Powerboats are going green and getting quiet

By Brian McCowan, Zondits staff, 3/3/2022.

Many years ago, I visited a boat and outdoor equipment dealer in rural New England and asked if they sold canoes. The answer, delivered with a sarcastic tone, was, “We don’t sell anything unless it pollutes the air or water, preferably both.” Outboard motors have long been accused of polluting both the air and water—and rightly so. Now, many manufacturers are moving to correct that situation by introducing efficient electric inboard engines and outboard boat motors that compete with their gasoline- and diesel-powered counterparts.

According to electric boat motor manufacturer Elco, “There are approximately 13 million registered boats in the U.S. today. If only 5% of them were repowered with electric motors, 1 billion pounds of CO2 emissions would be eliminated.” Electric boat motors are not new, but what is new is their ability to go head-to-head in the marketplace with fossil fuel–powered models. As with electric cars, a combination of stricter emission requirements, public interest in clean energy, and technology breakthroughs are responsible for driving the market for electric power. Brushless electrically commutated motors are more efficient than standard motors, and lithium battery technology has reduced the size and weight of batteries and extended runtimes.

Until recently, two-stroke outboards were the norm. They burn a gasoline and oil mix, and although recent innovations have improved their emissions, they are considered the least environmentally friendly option. Four-stroke motors are now common, and propane-powered options are available in limited power ranges. But assuming a relatively clean electric power source for charging, electric motors offer the best clean power option by a nautical mile.  Electric motors have an additional game-changing attribute: they are quiet. Outboard motors are especially guilty of disturbing the peace for their operators and those around them. The promise of a quiet lake or ocean bay is almost hard to fathom for anyone who has spent a lot of time in and around powerboats.

In years past, electric motors were primarily used for slow-moving launches for short pleasure cruises, and trolling motors for recreational fishing. But with the new battery and motor developments, motors that will bring a powerboat up to speed, or power a sailboat when the wind dies, are readily available. The links below offer more information about electric boat motors. As always, Zondits endorses no particular products.