Electric-powered boats were in widespread use in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but they largely sank out of view with the widespread adoption of internal combustion engines.
That's started to change in recent years thanks to major advances in battery and renewable energy technology which have made electric motors much more reliable and efficient.
As a result, and because of increasing awareness about the need to transition away from fossil fuels, it's becoming more common to see many types of boats equipped with electric motors.
In this article, we'll look at the electric inboard boat motor. Namely, we'll consider the following questions:
- How does an electric inboard motor work?
- What are the benefits of an electric inboard boat motor?
- Can a boat with a combustion engine be converted to an electric inboard motor?
How does an electric inboard boat motor work?
An electric inboard boat motor, typically fixed inside the hull of a boat, functions in much the same way as other inboard boat motors but uses energy sourced from a battery rather than traditional fuel.
Depending on the use and design of the boat, various types of batteries are available, most notably lead acid or lithium-based versions.
The battery is connected to an electric charger which regulates and manages the electric current flowing from the battery. The voltage and amperage of this current determines the type of electric charger that's required.
Finally, a transformer controller transfers the electrical energy by electromagnetic induction or between two circuits where it is converted by the motor's controller from a direct current into an alternating current. This then powers the boat's propeller.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of an electric inboard boat motor?
Electric inboard boat motors provide several benefits over internal combustion engines.
- No noise and no exhaust fumes
- As well as being more pleasant, you won't inhale noxious gases or pollute the water.
- The motor, batteries, transformer, and charger weigh less than an internal combustion engine.
- Cheaper energy costs
- A full electric charge typically only costs several euros.
- Easier to maintain
- Since there are no oil, gas, or spark plugs to worry about.
- Instant torque
- Thanks to electric propulsion, which means the boat is more manoeuvrable and easier to handle in choppy waters.
- With an electric inboard motor, you can get your energy from renewable sources like wind and solar so there are no CO2 emissions.
There are some disadvantages to electric inboard boat motors though. The most significant is the more limited range since batteries still do not have the energy density of traditional fuel. However, using less throttle means you can extend the range considerably.
Monitoring systems allow you to see how much charge remains but for those who wish to boat long distances or at speed yet appreciate the benefits of electric propulsion, hybrid motors may be a viable solution.
The other drawback to an electric inboard boat motor is the upfront cost. They can set you back more than double the price of a fossil fuel-based inboard motor, although this gap is very likely to narrow as the industry and technology mature.
Can a boat with a combustion engine be converted to an electric inboard motor?
The short answer is yes. Most vessels can be refitted with an electric inboard motor, and they work especially well for sailboats, trawlers, pontoon boats, and dinghies. Speed boats are also possible but there needs to be enough space around the hull for the battery.
The exact type of electric inboard motor you need will depend on your vessel. Get in touch with us at P&E Lowlands for free professional advice from our experts on which would work best for you.