Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Why Not An Electric Wakeboard Boat ?

Electric cars are starting to pop up. Everything from minimalist Zaps to sporty Tesla’s to Porsche conversions. With petrol now over $4/gallon in the US and higher elsewhere the number of electric cars is increasing rapidly. While there are many great benefits to electric cars, one major drawback that remains is how far they can go on a charge and what do you do when you run out of juice and need to recharge? Plug in for hours? Swap batteries? They’re starting to work great around town, but we have some work to do before we can reliably use them for highway trips.

Why not electric boats?

I assume one major obstacle is the small issue of electricity and water not mixing so well. This can be worked out though. In fact, the Navy powers many of their boats with electricity without water problems. Of course they also have onboard nuclear reactors to generate electricity and I’m not sure we’re far enough along with that for consumer use. However, battery and motor technology has advanced enough to make this a viable alternative and I’m sure boat builders can design a system to keep the batteries and motor both dry and adequately ventilated.

But oy vey, the advantages…

The batteries and motor are overall lighter than the equivalent power and run-time of 30 gallons of petrol and a marine engine. An electrical drive system is also comprised of many smaller components that can more easily be distributed around a hull for optimal weight distribution. It’d be possible to produce a center weighted slalom tow boat without a mid engine. Everything would be below deck and could even be a bit more forward than venerable towboats such as the Nautique 196 resulting in an even smoother wake. This also leaves room for massive ballasting to change the boats characteristics for wakeboarding or surfing.

Yes, the holy grail of perfect slalom, perfect wakeboard, and perfect surf from one boat is within reach.

Speaking of surfing, there’d be no CO fumes. Teak surfing anyone? This would not only be more environmentally friendly, but more pleasant for everyone when idling. We’d also be able to forego starting/killing the engine every time a skier or rider is down.

Unlike a car on a roadtrip, an electrical boat system would in most cases be able to tow people for an entire day on a single charge. No more trips to the marina or hauling cans when out of petrol. Of course some of us would miss catching up on the latest lake gossip at the marina, but we can still stop in for other purposes. So, plug it in overnight and it’s ready for the next day.

Electric drive is also quiet and smooth. These are both kind of strange in a car, but would be heaven in a boat. Imagine no more vibration. For Malibu fans out there I’m sure a subwoofer and transducer system can add the noise and vibration back in. Ever thought about what the engine vibration does to prop efficiency? And for those concerned about electrics ability to pull them up without dragging forever consider this, the Tesla roadster does 0-60 in 3.7 seconds.

Finally there’s cost. A very quick calculation gives us $90 for a day of petrol or $22 for a day of electricity. That’s nothing to sneeze at. Theoretically maintenance will be less as well, though I’m not sure I’d want to speculate until we’ve seen a ton more real data on battery/motor life.

So there you have it. I’m sure there are negatives that I haven’t thought of, but perhaps there are more positives as well.

Edit 2008.07.01: Boesch is selling this boat

23 comments:

Adam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

not even going to bother with reading that, but an electric wakeboard boat would be stupid. this will take too much energy to move the boat when most riders want the boat, including ballast, to weigh about 4000+ lbs. to move two tons of boat plus the drag of a rider would waste too much energy and be completely useless.

Crusty said...

360hp, 13,000 max rpm, in a 1240lb package (batteries + motor) won't work?

Anonymous said...

1 thing you forgot. boats have a MUCH greater drag than cars. this will not work.

even if you could throw enough battery firepower at it, it would be cost prohibitive. unless you want a $50k Malibu to cost $250,000.

ever seen the price on a Telsa?

Crusty said...

I think the drag is already taken in to account. A 360hp engine delivering an equivalent torque curve (eg torq @ RPM) will perform the same job - gas or electric.

And yes, you are correct, it may well be expensive, especially at first. But remember that your cost of operation is lower (about a 4 year payback @ current gas and elec rates) and your enjoyment higher.

Chris said...

The current draw will much higher than a car using an equivalent electric motor, so the issue will be battery capacity. If you took the Tesla system and dropped it in a boat, you would have a very poor range. It would be like you were accelerating constantly. I think it is a good idea, but it will require much lower cost and higher energy density batteries. Give it a few years. Once the automotive industry switches over, battery costs will come way down and the boating industry will follow.

Chris said...

Just to add some data to my comment. Taken from a whitepaper on the battery system from the Tesla website:

"Li-ion batteries in the Tesla Roadster only store the energy equivalent of about 8 liters of gasoline; a very small amount of energy for a typical vehicle. The pack operates at a nominal 375 volts, stores about 53 kilowatt hours of electric energy."

8 liters is a little more then 2 gallons of gas. That is not going to take the boat very far since it is always under a load condition, whereas the Tesla gets its range from low drag and regenerative tech that a boat can't have.

To get an acceptable range, you would need at least 5x the battery capacity of the Tesla, which is major $$$$ and weight.

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