Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Is Electric Right for You?

October 31, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Engines are like people — the older they get the crankier and more in need of repair they become. As soon as you have replaced one part another goes; after doing that for a while, it doesn’t make sense to sink more money into repairs. Once you’ve reached the point of swapping the old engine for a new one, consider going electric.

Electric power systems for your boat are much lower in maintenance and running costs than internal combustion engines (using gas or diesel), are almost silent when you use them, and have far lower carbon emissions than fossil fuel counterparts. Yet it never occurs to many boaters to repower their boats with an electric system, perhaps because they don’t realize the differences.

Scott McMillan, president and chief technology officer of Electric Yachts, says that one of the major draws to electric power systems is that they are extremely low maintenance. “Your annual oil change on a diesel may cost $200.00 to $300.00 and, even if you do it yourself, you will need to buy the oil, filters, and have to dispose of the old oil.”

When it comes to electric motor maintenance, McMillan says it’s not something vessel owners need to dwell on. “We’ve been doing this for 10 years and none of our customers have had to do any major maintenance. We’re getting to the point where some of their batteries are wearing out. Over the 10 years, if you add up all the comparable costs of diesel maintenance, in that time you should have enough for a new set of batteries.”

One of the major costs in repowering your vessel with a new inboard engine is paying a boatyard or marine mechanic to remove the old engine and install a new one.  However, when repowering with electric, per McMillan, a handy boater need only pay to take the old engine and fuel tanks out. Most of the rest can be done yourself (beware of limitations in your marina or boatyard contracts) in about a day.

Start by cleaning and repainting the engine bay to get rid of the stench of diesel or gasoline.  McMillan jokes that many spouses are quite happy to get rid of the smell. Then, he says, “as far as physically putting it in, the motor weighs about 65 pounds while the battery bank weighs around 100 pounds.” While fiddling around to get the equipment into the engine bay will go more smoothly with a couple of assistants, once in the engine bay, one person can slide it around as necessary.

“Positioning the units and fitting them requires just a few hand tools and isn’t something you’d need a mechanic to do. A lot of the work really isn’t skilled and someone who’s handy can do most of it themselves. The connections are straightforward — on our unit the display just plugs into the power unit, as does the power control,” says McMillan.

That’s not to say that you can’t use a pro to install the electric motor and batteries, but you don’t necessarily need a marine mechanic. An electrician or a boat builder can also do the job.

Some boat owners might believe that the changeover would find their vessels weighted down, but McMillan estimates the weight of the new motor and batteries should be comparable to an old internal combustion engine with full fuel tanks.

Other skippers may worry about range, having heard about or experienced the limitations of current electric cars. That’s definitely a nautical issue, too. Some electric motor boats also have fuel-powered generators aboard to extend the range and/or to charge the batteries when there’s no access to shore power. However, this defeats the point of going green, so eco-conscious boat owners install wind and/or solar power generation systems on their boats, which can be just as effective.

According to McMillan, range anxiety will be a decreasing worry. “You have major players such as Tesla Motors building battery plants. In the next five to 10 years you will see newer battery technology that’s more than enough for most people.”

By Richard Shrubb



is a freelance journalist living in Weymouth, England with his wife and two cats. A lifelong water sports enthusiast, he has sailed in the U.S., Caribbean, Mediterranean, and northern Europe.

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