20-foot center console fishing boat. Maybe next year.