The adoption of electric boats and high-speed charging stations is a chicken-and-egg problem for the marine industry. Consumers will be more likely to buy e-boats if they have lots of places to charge them, but marinas don’t want to install dedicated charging stations until enough e-boats are on the water to use them.
It’s a situation that Ingenity Electric, a project of Correct Craft’s Watershed Innovation division, is trying to untangle by creating a baseline standard for fast-charging technology that can be used with boats from different manufacturers. In mid-May, Ingenity Electric helped to install the first electric-boat charging station on Lake Tahoe in California using technology called CCS — for combined charging system. Ingenity Electric is betting that CCS will become the standard for e-boat manufacturers and marina charging stations in the future.
“I think it’s the first marine CCS charger that’s anywhere in the U.S. It’s the first one that I’m aware of,” says Sean Marrero, president of Ingenity Electric. “It’s showing you what’s to come.”
CCS has a type of connector that, if an electric-powered boat is built to accept the connection, allows for rapid charging — basically, the difference between using a regular shore power plug and having to let the boat charge slowly overnight, or using a CCS connector to get back out on the water much faster. CCS is the type of rapid-charging technology that is growing in popularity among automakers for electric vehicles. Ingenity Electric sees an easy path for boatbuilders to follow, simply tagging along on the CCS technology standard as it becomes more widespread.
The idea behind making vehicles CCS-ready is that, just as with gas stations today, electric-charging stations can have universal power “pumps” that fit into every type of vehicle. BMW, Ford, General Motors, Honda and Volkswagen are among the many automotive brands now supporting CCS in their electric designs. Even Tesla, which has its own network of rapid chargers, started adding CCS connectors a couple of years ago, so Tesla owners could access a fast charge in as many locations as possible.
That kind of widespread adoption of CCS technology hasn’t happened yet in the marine world, which is only now starting to see electric boats that are intended to be mass-produced with widespread appeal. It’s not that e-boats are entirely new; Duffy Electric Boats has been around since 1970, producing 16- to 22-footers. But those boats have top speeds in the 4- to 5-knot range, giving them a fan base far smaller than gas-powered speedsters. Vision Marine Technologies, a Canadian company founded in 1995, offers 100-percent electric boats from 15 to 22 feet that go about the same speeds. In 2017, Hinckley Yachts introduced Dasher, a 28-footer that was marketed as the world’s first fully electric luxury yacht with a cruise speed of 7 knots and the ability to hit 23.5 knots, albeit for short time periods. Two newer options — both from Sweden — are Candela’s C-7, a 25-foot, foiled electric boat with a reported top speed of 30 knots. (It can cruise for about 50 nautical miles at 22 knots.) The other is the Eelex 8000 from X Shore, which is said to top out at 35 knots.
Ingenity Electric built its first boat model, the Super Air Nautique GS22E, in a way that works with the universal CCS charging technology from the auto industry. The GS22E is an electric-powered version of the gas-powered Super Air Nautique GS22 sportboat.
“We started with the aftermarket technology and then built a more integrated and refined version of it so that Nautique was comfortable putting their name on it,” Marrero says. “Our system is really the best system there is for retrofitting an existing gas inboard-powered boat. One of the constraints we had at the beginning was knowing that we would have to make the system work within the confines of how boats are designed today. Nobody is designing water-sports boats for electric from scratch. There’s not enough sales volume for anyone to be doing that.”
Marrero says the design team focused on creating a battery that can fit in the same space where a gas engine currently resides on board. “The biggest component is that you take the gas engine out and put in a big battery bank. Then you put in the electric motor, which is small,” Marrero says. “Electric motors are very power dense. You’re trading the space of the big motor for big batteries, and then you have a small motor. And then you don’t need a gas tank anymore, and the batteries are heavy. In this case, the ballast is good — people buy these boats because they make a good wake. It’s one of the counterintuitive things about a wakeboard boat. The hull design is inefficient on purpose, but it makes using the boat more fun.”
