Electricity beats Gasoline when it comes to Dinghies

JUL 25 2016 BY MARK SMOLINSKI 51

Torqeedo Travel 1003 Electric Outboard Motor Mounted to Avon 10’ inflatable air floor dinghy. Also displayed is a spare battery which can be easily swapped out in seconds.

Torqeedo Travel 1003 Electric Outboard Motor Mounted to Avon 10’ inflatable air floor dinghy. Also displayed is a spare battery which can be easily swapped out in seconds.

As an owner of a Tesla Model X and Chevy Volts, I have virtually kicked the gasoline lifestyle.  I have even gotten rid of the last of my grass and gasoline powered yard tools.  The biggest offender that I have owned was a 2001 Regal 32 foot coastal cruiser that sucked gasoline at 30 gallons per hour (or more).  It has been sold off and now belongs to a fellow in Sweden.

Mark's Tesla Model X doing some destination charging (of note: there is a bicycle also inside there somewhere)

Mark’s Tesla Model X doing some destination charging (of note: there is a bicycle also inside there somewhere)

I did retain one element of that lifestyle, the 10 foot Avon inflatable dinghy, but updated it to my gasoline-less existence. The kicker here is that electric beats the pants off a gasoline outboard in so many ways.  I wish I had this option 16 years ago, even before we all came to grips with the petroleum monster.  It would have saved many, many headaches.

Being a former naval officer, I was well prepared to deal with any and all maritime necessities when we bought our Regal.  I knew that we would drop anchor in the harbor and pop the dinghy in the water and motor in to a dinghy dock and enjoy our time ashore.  From Key West to St. Augustine, our dinghy saw extensive use as a service craft.

For the ultimate in portability, and stowage, I chose to purchase an Avon dinghy that had an inflatable floor.  To give you an idea of how efficient this can be, I was able to toss the deflated dinghy, gas tank and 6 HP outboard motor in the trunk of my 1993 Buick Roadmaster, and close the lid.  I also purchased a 12v Scoprega Bravo inflator capable of accommodating the 11 psi air pressure required for the floor of the dinghy.  Pressure this high for the floor enables you to forego the planks or other cumbersome means of giving you a rigid bottom for your dinghy.  If I was alone in the dinghy, my 6 HP gasoline motor could actually get the boat up on plane.

While no speed demon, the Torqeedo Outboard Travel Motor will move you fast enough to kick up a noticeable wake.

While no speed demon, the Torqeedo Outboard Travel Motor will move you fast enough to kick up a noticeable wake.

Now to the drawbacks of that gasoline outboard; where do I begin?  Well, let’s start with the actual gasoline.  The portable tank that accompanied the motor held 3 gallons- and where do you put it?  There is limited storage space on a 32’ boat that won’t be stunk up by a can of smelly gas.  While my cruiser’s tanks held 170 gallons of fuel, I can tell you from experience that siphoning gas from those tanks was a horrible, stinky and time consuming pain.  But when the only paradigm you know is gasoline, you just put up with the hassle- what else are you going to do- row?

I chose the 6 HP motor because it was the smallest form factor for the maximum propulsion.  It weighed 60 lbs.  While maneuvering 60 lbs may not seem that bad, consider the environment of a swim platform that is 4 feet wide, slippery and moving up and down in the water.  Every time I had to mount the motor to the dinghy, I was terrified that I would drop it in the drink and it would disappear forever.  And even after I managed to get it in the dinghy, while maneuvering it over the transom, I was further terrified that the propeller would destroy my air floor.  But what else was I to do- row?  Well, yeah, a number of times I did just that instead.

The Torqeedo Outboard Motor displays remaining battery charge percentage and power output as well as utilizing built-in GPS to provide speed and estimated range remaining.

The Torqeedo Outboard Motor displays remaining battery charge percentage and power output as well as utilizing built-in GPS to provide speed and estimated range remaining.

And then there is the reliability of those blasted pull to crank outboard motors that can so easily flood with fuel.  In 2010, I used the dinghy to take my nephew and nieces to the nearby state park.  When I went to restart the motor, I had to pull and pull…and pull.  Another fellow, seeing my efforts, came over, and he pulled and pulled.  Together, there was over a half hour of pulling before the engine finally quit resisting.  I still have that blasted outboard motor, but the last time it gave me fits, I said enough and found a replacement.  I went looking for ‘electric outboard motors’ in 2014 and found ‘Torqeedo’.  The model I got is the Travel 1003 Short Shaft that comes with a 520 wh battery, equivalent to a 3 HP motor.  I also bought a spare battery.

When you start with a gasoline paradigm, you look at the images and expect a cord to run somewhere into the boat…and then you read further.  No, that half kwh battery is integral to the outboard form.  The outboard disassembles into 3 pieces- the battery (about equivalent to an oversized lunch box in weight and dimension), the couple foot long shaft assembly that is so lightweight, you will find bicep dumbbells that offer more resistance, and the control stick- which is comparable in size to my camera tripod.  That’s it- there would be no more panicking when bringing these items in the boat; absolute ‘child’s play’. Reassembly is simple and takes seconds.

