By JACK TIMOTHY HARRISON
Capital News Service
LANSING – Boat retailers and the industry are preparing for what could be a pivotal year for electric boats in the state.
Given improvements in electric motors, boats can handle larger lakes, but the trend has other benefits as well, according to Nicki Polan, the executive director of the Michigan Boating Industries Association, an advocacy group based in Commerce Township. It represents over 350 marine businesses.
Supporters of electric boats point out that they also are quieter, require less maintenance and emit fewer pollutants into the air.
According to Ron Olson, the chief of the Parks and Recreation Division of the Department of National Resources, the agency is examining its harbors so the growing demand for electric power can be supplied.
The DNR operates 19 harbors, with renovations currently occurring at its Lexington and Port Austin state harbors of refuge.
“We’re going to have to slowly work into this, but our older harbors will have to be retrofitted,” Olson said, “We partner with 63 harbors around the Great Lakes, and we provide grants for improvements.
“I’m sure down the road, we’ll get more and more demands for that kind of thing, so this is kind of the beginning of preparation,” he said.
Last summer, Hercules Electric Mobility had electric boats test-driven on Orchard Lake in Oakland County, and the DNR is preparing to service this emerging technology, Olson said.
Michigan is the third-largest marine market in the nation for the sale of new boats, motors, trailers and related accessories, according to Polan. The state also ranks third in the number of boat registrations and is home to 11,000 lakes with 3,288 miles of Great Lakes shoreline.
Polan said that association members and consumers are intrigued by electric boats, which have been used for some time in Michigan, especially on smaller lakes that permit only electric motors.
“I believe the electrification of boats will become more and more popular as the performance of these boats improves and as the infrastructure to support electric boats expands,” Polan said. “Like automotive, slow growth in the interest of electrification is a good thing to allow the time needed to increase the number of charging stations.”
An electric boat company from Sweden, X Shore, was featured at the association’s Progressive Detroit Boat Show in January, Polan said.
Lewis Cooper and his wife, Susie, own the Elk Rapids Marina, and he said it was difficult to find new boat brands and dealers during the pandemic.
Looking for something more cutting edge, Cooper had been following electric boats and became X Shore’s first dealer in the United States last year.
“What’s interesting about electric boats is the infrastructure is, in a lot of ways, more prepared for electric boats than we are for electric cars,” Cooper said. “Most marinas have shore power already, and all you need to charge a boat overnight is shore power.”
For the environment, he said electric boats are an improvement because no exhaust is emitted and no fuel can be spilled into the water. There is also less operating cost because there are no winterizing expenses.
“The 21-foot boat, though, I think is really the game changer when you think of all of the lakes in Michigan that don’t have fuel available on the lake,” he said.
Jim DuFresne of MichiganTrailMaps.com and an outdoors writer, said many lakes in Michigan permit electric motors, but not gas motors.
And with all types of electric motors on the rise, including trolling motors and larger motors, DuFresne said he expects more boaters to continue the move away from gas motors.
Annie Venditti is the events and marketing manager for X Shore, which was founded in 2016, and she said the industry is growing.
“We’re seeing such an uptick within the past couple of years of people getting more familiar with electric boats,” Venditti said. “A lot of companies have gone through really intensive prototyping phases, ourselves included, but now we’re seeing a lot of great products entering the field.”
Venditti said it is important to educate people about electric boats by, for example, explaining the charging and range components.
As for prices, she acknowledged that electric-powered boats can be more expensive than comparable gas-fueled ones but said prices could drop as more innovations occur.
The 21-foot X Shore 1 retails for $139,000, according to the company website.
Cooper is working with a company called Aqua superPower that provides fast-charging stations and works with municipalities including ones along Lake Michigan in the Northwest Lower Peninsula.
According to Polan of the boating industry group, “With more than 800,000 registered boats on file, it is safe to estimate more than 40% of the people in this state get on the water to boat and or fish each year.”
Cooper, of Elk Rapids Marina, predicted an early wave of adopters.
“I think you’ll start to see some this year, and I think in 2024 and 2025 there will be quite a few more manufacturers that will have boats you can actually buy,” he said.