Installing the CCS charging station that works with the Super Air Nautique GS22E gives Ingenity Electric the ability to show customers and marina owners alike how the combination works. The charging station is part of what’s called the Ingenity Experience at Homewood Resort’s Marina on Lake Tahoe. Groups of six people can try out the e-boat with the help of a captain and wake-sports coach.
Tahoe Surf Co. is the partner providing the coaching, and the boat dealer Superior Boat Repair and Sales is the partner that can provide information about owning one of the e-boats, which Marrero says cost about twice as much as the gas-powered version, and provide the same speeds and ride for two to three hours (the amount of time Ingenity’s research shows 90 percent of people use the gas-powered boat for water sports).
“We are in production and selling them,” Marrero says. “It’s fully functional and designed to replicate the experience you would have on the gas version of the boat. If you were riding behind the boat, what you’d notice is that it’s quieter, and there’s no exhaust.”
Marrero says that being aboard the boat, and seeing firsthand how the rapid-charging station works, are eye-openers for most people who try it. Ingenity Electric is figuring out the sales proposition at the same time it’s debuting both products.
“We’ve learned that one of the best parts is convenience,” he says. “You don’t have to take it anywhere to gas it up. You don’t have to haul gas cans. You’re never spilling gas into the water — all of that goes away. Once you do realize that, you quickly try to forget about how painful it was to have to get gas.”
Early adopters with the means to buy the more expensive e-version of the boat often install their own CCS chargers, he says; marinas considering doing what the one on Lake Tahoe just did are still figuring out the cost-benefit analysis of installing chargers in relation to consumer demand. In addition to a financial investment, there’s also a required investment of time to get approval from local authorities.
“It’s not hard technically. The harder part is more in the permitting and getting the permitting authorities to a level of understanding about what it is,” Marrero says, adding that marina owners should expect to spend several months shepherding the paperwork. “A lot of times, this will be the first time they’ve ever seen something like this, and rightfully so, they’re going to have questions. They want to make sure it’s safe.”
Marina owners also have to evaluate the electricity setup that runs to their docks. The Super Air Nautique GS22E, as an example, can charge with as little as 240-volt and 30 amps of AC power — a requirement that many marinas can satisfy with shore power plugs.
“It’s going to be a very slow charge, so if you’re a marina with electric boats mooring there, it’s OK for customers to plug in and have it ready the next day,” Marrero says. “But if you are looking to have someone top off while they’re having lunch, then you’re going to want to have something with more power. And if everyone had a boat like this and wanted to charge, you’ll probably have to upgrade the main service coming into the marina. It’s an exercise in how fast you want boats to charge and how fast you want to be able to charge multiple boats at the same time.”
As an example, he adds, the Super Air Nautique GS22E can take up to 90 kW of power to charge its battery. “That’s a pretty significant investment for the hardware and the grid power to be able to do that,” he says. “Most marinas probably have that at their main service panels, but they’ll probably need something new put in to get it down to the docks.”
On the other hand, Marrero says, there are ways for marinas to monetize that investment. Some charging stations have built-in RFID readers and credit-card processing, and can be set up in a way that boaters pay a premium to recharge, say, during the lunch or dinner rush at a marina with a restaurant.
“The marina has to decide how they view this,” he says. “Is it an amenity to help attract more people, or is it a pure business play to make an investment and get a return, or some combination of both?”
For marina owners interested in replicating the setup on Lake Tahoe — especially in places where boaters are asking for electric-boat options — Ingenity is eager to help. “We are definitely interested in scaling this model to other locations,” he says. “If there’s not a place to charge the boat, we can’t sell the boat, so we have an interest in solving that problem in key markets.”
As for how many of the Super Air Nautique GS22E boats Ingenity Electric is selling, Marrero says the first couple of deals happened in 2020, and “we’re running at low volume, but we are growing significantly from that couple of folks.”
And, he adds, the wakeboat will not be the only style of CCS-ready e-boat that Ingenity Electric offers going forward. “We felt like if we could achieve this for a water-sports boat, we’d have a lot of other potential projects we could do in the future,” he says. “We definitely have had a lot of interest and a lot of people approach us. We’re evaluating a lot of different opportunities. I can’t say more right now, but yes, there will be more.”
This article was originally published in the October 2021 issue.