As gas prices rise, could electric power rise, too?

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Last weekend’s Miami boat show presented a myriad of new products to the boating public, sending a clear signal the industry is now bullishly looking forward and investing in potential game-changing innovations.

Among the most fascinating was the unveiling of the Ski Nautique E – an all-electric powered prototype from legendary ski boat maker Correct Craft. It’s the result of a cooperative effort between Correct Craft and LTS Marine Development in Montreal. The latter has been successfully focusing on converting electric car engines to a boating configuration.

According to Greg Meloon, vice president of product development at Correct Craft, dealing with alternative power faces two challenges. “First, the power must make the boat meet our Nautique performance standards, while providing a desirable range of operation and an acceptable time to recharge.”

The drive train consists of a pair of electric motors feeding a specially designed transfer case to drive the prop shaft. An automotive style battery pack provides power for three-four skier sets, says Maloon, and will recharge in 4 ½ hours. In a video, the boat is seen pulling a skier through a slalom course at 34 mph.

While there’s no timetable for the Nautique E to hit dealers’ showrooms, Correct Craft president Bill Yeargin told a Soundings Trade Only roundtable he’s convinced world demand for oil will push fuel prices uncomfortably higher in the future and that electric power will be a welcomed alternative in some Correct Craft products. He’s not alone.

Electric boats have actually been around for a long time. Names like Duffy Boats and ElectraCraft have been here since the 1970s, while Lear Boats came on scene four years ago. But they can’t pull water skiers at 34 mph! Meanwhile, in some parts of Europe, electric marine power has been in demand for years, too. High fuel prices there are certainly a contributing factor, but it’s really been outcry of environmental critics about the effects of gas and diesel engines that’s moved electric power along. There are many places combustion engines are totally banned so electric power now pushes all sorts of craft from ski boats to twin-screw cruisers.

Undoubtedly the biggest boost has come from rapidly improving battery technology. For example, the newest lithium ion battery technology has emerged the leader in replacing the big heavy wet cells of old. More power, longer operating time, faster recharging, much less weight -- add to that computerized motor controllers and electric power applications are breaking out of the traditional 5 mph sunset cruise around the lake or harbor (a wonderful boating experience in its own right) to all sorts of new boating possibilities. We have just begun to witness some interesting changes that may well come into play in the next couple of years.

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