Chad Strater, co-founder of The Boat Yard, a company seeking to garner interest in electric boat motors that could be used by the aquaculture industry.. motors a skiff through Freeport harbor using an electric outboard motor made by Torqeedo. They think the lobster industry could also benefit by using the motors for the skiffs that they use to get from the dock to their lobster boats. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

SOUTH FREEPORT — Chad Strater gently turned the tiller throttle and the 14-foot fiberglass workboat glided silently away from the dock, accelerating to roughly 9 miles per hour. The only sounds coming from the boat on a calm August morning were the rush of the hull pushing through the water and a moderate hum.

As Strater steered upriver in Harraseeket Harbor, he passed two men headed out to a mooring in a small skiff. On the skiff’s transom was an old-school, two-stroke engine. It’s a durable design, but one that pollutes the air and can leave a quarter of its gasoline-oil mixture in the water. The motor made a loud thump-thump-thump sound as they went by.

There it was, for a moment: the past and future of motor boating, coming and going on the coast of Maine.

An electric outboard motor made by Torqeedo. Chad Strater and Nick Planson, co-founders of The Boat Yard, are putting the motor on different types and sizes of skiffs to test its capabilities. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Strater is co-owner of The Boat Yard in Yarmouth. He has been testing a 10-kilowatt Torqeedo electric motor and battery system on various small workboats. He and his business partner, Nick Planson, are analyzing the best applications for range, speed and utility, aided by grants from the private Island Institute and the publicly funded Maine Technology Institute.

“This would very easily get lobstermen out and back to their boats,” Strater said of the small battery-powered skiff.

Electric boats today are much like electric cars were a decade ago. They seem unfamiliar, unreliable, impractical and unaffordable. But some of the forces speeding the transition to zero-emission battery transportation on land – worsening climate impacts, improving technologies and investors stepping up to bring promising ideas into production – are beginning to form on the water.


The trend could be of special interest to Mainers. The state’s jagged coastline covers 3,400 miles. More than 6,000 lakes and ponds dot its woodlands.

Maine has more than 126,000 registered motor boats. They belong to lobstermen, sea farmers, marina workers, harbor masters and recreational boaters. Roughly 40 percent of these boats are under 16 feet long, according to Maine’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife department; more than half are from 16 to 26 feet.

While it’s true that modern four-stroke and direct injection marine engines are much cleaner than their ancestors, they still burn petroleum and contribute to climate change. That’s why there’s a move to switch out the worst offenders for electric models. And because more than half the state’s registered boats have engines rated at 50 horsepower or less, these smaller craft with outboard engines are prime candidates for the next generation of marine propulsion.


The transition may come first to Maine’s working waterfronts. Commercial boaters keep regular schedules. They need gear they can count on. If battery-powered boating can work for them, the thinking goes, it can serve the weekend cruiser and angler.

To test this notion, the Island Institute, the Rockland-based coastal community development organization, is offering grants up to $4,000 to help put electric outboards on 100 working skiffs by 2025. It’s also helping install solar charging stations on docks and wharves. Just as with electric cars, people need to see the technology working. And they have to feel comfortable that the infrastructure’s in place to keep them moving on the water.


“We hope over the next year to have some of these boats out there being seen, along with chargers,” said Sam Belknap, the Island Institute’s senior community development officer.

Chad Strater and Nick Planson, co-founders of The Boat Yard, a company seeking to garner interest in electric boat motors, are testing this Torqeedo electric outboard motor powered by two 5,000-watt-hour batteries, on different types and sizes of skiffs. Here, the motor is on a 14-foot skiff tied up in Freeport Harbor. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The Island Institute currently is helping marine interests, including The Boat Yard, track and monitor how workboats are being used every day. The data will aid in matching up the best electric motors and boats for the tasks at hand.

For instance: Strater and Planson are testing a 10-kilowatt outboard developed by Torqeedo, the German maker of marine electric engine and battery systems. The motor retails for under  $10,000. It develops a thrust comparable to a new 20-horsepower gasoline motor, which costs $4,000 or so.

The Torqeedo gets its juice from a pair of 5,000-watt-hour lithium batteries. Each one costs $5,000. A basic $900 plug-in charger that tops up the system in less than 10 hours rounds out the package. A faster charger is available, too.

This example underscores the reality that an electric boat, just like an electric car, will cost more upfront. That’s true of most any new and evolving technology.

But advocates note that electric motors are cheaper to maintain over time than internal combustion engines. Fuel costs also will be lower, even more so than with electric cars. Marine gas and diesel tend to be $1 or more per gallon more expensive dockside than fuel at the average gas station.


Four solar panels sit atop Alex Abbott’s 23-foot boat with a fully electric motor. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographe

The testing will help answer a question on the mind of every boater thinking about going electric: what’s the run-time? Getting stranded at sea or in the middle of a lake is a mariner’s nightmare. Running at nearly 5 mph, the Torqeedo is rated at six hours. Run time drops to one hour, however, at a top speed of 16 mph.

Another variable is the boat itself. Strater and Planson have been testing the motor on an open 24-foot Carolina Skiff, which has a spacious deck well-suited for aquaculture gear. Next they’re evaluating the performance on an 18-foot Lund aluminum skiff, a fishing and harbor boat made popular by the fleet of the Maine Island Trail Association.

