Made in the USA

Nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains west of Los Angeles is a small and quiet man-made lake. Even with roughly 700 watercraft traveling across the clean waters that fill West Lake, which is tucked between Lake Sherwood and Malibu Lake near the town of Westlake Village, the loudest sounds may come from nature or water lapping against boat hulls.

The lakefront houses are often extravagant.

The scenery is always beautiful.

The boats are all electric, one significant reason for the lake's quiet serenity.

No matter who is asked, whether it be Alan Cordover, Steve Bardwill, Tim O'Bryant, Frank Butler or one of their many neighbors on the three-mile long, well-fed waterway, they like it that way. Quiet. Clean. Electric.

"I really like it," said Butler, who has lived on the impoundment for 26 years. "You don't hear the noise. It's quiet and nice. It's like living in paradise."

"On the lake we're on, it's quiet and there's no pollution," said O'Bryant, who owns a painting business.

"When we're going across the lake, it's almost like we're floating on air."

The foursome, along with 10 electric boat manufacturers, would have to agree that this type of lifestyle-the use of electric-powered boats in general as well as lakes excluding gas-powered engines-simply is a prelude to boating over the next 10 or 20 years.

"I bet in 50 years," said Bardwill, a three-year West Lake resident who serves as senior vice president of legal affairs at Walt Disney Studios, "you're going to see nothing but electric engines ... It's coming."

Several of the obvious advantages of the electric-powered boats-like being quiet and clean-have already been mentioned, but manufacturers point out there's also less maintenance and more reliability with the alternative watercrafts.

That's on West Lake or any of the growing number of nationwide lakes-old and new or man-made and natural-that are keeping gas off the water.

"Some people like it because it's quiet and peaceful. Some like it because they're easy to use: you can put together an electric boat without much trouble," said Ken Matthews, editor of the quarterly newsletter Electric Boat Journal and a corporate board member of the Electric Boat Association of the Americas. "Some people are interested in the environmental aspect because it doesn't produce any pollution either in the air or the water."

The development of electric-powered boats, besides being clean and quiet, is far from experimental. A French inventor names Gustave Trouve built what is believed to be the first marine outboard motor in 1880. It was electric.

By the 1890's, the technology came To the United States where Electric Launch Company (Elco), a Bayonne, NJ, company, began producing electric-powered crafts. Elco developed and built the revolutionary boats for its first worldwide splash, at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. It was there that a reported 1,000,000 people were transported around the Chicago-area lakes and rivers by electric-powered boats.

That was merely the beginning of 120 years of electric boats. ElectraCraft, one of 10 electric boat manufacturers in North America, has been trying to take advantage of that developing technology for over 20 years. It currently manufacturers three pontoon boat models-the Party Cruiser line with two 18-foot models and another at 16-feet. According to Bill Williams, the sales and marketing Director with the Westlake Village Company, ElectraCraft always has 30 boats in the manufacturing process from order to completion.

The differences, he said, extend a bit beyond power source.

"We have a lot of design put into it," Williams said. "The boats are both pontoon and mono-hull style, so there's a lot more stability, more leg room and higher and softer cushioning. It's just the craftsmanship, in general," he added. "Where everybody else uses plastic, we make sure we use stainless steel fittings everywhere. We use the highest-grade bond, four-blade propeller that we can. We also have stainless-steel drive shaft and motor mounts."

Specifications on the Party Cruiser line, just three of seven boats built by ElectraCraft, back this up with the boats containing such comforts as therm-electric refrigerator, Jensen AM/FM cassette marine sound system, horn, variable speed control and dehumidifier. All powered by six 230 amp marine batteries. All put in motion by a 5 HP General Electric inboard motor.

"I spent more time working on gas-powered motors at the marina than I did in the boat on the water," said Cordover, who recently purchased his second ElectraCraft-an 18-foot Party Cruiser, "I've never, in six years of owning ElectraCraft baots, had a problem. In terms of comfort, ability to fit with the lifestyle, it's just a beautiful boat. They build a quality product."

Several of the other electric-powered boat manufacturers, such as Ray Electric and Leisure Life Limited, could also be described as such.

Leisure Life Limited has two boats to draw the customer in-the Eldebo (short for Electric Deck Boat) and Electric Sun Lounger. Both craft are uniquely designed in that the electrical and motor controls are in the rear of the boats, between two reclining seats. The LLL products, propelled by 5 horsepower electric motors, are both powered by four 12V DC batteries with built-in 20 amps battery chargers. Among the accessories on the Eldebo are twin combination storage compartments on either side of the controls, AM'FM cassette stereo, mooring cover, seat cover set and trailer. All that on a 13-foot-2-inch long.

For a thousand dollars less, the ESL is available, along with a canopy/stern rail, mooring cover, seat cover set, trailer, swim ladder, bow rail and AM/FM stereo.

Both boats are relatively light, weighing in a less than 650 pounds each, with capacity limited to a maximum of six people.

Ray Electric, based in Cape Coral, Fla., has been making electric-powered engines for 26 years and has also built two models of boats to accompany the engine. Headed by founder Morton Ray, this company has rode the recent electric boom with 21 national and six international dealer as well as a recent interest in publicly marketing the products.

"We've seen a 100 - percent increase in production," said Eugene Cope, Ray Electric's Marketing Director. "We anticipated an increase but not that much.""

The company has also helped itself by knowing exactly where it's market lies.

"I would say 80 percent (of potential electric buyers) are required and the rest don't want to deal with the breakdown of gas," Cope said. "A lot of folks are buying pontoons, it's the families buying it. They don't want their kids taking it out and racing all over the lake."

The Ray Electrocat is one of those electric-powered pontoon boats. For a base price of $24,995, boaters can get an 26-foot vessel with a Ray Electric outboard motor, 16 Exide GC V batteries and two 25-amp battery chargers. Of course, there's also the standard helm (equipped with glove box, motor ammeter and cup holder), running/anchor lights, horn, 30-inch high rails and rotating captain's seat.

For a reasonable price, such perks as side curtains, depth finder, stereo, refrigerator, Arctic Cat Panel, outlets, shore power cord, solar canopy and all the necessary furniture can be added.

Ray Electric, however, has stuck more to the motor-construction business beyond pontoon boats. "We also have a number of motors on tour boats," Eugene said. "There's a tour boat demand and again speed isn't a requirement there either, they're looking for reliability. An electric boat offers that. Very few things can go wrong with it."

That brings about two current arguments against electric-powered watercraft-limited speed and indirect pollution. Matthews, who has headed up the EBAA for 10 years, and fellow electric proponents have rebuttals for both.

"Electric boats don't produce, on the spot, any pollution of any kind whatsoever," Matthews said. "People can say 'well, the energy has to come from somewhere' and so there's a power plant to charge your batteries. You get back to the doc and charge up your batteries."

"Pollution in one central place is more controllable and cleanable," he said. "It's better than a million little spots. How do you police that? There's no doubt it's a better option."

As for speed, that's a problem, but maybe it really isn't.

"I think there are going to be a lot more (electric-powered boats)," O'Bryant said. "They don't pollute. They're quiet. They are slow, but that gets you a chance to enjoy scenery instead of rushing by it."

- Article from Pontoon and Deck Boat Magazine