Mar 3, 2022 - Economy & Business

Putting a charge in the gas-guzzling power boat industry

Image of the Arc One, a new electric boat going on sale in summer 2022

Arc One electric speed boat. Photo courtesy of Arc

A team of former Space-X engineers and boating enthusiasts is aiming to transform recreational boating with a new speedboat that zips across the water on electricity instead of gas or diesel fuel.

Why it matters: Like automobiles, motorcycles and small airplanes, boats are beginning to go electric, which could make lakes and rivers more serene — and less polluted.

The big picture: Electric boats have their pluses and minuses.

  • While quiet and efficient, they require a tremendous amount of energy to propel themselves through the water.
  • That means they need a gigantic, heavy battery and can't go very far or very fast— a killjoy for boating enthusiasts.

But the traditional option — gas boats — are a tremendous pain to own.

  • "They're really expensive to operate, you have to winterize the engine, they're noisy and unreliable, the fumes are noxious and they're annoying to maintain, says Mitch Lee, a lifelong water skier who is co-founder and CEO of Los Angeles-based Arc Boats.
  • Filling them with gas is expensive too — perhaps one reason that some boat owners never leave the dock.
  • "Taking a boat out on the lake for a day is easily going to cost at least $100," Lee says.

What's happening: Today Arc is introducing the all-electric Arc One, a 24-foot cruiser developed from scratch to address the challenges posed by battery-operated boats.

  • It combines a lightweight aluminum hull with a gigantic 220 kWh battery — three times the size of the battery in a Tesla Model Y — integrated into the floor.
  • The combined weight — including the 2,000-pound battery — is about three tons, comparable to a conventional boat, says Lee.
  • With a 500-hp motor, the Arc One can travel up to 40 mph, with three to five hours of cruising time, he says. "When you’re on a lake and going 40 mph, you’re flying."

Prepare to pay a lot: The limited edition Arc One will sell for $300,000 — about twice the price of typical premium sports boats.

  • Lee says future Arc models will be cheaper, just as each of Tesla's successive models came down in price.
  • Production is underway, and the first deliveries will begin this summer.

Where it stands: Other marine companies are shifting to electric propulsion as well.

Mercury Marine, whose engines power about half of all recreational boats in the U.S., introduced a new electric outboard motor last week at the Miami Boat show.

  • It features a swappable battery pack so boaters can keep an extra onboard just in case. The battery can be charged at home or from a marine pillar.
  • It's the first of five new electric outboard models coming from Mercury by 2023.

Candela, a Swedish tech company, just completed a chilly maiden voyage in Stockholm with its unique hydrofoiling electric boat, the C-8.

  • It has computer-controlled hydrofoils – underwater wings – that enable the boat to fly above the waves.
  • The reduced drag means Candela’s craft uses 80% less energy than conventional boats, translating into a longer cruising range, the company said.

Even General Motors is getting into the electric boat business. The carmaker recently acquired a 25% stake in Pure Watercraft, a Seattle-based electric boat startup.

My thought bubble: As an avid sailor, I'm content to be gliding along at 4 or 5 knots — or a little over 4 to 5 mph — and I'll be thrilled when the speed boats all around me stop making so much noise.

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