The Seattle Yacht Club really knows how to kick off the warm-weather boating season. In a tradition that dates back more than a century, the club celebrates Opening Day — with a capital O and D — from its quays on Portage Bay onto nearby Lake Union and beyond. Some years back, I had the pleasure of being in the Emerald City on board a roomy trawler during the festivities, and Opening Day is a wild, fun scene. Seemingly every boater from Washington congregates here.
Hundreds of kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders wove around sailboats, a smattering of gorgeous woodies and assorted oddballs, such as a small flotilla of Amphicars that cruised in formation. Many of the occupants of Lake Union’s famous houseboat community hosted parties, with guests coming and going on assorted craft.
It’s a thrilling way to shake off the long, dark winter and ring in the high season. As I look back, I recall two West Coast originals that had more in common than meets the eye: Hot Tub Boats, built by hand in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, and Duffy Electric Boats, conceived down the coast in Southern California a half-century ago.
I’d known of Duffy by reputation. As I watched an armada of them scooting along hither and yon (I cued up Sonny Rollins’ version of “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top” as an homage to their colorful Sunbrella tops), I searched on my phone and read that the 18-footer could cruise for more than three hours at about 5 knots — an ideal amount of time and speed for the newbies who typically rent them.
I also was intrigued by the Hot Tub Boats, and not just because there were so many of them in the bay. I couldn’t figure out what slowly propelled them. Coming in close, I saw a single joystick on a boat’s starboard side that controlled, you guessed it, an electric motor.
While these smaller rental boats were ideal to utilize electric power — predictable, time-controlled operations that stayed close to shore, with ample recharging opportunities — larger, U.S.-built vessels have since eluded wide-scale electrification for a number of reasons.
In other countries, this lack of e-progress is not the case. Torqeedo continues to develop e-propulsion on a large scale, with Europe chockablock with e-power companies. In Sweden, Candela’s unique foiling electric boat — our cover model for this month’s issue — continues to make waves, while behemoth Volvo Penta is working on a number of green propulsion projects. There’s also Greenline in Slovenia and Dutch company Vetus introducing their own e-systems. And north of our border, Vision Marine Technologies is developing a 180-hp electric outboard. For more, see “Changing Currents” on Page 20.
So why isn’t this type of innovation happening here in the world’s largest boating market? It is, but not on the scale that it’s occurring elsewhere. But that may be about to change.
Correct Craft’s Ingenity division, which launched its first production models last year, is slated to get a shot in the arm with a facility expansion. “We have begun executing a significant scaling plan for Ingenity electric boats. 2021 will be a breakout year for Ingenity,” Correct Craft CEO Bill Yeargin told me. “We are significantly increasing electric-boat production, which will also be done at this new Florida facility.”
And late in 2020, Washington-based Pure Watercraft closed on $37.5 million of Series A funding to expand on its line of electric
outboards and e-propulsion packages.
Can electric boats meet the needs of American customers at a time when gas is cheap — costing significantly less than in nearly every other country — and boaters may not want to cramp their lifestyle for hours of recharging?
It may, but it seems that a lifestyle change is in order. A decade back, many car owners may have balked at the purchase of an all-electric car, but the infrastructure has grown exponentially, battery capacity continues to improve, and Tesla, once an outlier to America’s Big Three car companies, is more valuable than those century-old manufacturers.
Martin Bjuve agrees, and not just because his company, Volvo Penta, is at the forefront of sustainability. “I can speak from personal experience as an electric hybrid car owner,” he says. “We talk about minor adjustments to my everyday life, and the rewards easily outnumber the sacrifices. We need to accelerate our own personal transformation, while also working together across the industry to push for increased change in infrastructure.” (Read more from Bjuve in the Q&A on Page 6.)
I, for one, am on board. I don’t mind a little inconvenience to do the right thing. And I think customers will start to demand e-power for those same reasons.
Perhaps down the road a bit, as more American builders invest in e-propulsion and marine charging stations start to become as ubiquitous as fuel docks at marinas, the Seattle Yacht Club can host an Opening Day filled with silent- running electric boats. The only sound would be the glee of revelers saying adios to winter. n\
This article was originally published in the February 2021 issue.