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Electric boats of the future

Are electric boats greener? What will future inland waterway boats be like? Find out about electric boats of the future.

Electric boating

Electric boating has the benefit of almost silent cruising. However, the reduced environmental impact of electric boating is arguably more important.

A boat with a well-designed electric drive system should use only about a third as much fuel for propulsion as it would if fitted with a modern diesel engine. In other words, it would produce only a third as much CO2. Emissions of particulates and nitrogen oxides will be similarly reduced.

As a bonus, most navigation authorities offer discounted licences for electrically propelled boats.

Current possibilities

An electric-drive boat has its propeller driven by an electric motor that is powered from a battery which may be charged in a variety of ways.

Existing batteries are barely capable of powering a boat for two to three days. Therefore, the only currently practicable option is a small diesel generator. However, fuel cells which will run on LPG exist and be much more efficient than generators (but aren’t available to purchase yet) and significantly improved batteries may be only a few years away.

As different power sources are not mutually exclusive most boats will have multiple options including solar panels and plugging into shore power.

None of the available options is truly ‘green’ at the moment but the issues governing this will need to be solved at a national level for all forms of transport.

Read our Introduction to Electric-Drive Narrowboats guide.

Boats of the future

New-build boats of the future will inevitably be propelled by electric motors as they are the only power sources which are carbon-free at the point of use.

Improved (electronic) management systems may give efficiency gains, as may developments in motor and propeller design.

The motors will almost certainly be powered by improved batteries. Solid electrolyte ones, with more than double the capacity of current lithium ones, are said to be 2-3 years away for cars so might well be generally available within 5 years. If so, they will be charged by plugging in to shore power and be capable of storing enough power for a week, or more, making onboard charging (other than solar) unnecessary.

If this doesn’t come to pass, fuel cells powered by hydrogen may have their day. However, this will obviously depend on the availability of ‘green’ hydrogen.

More about Greener boating