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Leisure boat propulsion is moving to electric – why and how?

Right now it’s all about decarbonising - the global target is zero net emissions by 2050. Global “Carbon zero” aspirations require replacing fossil fuels with sustainable, renewable energy sources.

renewable energy


Because of this rising pressure, the leisure boat industry is moving to break its reliance on fossil fuels and adopt entirely renewable and sustainable propulsion methods. Leisure boats any bigger than 5 metres, in particular, can be massive fossil fuel guzzlers, noisily churning out large quantities of harmful emissions. They’re not good for the oceans and inland waterways, they’re not good for the wider environment and they’re not good for people.

This in turn has directed attention to electrical components powered by sustainably generated electricity and these components are moving rapidly towards domination in land vehicles, very much less so, but still definitely on the agenda, for aircraft and now equally valid for watercraft.

Zero net emissions by 2050 is still a distant destination for leisure boats with likely many challenges on the way, but perhaps one that could be accomplished if the voyage is planned carefully - full electrification may or may not be the right and only option.

Horses for courses

Is the future of leisure boating pure electric, other propulsion technologies or a mix?

Let’s start by thinking about why electric passenger cars and buses have been increasingly adopted. These vehicles are used primarily for point to point or repetitive route journeys so charging networks in urban areas and on major highways make sense because that’s where the vehicles will most definitely be found in need of recharging.

So that means “range anxiety” is increasingly mitigated, however many road vehicles are hybrid, giving both additional range for longer distance usage and reassurance to the more uncertain driver

The story is different for watercraft and particularly so for leisure boats which are often used for “buzzing around” simply for pleasure, with no specific destination and potentially routing well away from established facilities. This can be likened to a Highland ranger who sets out into the mountains with no fixed itinerary and every chance of ending up with an empty battery and nowhere near a charging point. Leisure Boating

So that seems to say all-electric isn’t suitable for leisure boats. However, this isn’t always true; it depends on usage. Some boats are only ever driven around the bay or across the lake and it’s just a matter of noting when it’s time to head to shore or to the jetty, which with the right equipment would be simple enough.

But range anxiety is real for the casual boater – what do you do if you’re even as close as three miles offshore with the tide against you and the wind rising? The options are more, or higher capacity, batteries and hybrid solutions with range extenders – fossil-fueled or otherwise.

So to misuse the old saying, it’s horses for courses – match the technology to the application.

Making the right choice for leisure boat propulsion

In the not too distant future, it is also almost certain that charging infrastructure will begin to expand significantly – albeit that won’t help the hapless all-electric sailor stranded 10 miles offshore...

It’s equally certain that there will be both improved performance from electric propulsion technology - most significantly battery capabilities - and alternatives to electric propulsion.

This will foster an evolutionary progression towards zero-carbon marine propulsion as the different solutions are developed and perhaps new ones emerge.

boat charging point
The role of electric components

So, ultimately, it’s important to remember that the future can be entirely electrical and sustainable, but we do have to take it one step at a time and future proof propulsion solutions to support the evolutionary progression from fossil fuels.

We want to take this opportunity to point out that EMB supply electrical components for leisure craft and other types of marine infrastructure, and we have some of the most prolific distributors of electrical components within our supply chain. It is well worth taking the time to look at what’s available and begin considering outfitting leisure boats with electrical components because it could go a long way to sustainability.

Talk to us about your marine requirements, we are experienced in marine, as well as automotive and aeronautical propulsion and control systems, we can help you achieve your marine EV project - contact EMB today!