The huge advantages to the boater on the water are the quiet motor and lack of smell from fumes, and there is no risk of fuel spillage either. What’s more, unlike converting a car, a boat conversion can be as quick and easy as replacing an old petrol outboard engine with a modern electric alternative: simplicity itself.
These light craft are ideal for fishing, leisure or exploring nature. The most popular types of EBs are small dinghies, canoes, rowboats, sailboats, speedboats, or inflatable ribs powered fully or partly by a simple outboard trolling motor or a more powerful outboard linked to a battery pack.
They may also use wind or human-power as a main or supplementary power source as and when needed or available. The battery pack might be integral to the outboard (if it is lightweight like lithium) or separate if using heavy lead-acid. More sophisticated, specialized and larger EBs generally use a built-in (inboard) propellor and motor – and the electric motor itself may be built into a pod underwater to keep it cool, or placed inside the hull and cooled using some other means.
Conversion to inboard electricity of e.g. a heavy canal narrow boat or yacht is not cheap, and is still fairly rare, but is becoming more popular for environmental reasons.
Some more advanced larger electric boats and ships also combine wind power (conventional cloth or solar-impregnated sails and/or small wind turbines), solar panels, nuclear, hydrogen, diesel, biofuel or petrol generators. Multiple power sources are not unusual, for example the yacht Electra, moored at Bute, uses sails as a primary power source, supplemented by a plug in 10 kWh l-ion battery and Lynch motor, solar panels, a small petrol generator for emergencies, and a regenerating propellor for use when the boat is under sail.
Modern sailing and motorboats need a steady source of low-voltage electricity for navigation, radio, and instrumentation, as well as for lighting and other functions, and they may be at sea for long periods of time without access to shore facilities, so every kWh gained or saved really counts. These small currents can be mission-critical on a yacht undertaking a long passage, or when the wind fails.