Chad Strater and Nick Planson, co-founders of The Boat Yard, a company seeking to garner interest in electric boat motors, are using two 5,000-watt-hour batteries to power an electric outboard motor they are testing on different skiffs. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Run information is displayed in real time with an on-board computer built into the tiller. A digital gauge shows how much capacity remains in the batteries, the estimated range, how fast the boat is going and how much electricity it’s using.

Heading up the Harraseeket with three people aboard, Strater was able to bring the skiff onto plane and cruise along at 9 mph. Weight matters in a boat this size, and range would improve with fewer passengers.

“One person and dog works well,” Strater joked.



Down the coast on the Saco River in Biddeford, Sean Tarpey and his son, Matt, have been dabbling in battery-powered boats for years at Rumery’s Boat Yard. They’ve rented and sold a low-powered Canadian-made model, then a Polish-built boat and engine package. They’ve evaluated Torqeedo’s offering and also have been working with the Island Institute to gather usage data.

Most recently, they’ve become excited about a Rhode Island start-up, Flux Marine. The company is building electric motor and boat packages that the Tarpeys think will be best-suited for Maine waters. Both the Tarpeys and The Boat Yard owners have gone to Rhode Island to test the Flux products. They each are considering becoming dealers next year.

“It was the most impressive motor I’ve seen,” Matt Tarpey said. “I’m convinced it’s the solution to electrifying the working waterfront.”

Flux Marine announced in April it had raised $15.5 million from investors, which it said would be used in part to expand manufacturing. The company has begun taking orders for outboards in sizes equivalent to 15, 40 and 70 horsepower. Depending on the modular battery system chosen, prices range from $3,500 to $40,000.

The company also is developing packages for inflatable and dual-console watercraft that are optimized for battery propulsion. Prices start at $35,000 for the inflatable, with a range of 40 miles, and reach $100,000 for the dual console, which has a 75-mile range estimate.

“The end game,” Tarpey said, “is to make sure we design these boats to go along with the motors, so the battery cost is as low as possible.”


That integrated design is starting to happen, with a big player making news. Last November, General Motors invested $150 million to acquire a 25 percent stake in Seattle-based Pure Watercraft. Pure recently started taking orders for a futuristic-looking 25-foot pontoon boat. GM is using its battery technology in the boat, and the global automotive giant said the partnership complements its vision of expanding zero-emissions mobility to a new era of boating.


Pontoon boats are popular recreational watercraft geared to lakes and rivers. But in South Freeport’s harbor, a different take on battery-powered pleasure boating is on display – this one with classic lines and set up for coastal cruising.

Alex Abbott was pulling up to a float recently where a man was sitting, taking in the harbor view.

“Is that battery powered?” the man asked, noticing the lack of motor noise.

People ask that question all the time, Abbott said.


Nick Planson, co-founder of The Boat Yard, a company seeking to garner interest in electric boat motors that could be used by the aquaculture industry, motors a skiff being propelled by an electric outboard motor made by Torqeedo. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Abbott is the proud owner of a Point Comfort 23, a Maine-built interpretation of a Chesapeake Bay workboat optimized for electric propulsion. The two-year-old vessel, named AUK, is a custom-made, $85,000 watercraft. It’s not a prototype for mass-market electric boating, but it does show how thoughtful design and components can work together to create a pleasing, zero-emission experience on the water.

A 10-kilowatt Torqeedo outboard hangs from the transom. Three batteries, each rated at 5,000 watt-hours, store power. Overhead on the T-top sit four solar-electric panels. Each is rated at 116 watts. They can generate enough power over the course of a sunny summer day to charge the batteries. The batteries also can be charged dockside with plug-in shore power.

“I thought about it for quite some time,” said Abbott, who also owns a sailboat. “My goal was to have a lightweight boat, made of wood, made in Maine, with an electric propulsion system.”

Abbott has trailered the boat, which is light enough to be pulled by his Volkswagen Golf wagon, as far away as Cape Cod. From his slip, he cruises Casco Bay, down to Portland and out to Jewell Island. The boat is designed for a top speed of 16 mph, although Abbott said he tends to run around 7 mph. The boat came with two batteries. He added a third, allowing AUK to cover between 20 and 50 miles, depending on speed and sea state.

For boaters considering electric, Abbott has some advice: Slow down. Enjoy the quiet. Don’t expect the same speed and range as a gas-powered vessel.

Embracing electric boating may take an attitude adjustment. Pick up a recreational boating magazine today and there’s likely a $1 million “day boat” on the cover. It’s not unusual to see a 40-foot-long hull and a trio of 350-horsepower engines. They can suck down 40 gallons of petrol an hour at 35 mph.


“Americans are addicted to speed, and speed takes a lot of power,” said Doug Hylan, who designed AUK at Hylan & Brown Boatbuilders in Brooklin.

Alex Abbott on his 23-foot boat with a fully electric motor. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographe

Speed is harder to maintain in an electric boat than in a car. A car rolls on tires. It takes a smaller amount of energy to keep it moving. Water is denser than air and it takes more energy to keep pushing a boat through the water.

Battery-powered boats can generate quick bursts of speed, however, thanks to the torque of an electric motor. Flux Marine says its 70 horsepower equivalent outboard has the acceleration power of a 115-horsepower unit.

But in Hylan’s view, breakthroughs for recreational boating will hinge on more affordable and powerful batteries that can take fishermen offshore and let cruisers zoom around.

“I think we’re in the early, Tesla stages,” he said, making a car analogy. “It’s people with a fair amount of money who want to make a difference or be a pioneer in a field that’s not truly mature yet.”

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