There's been lots of talk about electric boats recently, but few examples are actually out on the market. So far, the battery technology for large-scale applications seems to us to be a significant environmental consideration. I suspect that the carbon footprint of a big lithium-ion battery bank might totally negate the energy savings of the electric engine.
Then, on September 28th 2011, a company called BionX introduced its own electric boat. There is some very interesting thinking behind it, but the size and scale is in the dinghy range, not the cruiser range. After considerable media hoopla and a lot of effort from a professional public relations firm to gather a group of journalists at the Boulevard Club in Toronto, BionX introduced a 12-foot pedal boat.
You might wonder why we are writing about it at all. This is hardly the type of vessel Canadian Yachting readers are likely to be searching for, but let's not be too quick to dismiss this.
Most ‘big’ boat owners also have a ‘little’ boat. The value in having a little boat, like a dinghy, is to get around the marina, yacht club, or for boat to boat visiting at your favourite anchorage. If that is how you use your little boat, you may not need a 9.9, let alone a personal watercraft with over 200 HP!
In fact, a chance to get some exercise might be a better idea! BionX has introduced the SeaScape 12, powered by BionX International Corporation who make a very successful small horsepower electric motor that has been used effectively in bicycles. But, more on that in a minute.
The SeaScape 12 is a catamaran-style hull design that seats two plus two in the front. It is 12' long, 6’1” wide and weighs 485 lb., including batteries. In the back of each hull is a regular (and easily replaced or recycled) 12-volt, deep cycle, marine battery, making up a 24-volt power source to operate the electric motor; the manufacturer claims the boat can reach 5 knots.
But, that isn’t the point. The point is that you pedal the boat and you get help when you want it.
A submarine-style propeller and rudder mounted on a tiller and tilt mechanism is connected to the pedal sets (which can work independently) and the engine thrust is managed through an electronic controller.
This multi-function console improves ride and comfort with a variety of available settings. You can easily power on or off, control the speed by varying the assist level, monitor the battery levels and more. The console is removable and has a keylock function for the overall system.
In all, there are three different driving modes and support levels. You can peddle it alone or with someone else and/or you can select different support levels. Choose a little bit of help or maximum help for top speed or to travel against the winds (or somewhere in between).
Even with the steering and propeller module raised for shallow water conditions, you still maintain the ability to steer to help you manoeuvre without damaging the prop.
In actual use, the benefit to this is to overcome waves or weather and to supplement your own abilities, as needed or wanted. The pair of 12-volt, deep cycle marine batteries gives a 24-volt power cycle source that can last up to 8 hours.
You and up to three people can get around the marina peacefully and with little or no carbon footprint. Imagine, going green while getting a six pack at the same time!
Lift it up onto your swim platform when you are done and head home...feeling good and a little more fit.
Fitness is a big part of it for Fred Gingl, chief executive officer of BionX International Corporation. BionX got started by producing electric motors for bicycles. The engines are made in Canada and at the presentation we learned that this company reached $100,000,000 in sales last year, selling almost 100,000 electric bicycles last year ranging from $800 to $2,000 and more. BionX is owned by Fred Gingl, in partnership with Frank Stronach, his former boss at Magna International Inc., who is the controlling shareholder of BionX.
“We always wanted to find a strategy that could use automotive technology in non-automotive products,” Gingl said of what he and Stronach are trying to accomplish with BionX.
The company will begin manufacturing the pedal boats in Austria next month, however production will be shifted to Canada next year. I spoke to Fred and he was emphatic about the importance of manufacturing jobs in Canada. He also saw a fairly large market for the SeaScape 12 here. The SeaScape12 pedal boats will be priced at $6,500.
“In Europe, even more so than here, you have a lot of lakes nowadays that no longer permit a combustion engine,” Gingl said. That is a trend we see in Quebec and some other parts of Canada as well.
I can see the appeal of a SeaScape 12 for gentle cruising around the marina or the shoreline in silence with your sweetie. It’s charming.
However, the BionX bicycles also caught my eye. They had a great looking, folding bike with a BionX electric engine and carrier-mounted battery. The battery is a high tech model from Sony and, basically, it has a computer-controlled charge/discharge program. When you pedal, you can go it alone, or add in the assist at one of four different levels; the battery runs the electric engine to seamlessly ‘boost’ your effort or speed.
It’s as though you suddenly gained Lance Armstrong’s strength and endurance!
Coast and you re-charge. You can even use the engine to slow your speed down on a steep grade.
While I like the SeaScape 12 boat, I also like the idea of a pair of BionX bikes that stow easily onboard and can take you from the marina into town, shopping, dining and sightseeing with far less effort than a regular bike while getting as much exercise as you want. It’s freedom without taxis.
This is the kind of environmental progress I like to see; it’s practical, beneficial to your health, and great fun.