A Boat on the Side

Boating Re-Volt!

- a new look at electric boating

The second decade of the 21st century’s is shaping up to be electrifying in more ways than one. The world’s rapidly declining oil resources, increasing demand and catastrophic oil blowouts will ensure that electric power continues its transition from alternative to mainstream. Hardly a week goes by without a new electric car, truck, bus or bike grabbing the headlines.

Of course golf buggies have strolled around the world’s courses for decades and the iconic English electric milk float whined away the early hours to ensure that the all important first cuppa of the day was there on millions of British bedside tables.

Long before the first electric vehicles, however, there were battery driven boats. The first one on the water was launched an unbelievable one hundred and seventy one years ago in St Petersburg. One Moritz von Jacobi was the builder and while his craft was hardly practical, it did work. By the 1870s there were dozens plying the world’s waterways. At the Chicago World Fair in 1893 thousands of visitors were swanning about on electric excursion boats.

The Lady Lena

By the turn of the century there were no less than eight charging stations along the banks of the River Thames. Sadly for those elegant electric launches the Roaring Twenties ushered in ever more powerful and reliable petrol and diesel power boats and they quickly fell from favour as a new age of speed dawned. Electric cars, trucks, trolley buses and even trams, with a few exceptions rapidly followed suit. The electric boat did not die out altogether though, many were saved and the oldest, the gorgeous Lady Lena of 1890, is still afloat and earning a living on the English canals.


The 1930s saw what was probably the most remarkable and biggest of electric boats – the gloriously opulent Are Deco extravaganza Normandie. This sublimely beautiful ocean liner was powered by four huge electric motors generating 160,000 horse power which pushed her along at 32 knots. Tragically this pinnacle of pre-war ocean travel was burnt out in New York while undergoing a wartime conversion to a troop carrier. Her DNA lives on however, in many of today’s electric powered superliners and an increasing number of dynamo driven cargo and leisure boats. Of course naval submarines have always used their battery banks to travel underwater and while most of them are, shall we say, unsuitable for leisure use unless you are an eccentric multi-millionaire, there are now much smaller two and three person models for that occasional undersea adventure.


In recent times electric boats have been making significant sustainable waves all over the world. In Sydney you can cruise the harbour on a solar-sail powered catamaran, an electric boat, the sun21 crossed the Atlantic a couple of years ago and in Northern Germany a brand new high-tech trimaran, the PlanetSolar, is undergoing sea trials in preparation for a world circumnavigation. Check out this mind boggling craft and be prepared for a shock.

Perhaps the most interesting of today’s sparkie new boats is the Nigel Irens designed Electra (not shown here unfortunately, we were unable to get photos.)  Representing the best in modern technology, she can cruise at 8 knots and cover a hundred and fifty miles (240 klms) with a top speed of up to 30 respectable knots. She is built as a superyacht tender. At somewhere around $180,000 for a 24-foot (7.5m) open boat she is a touch on the expensive side but then if you have to ask the price . . . . .  Nevertheless she’s pointing the right direction and as electronics and mass production step up a gear, we’re going to see lots more electric boats like her out there.

Sienna 19

Our own first electric boat, the Sienna 19, is powered by a German Torqeedo outboard with a bank of batteries under the floorboards. Fitted with a full-width canopy, toilet and mini galley, she will to be ideal for leisurely family outings. We’ve developed the boats for commercial as well as private use so they’ll be built to exacting standards. The new Sienna 19 has roof-mounted solar panels and back-up generator and will hum along very nicely indeed – call me for details.

Apart from the obvious environmental advantages of electric powered boats, there are several other very important aspects to consider. One is running costs. A well set up, modestly powered electric launch, housed in a carport with solar panels on the roof, will cost the average weekend boatie next to nothing to run. It gets even better if the boat herself also has solar collectors on her roof like the new Sienna 19. Maintenance is negligible and with new generation electric outboards, it’s a case of bolt it on the stern and plug in. Lack of noise is of course a major plus as is the lack of smelly petrol cans and toxic exhaust smoke. So once it’s all set up you’re as free as a seabird. Of course you won’t be dueling with jet-skis but on the other hand  imagine there’s no fuel or fumes, no shouting to make yourself heard, no violent thumping, no scarred dugongs and no oil seepage. In the end it’s just you, your family, your friends in a boat enjoying some of the world’s best waterways – ours.

Re-volt I say and re-energise your life!

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