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Electric Boats Were Queen

"Of all our launches the electric is most admirably adopted for pleasure use." This quote from the 1902 Electric Launch Co. (Elco) Catalog (which also listed internal combustion engine (ICE) launches for sale) is not advertising hype but absolutely true. It's true because emerging ICE's had no more power than electric motors that were developed first. Without the speed advantage of later more powerful ICE's, the quietness, cleanliness, easy operation and reliability of electric boats was naturally preferred.

Starting in 1892, Elco built launches and yachts from 21 feet up to 63 feet. The electrics became popular with the rich and famous such as Thomas A. Edison, John Jacob Astor, Admiral Dewey, George Westinghouse, and Grand Duke Alexander of Russia. Elco supplied fifty-five 36-foot launches to the Chicago Worlds Fair in 1893, where they quietly ferried 1,026,346 visitors for a total of 200,925 passenger miles.

In those days boats used displacement hulls that stayed in (displaced) the water while the craft were underway. They never planed. The speed of personal boats varied from 5 to 12 knots depending primarily on hull length and width, the longer and slimmer, the faster. That's not bad when you consider that they needed only about one hundredth of the power used in today's planing hulls.

They were left behind...too quickly!

After 1920, gasoline and diesel engines took off. The engines developed enough power to skim the hulls over the water. Public demand shifted from boats with beautiful curved displacement hulls to those with flat planing bottoms, and later to the smoother riding deep "V" which takes even more power, of which today's petroleum-fueled marine engines have an overabundance. Electric boats were left in the wake, because their heavy batteries didn't carry enough energy to match ICE horsepower.

The return started with Electric-Only lakes.
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Residents of Bloomfield, MI enjoying
an outing in a 36 ft. Elco, Circa 1902
Speed traditionally has been a yardstick for boating enthusiasts. The more the better. But recently, some second thoughts have been creeping in. Do we really really need to go ever faster, make noise, guzzle fuel, pollute the air, and churn up wakes damaging the shoreline?

 

An increasing number of lake communities in America are opting for less speed and for quiet, clean, efficient electrics whose displacement hulls cause little wake. Some examples of "electric only lakes" are Lake Barcroft, VA, Tuxedo Park, NY, Wellington, FL, Lake Windward, GA, Mission Viejo, CA, and lakes of Bloomfield Hills, MI.

Who says the batteries aren't good enough?
Today's lead acid batteries provide for day-long local fishing, exploring small streams, bird watching, or just relaxing with serene economical cruising. The best electric boats can go at sailboat speeds continuously from dawn 'til dusk: i.e., 6 MPH for 12 hours. When you arrive home or at a marina, just plug in overnight and you are ready for another full day's outing.

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Efficiency works... and saves you money

Proper hull design is critical for electric boats in determining their appropriateness for particular uses. On most electric-only lakes the waters are relatively smooth and distances comparatively short. A planing hull can be used in the displacement mode. But for cruising longer distances in general waters, a displacement hull is essential to make best use of the boat's limited energy supply. In power consumed for boat performance, a displacement hull is three times as efficient as a planing hull of the same weight used electrically in the displacement mode.

It is also important that the electrical and drive system be efficient. The motor and its speed control should be the best available. The drive system should reduce the motor revolutions, thereby permitting a large propeller to be used. The larger the propeller diameter the greater the efficiency.

Fuel needs are minimal and inexpensive. A day's running costs only $1.00 to $2.00 for a 20 to 30 foot boat. Meters aboard ship tell running time left (at any speed), speed, and state of charge. You are no more likely to run out of juice than out of gas.

Solar sailing; free as the wind!

Solar panels alone can propel your boat from 1/2 to 2/3 cruising speed, a nice back up if you need it. While underway solar assists the batteries, increasing range by 20% or more. Completely recharging batteries while idle can be accomplished with several days of sun. For adventure cruising solar power is particularly desirable and adds to your enjoyment. See more about solar power.

Electric Cruising, now you're talking!

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Charging up the Explorer at Roland Martin's Marina in Clewiston, FL
Cruising depends on a good range per charge and the availability of recharging stations within that range.

 

The 1902 Elco Catalogue had this to say about recharging while cruising: "Charging facilities are numerous, for the shores of most lakes, rivers, and bays are thickly dotted with hotels and private residences supplied with electric plants." One wonders just how numerous hotels and residences with electric plants could have been in 1902 and how convenient it would have been to hook up to these facilities, assuming permission could be obtained.

The charging situation today is much better, for we have marinas "thickly dotting" most of our waterways. The electric outlets at marinas for the use of boats are completely adequate for recharging electric propulsion batteries. Normally the docking fee covers the electricity used.

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No land in sight! Crossing Lake Okeechobee on the 435 mile cruise.
On July 18, 1995 my late wife, Dot, and I embarked from Fort Myers, FL for Fort Lauderdale in a Ray Electric Explorer to test the feasibility of electric cruising using marinas as a charging grid. We made the first and longest leg (70 miles) to Clewiston in 12 hours. We were slowed a bit because of no help from our solar canopy -- no sun.

 

From there, to make a long story short, we proceeded according to our float plan, recharging overnight at various marinas arriving in "The Yachting Capitol of the World" on the 22nd of July. We spent some time on the beach, explored the New River and returned to Fort Myers arriving on the 28th of July. Underway hours were 72.2 covering 435 miles at an average speed of 6.02 MPH (not counting two side trips). (Best daily average was 6.8 MPH.)

Recharging overnight worked perfectly. The Explorer was always ready to go when we were. Although it takes all night to "gas up", you have all night to "gas up". Somehow that seems to work out.

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Some sailboats travelling at electric boat speed were encountered during the cruise.
Can you anchor out? Yes, for example, if you are willing to slow down to 5.5 MPH you can go in either the Explorer or the Electrocat for 18 hours covering 99 miles. You can thus cruise for 9 hours on consecutive days anchoring out in between. With solar this performance can be improved.

 

Carrying a generator is a possibility for extending your running time, however, an internal combustion engine aboard defeats many of the advantages of an electric boat.

Cruising at 6 MPH gives you the chance to see all the sights and smell the lilies, to photograph at will, easily check all the makers and not worry too much if you miss one. You arrive rested and relaxed at the end of the day.

 

Are you ready for an Electric Boat?

Electric boats enhance the enjoyment of many activities while under way. Cocktails at sunset, cooking out, conversing, entertaining, observing nature, relaxing, sightseeing, and just being on the water are all enjoyed while moving quietly on electric only lakes.

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The Rays depart Ft. Lauderdale on the first leg of their return trip.

Adequate speed and range of the best electric boats let you enjoy these delightful activities and others on large waters, your favorite waters, wherever they may be. So if you are tired of being bounced around, listening to the noise, and maintaining gas engines, it's time to turn the key on an electric boat and "listen to the view".

Availability of Explorer and Electrocat

The Explorer and Electrocat were built as prototypes to demonstrate the capabilities of electric boats. Three Explorers, including the prototype, have actually been sold but can be demonstrated through the cooperation of the owners. The Electrocat prototype is now my private boat but can be demonstrated by appointment.

We may someday put these boats into production. If you are interested in either of these boats, we would be happy to arrange a demonstration, but cannot predict when they may be available. The designs are availabe at no charge to anyone who wishes to produce them in quantity. Contact us.

Happy Boating,
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Morton Ray

 
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