Electric pontoon boats may be the first vanguard in the electrification of marine craft.
For all the recent hype about the electrification of the transportation sector, there is one form of mobility that has so far escaped scrutiny. While media coverage of the EV revolution has grown euphorically in the past few years, and even buses, trucks, e-bikes and airplanes have earned their fair share of coverage – both positive and negative – very few media outlets are covering the electric boats.
And coming, as I do, from New England, where it seems that every third or fourth driveway has some kind of watercraft parked on it, I have to conclude that,if we’re serious about decarbonizing our lives, we have to consider electrifying our boats.
Certain areas of the leisure boat industry are finally starting to get the message, rolling out a growing selection of all-electric boats. And of all the different types of boats there are, one type lends itself particularly well to electrification – pontoon boats.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the electric pontoon boat market and ask whether recreational boating is about to undergo a similar transformation to that of the automotive industry.
Why Electric Pontoon Boats
In many ways, electric pontoon boats are the ideal place to start the march toward marine electrification. That’s because even the most advanced batteries are still a lot heavier than the equivalent gas or diesel setup, adding the equivalent of two adults’ weight to the total load.
That means speed is always going to suffer and the fact that pontoon boats are marketed more to cruisers than to racers means that the loss of speed is less of an issue.
A top speed of about 20 knots (23 mph) is common, which is enough to cruise gently around a lake, maybe pull a rubber tube for the kids, but not fast enough for any but the most timid of water skiers.
Pontoon boats are also great candidates for electrification because people tend not to travel far in them. They are often used as party platforms and owners will load their group onto the boat, drive out from the dock for a few minutes to where some friends have rafted together and they’ll just tie up and party on the water for a few hours. So there’s less concern about range anxiety than there might be for other kinds of boats.
Electrification is also beneficial because pontoon boats have an outsized carbon footprint, consuming more gasoline than ATVs, snowmobiles, and dirt bikes combined. On a miles-per-passenger basis, they are outperformed even by a 747 jet, which gets 99 passenger miles per gallon of fuel compared to less than 10 for a typical pontoon boat.
Because electric motors are quieter than gas-powered models, they can be used in areas that are more sensitive to noise pollution. They’re particularly good for recreational hunting and fishing since their silent motors won’t scare off wildlife.
The Electric Pontoon Boat Market
Like many other outdoor activities, the market for pontoon boats enjoyed a surge during the COVID-19 pandemic as families found themselves with more free time absent their long office commutes. And it hasn’t slowed much since the pandemic ended with Stratview Research recently predicting an increase in sales from $2.28 billion in 2021 to $3.5 billion by 2025.
The market potential is such that none other than General Motors recently invested $150 million for a 25% stake in Pure Watercraft, with the Seattle-based company introducing the 24’ 7” Pure Watercraft electric pontoon boat at the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show a few months later.
The vessel offers seating for 10 and comes with either a single or twin Pure Outboard Systems motor that is powered with a GM battery pack. Pricing starts at $45,000 for a single-motor model and $60,000 for the twin-motor version, which is comparable to prices for a similarly-outfitted gasoline or diesel-powered boat.
What’s more, the total cost of ownership of an electric pontoon boat is lower thanks to the fact that their electric motors require far less costly maintenance and the electricity used to power them is much cheaper than gas.
Other popular brands of electric pontoon boats include the Moggaro Pontoon 500, the Godfrey Mighty G, the Electracraft 162TR, and the Princecraft BRIOe 190.
A Peaceful Day on the Water
At a time when many lakeside communities are passing ordinances to limit noise pollution, Electric pontoon boats can provide a more enjoyable experience than those powered by gas, because they offer a much quieter ride.
Passengers can also enjoy drinks straight from the on-board refrigerator, make some food on an electric grill, listen to music or watch TV, and keep cell phones and other electronics charged all day without the drone of an engine spoiling the mood.
And conversations on an electric pontoon boat don’t have to be shouted in order to be heard above the sound of the engine.
The Future of Electric Boats
The battery challenge has to be solved before electric boats can truly go mainstream and that makes GMs involvement in the industry significant. Ordinarily, boat manufacturers don’t have the kinds of R&D budgets that will allow them to develop battery solutions all on their own. They’re fortunate that the automotive industry has already done much of the heavy lifting in the area of battery development.Having a partner like GM has allowed Pure Watercraft to open its first production plant in West Virginia in August of 2022, with plans to build its first Pure Watercraft models for market by the end of that year.
Electric pontoon boats offer a great alternative to traditional gas-powered vessels. They provide the same amenities as gasoline models and come with the added benefit of being quieter and more environmentally friendly. Electric pontoon boats also cost less to operate in the long run due to lower maintenance costs and cheaper electricity costs.
Electric boats are expected to become increasingly popular as a wider range of models become available. Meanwhile, electric pontoon boats can be seen as the future of recreational boating. Before too long, all recreational boats will follow the lead of pontoon boats and will be fully powered with electricity.