Electric and Hybrid Boats

by | Jul 17, 2012 | Port Elco Club

See the full article by John Adey on boatus.com

The electric/hybrid boat market is heating up with new models as well as repower options. Should your next boat be a hybrid?

Nuts & Bolts — Voltage & Charging

The common elements with all these installations are large, expensive battery banks. In many cases these are not the 12-, 24-, or even 48-volt systems we’re used to. While several manufacturers are designing to 48 volts, others are using 120, 250, and even 400 volts or more. These are not systems you’d want anyone other than a trained technician to diagnose and repair.

Charging can be accomplished in many ways, but the important thing is battery management. Parallel systems can be fitted with smaller banks because the combustion motor can drive the boat as necessary, while the serial method needs enough juice to get you the entire distance. In order to optimize the performance and lifespan of these large DC power plants, the charge method is of utmost importance. The charging characteristics are custom programmed for the banks they’re serving. High-end charge controllers have the ability to take almost any source of energy (shorepower, alternator, solar, or wind) and turn it into the correct output for the battery bank.

Information Management And Safety

By design, these systems connect many components that need to work together, which generates a wealth of information. Some gear-head boaters, like yours truly, would like as much information as possible; some just want the silence. Make sure the option you choose has the ability to hide or display the information you want.

Part and parcel of the responsibility of these new systems is safety. The user must never come into contact with these voltages. The key is to build it right in the first place and never need to utilize the built-in safety protocols. The world of standards is catching up with the technology. The American Boat & Yacht Council published a document titled “TE-30 Electrical Propulsion Systems” in 2009 and the ISO and IEC international standards groups are working on a document as you read this. When researching one of these innovative products, ask, “To what standard was this product designed and built?” Some builders are ahead of the marine standards curve and building to an electric train/light-rail specification, others pay close attention to the automotive market.

The hybrid boat market is gaining traction. At the Marine Equipment and Trade Show (METS) this year, more and more companies were displaying systems, system components, and battery technologies that were suited to the propulsion market. The decision to invest in a hybrid boat must take into account your boating preferences as well as the technical advantages and maintenance issues. The market is substantially supplying and backing this exciting technology. The more time passes, the more players will enter the arena, the more the prices will come down, and the more choices you’ll have.