Electric engines hit the waters
Yachting used to be the only way of sailing without noise or fumes. Until now. Electric boat motors, thanks to the range of the new batteries, are already a reality that will change water sports forever.
On 27 February, sailor Conrad Colman completed the Vendee Globe non-stop solo round-the-world yacht race in 110 days, 1 hour and 58 minutes. Without using a single drop of fuel. His yacht was equipped with an electric motor that was capable of alleviating the harshness of transoceanic navigation. Its batteries were charged by solar panels and the energy recovered through the motor’s propeller while the yacht was propelled by sail.
A true milestone. Although it may become the norm sooner than we think. “There is nothing more pleasant than sailing without hearing the hum of the motor. Sailing enthusiasts want to hear the waves lapping against the hull,” explains Andreas Ferrer, representative of electric motor company Oceanvolt in Spain.
“It is also about environmental protection. People who sail usually have a lot of respect for nature. Most of our customers have simply grown tired of diesel.” Therefore, most of the leading yacht builders are already including this type of propulsion in at least one of their ECO models.
The new Lithium-Ion batteries are similar to those used in the automotive industry, and allow greater recharging speed, greater power and much greater range. This has made it possible to install electric motors capable of moving the enormous volumes of boats up to 11 metres long and weighing 7 tonnes.
At a speed of 3 knots (approximately 5.5 km/h), enough for coastal navigation and manoeuvring in harbour, the new electric motors can cover distances of up to 30 miles (approximately 55 kilometres). Also, most Spanish ports have electrical outlets on their docks. Our motor will be charged in three or four hours.
Additionally, thanks to the solar panels and an energy recovery system in the propeller, which rotates impelled by water while sailing, it is possible to power the boat with fully renewable energy (one day of navigation under sail can completely recharge the battery). In any case, “boats that will be covering long distances, such as crossing the Atlantic, include a petrol generator to charge the battery, similar to extended-range electric cars, to avoid surprises,” adds Ferrer.
The representative of Oceanvolt, the Finnish brand which has already sold up to 400 units worldwide , admits that users still have to overcome their qualms about this type of electric propulsion. “The automotive industry is ahead of us, but thanks to electric cars people have begun to realise that these motors are reliable.”
Electric motors occupy a smaller amount of space and require practically no maintenance. “Additionally, they have much greater power than a diesel motor, which needs to reach a high number of revolutions. In case of emergency, it allows us to weather the storm much better than a combustion engine. In fact, large cargo ships are already equipped with electric motors,” points out Ferrer.
Speed, which increases battery consumption, continues to be the main obstacle to seeing pleasure yachts propelled by electric motors. “At present it is applied mainly to sailing. Motor yachts need more speed and this requires larger batteries,” explains the representative of Oceanvolt.
Speedboats join the family
Despite speed complications, there are models under construction that aim to take silence and zero emissions to the world of large motorboats and luxury yachts. According to its designers, the Cadia 34E, from the Cadia Yachts shipyard, will be the first “really fast” electric yacht in the world. The first prototype was completed in February this year , in line with the shipyard’s schedule, after being granted a €2 million loan. The company is already accepting customised orders for the model.
With a length of 10 metres and a luxurious interior, its electric motor achieves a maximum speed of 30 knots – 55 km/h – and can cover a distance of up to 133 kilometres at a cruising speed of 24 knots (44 km/h).