And then…no more priming of gasoline.  No more cranking.  Just an ‘On’ button and turn the throttle and you are in motion.  Turn it in the other direction to go in reverse.  A digital readout uses GPS to determine speed and range remaining.  You also see the percentage of battery you have left.  Effortless!

Torqeedo also provides electric propulsion options to meet greater needs. The owner of this boat had his craft custom made with Torqeedo motors powered entirely by onboard batteries charged with solar PV electricity.

Torqeedo also provides electric propulsion options to meet greater needs. The owner of this boat had his craft custom made with Torqeedo motors powered entirely by onboard batteries charged with solar PV electricity.

Just sooo many advantages, it is hard to think of them all.  No, I will never get up on plane with this motor, but the gas can is gone- with all its smell and its place in your people space.  Where the gas can used to sit, I can park my butt.  And think of that butt parking space.  It puts your head right next to the motor.  Would the heat and decibels of a gasoline motor allow you to sit in that space? I put a beach towel against the (wooden) transom back and lay my arm over the throttle handle.  It is quiet and smooth.  As with any other electric motor, when you are at idle, you have absolute silence.  Going in reverse with the gasoline motor involved hanging over the side and flipping a lever.  Now I just turn the throttle handle in the opposite direction.  There is no motor oil to change or shaft lube to worry about.  No washing of hands after you handle things.  No exhaust smoke.  No sheen on the water- and those who have experienced this understand how big of a deal this is.  Just a few misplaced drops of gasoline and you feel like everyone in the marina is staring at you.

In the boating world, many would refer to a dinghy as a ‘tender’.  This is the perfect tender situation.  You want your tender in the water, fast, with a minimum of fuss.  Bigger boats have the luxury of leaving a tender on a davit that swings out and can drop the tender in the water.  Many sailboats leave their tender in the water, slowly trailing behind (not a possibility for a high speed cruiser).  Tender voyages are typically measured in yards, not miles.  Speed and performance are of minimal concern- except to ferry people to land.  If I had this Torqeedo motor a decade ago, I would have jumped regardless of sustainability or environmental issues.  It’s an absolute no-brainer.

Another look at Mark's Tesla Model X...because well, it's a Model X (and because 'Internet law' requires a picture for every couple paragraphs of text)

Another look at Mark’s Tesla Model X…because well, it’s a Model X (and because ‘Internet law’ requires a picture for every couple paragraphs of text)

Of course, I no longer use this dinghy as a tender.  I now use this dinghy to go out to a beach at a state park that is probably ten miles round trip.  I made this trip with my wife a couple weeks back, along with lounge chairs and lunch.  I think we went about 3 mph or so.  I used a little over half of each battery- so under a dime’s worth of electricity.

I only use the lithium batteries that are designed to directly attach to the outboard.  However, there are 12v options so that you could keep going if you had a 12v system you were hooked up to.  Torqeedo even sells a flexible solar panel that plugs directly into the outboard.  You could actually rig up the panel as a canopy over your dinghy and have sort of a perpetual motion machine, as long as the sun shines.  The motor comes with a charger that will recharge your battery overnight using regular old 120v AC.

As mentioned, I will never get my dinghy up on plane with this motor.  However, this is no run-of-the-mill trolling motor you would see on the bow of some bass boat.  You will go fast enough to generate a noteworthy wake.  But the faster you go, as you would expect, you cut down on your range.  If you’re cruising, this is in the forefront of concerns.  I could probably go 20 miles with my two batteries if I was conservative.  But the gist of my recommendation to all who will hear is that, for tender duty, Torqeedo has a solution to all of those gasoline outboard motor complaints…and oh yeah, and it just so happens to be a green option, at that.

There are other electric propulsion options to be found on the Torqeedo website, with significantly more capability than what I describe here for dinghy usage.  You can check them out at this link.  As we used to say in the Navy, I wish you ‘Fair winds and following seas.’

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51 Comments on "Electricity beats Gasoline when it comes to Dinghies"

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Personally, I’d like to hear more about the grass powered yard tools.

(and I too have gone all electric with yard maintenance. Can’t wait to get rid of the gas car.)

Yeah, I’ve become a big fan of electric yard tools. As someone that uses them only rarely, I love the reliability of them. With ICE based tools you never know they are going to start up after sitting idle for months.

Especially for people with smaller yards…
Easier to store and maintain. Sharing battery with my power tools is also a plus.

My battery-electric lawnmower showed up last week. It will go with my electric weed whacker and electric snowblower(s).

I just updated my lawn care equipment with the Snapper 60V Li-ion line including line trimmer, hedge trimmer, blower, chainsaw. Really powerful and handles my 1/3 acre yard well. I’m getting the Snapper mower too when my 6 year old Ryobi 20″ lead acid mower is due to be replaced for next season. https://www.snapper.com/na/en_us/products/lithium-ion.html

Check this one out. This is the company that makes the Snapper.

http://www.greenworkstools.com/product/21-inch-professional-cordless-lawn-mower/

i looked at this mower. it has less torque than my existing 190cc mower. the 80v greenworks mower is equivalent to about 160cc so it probably works ok on a single pass. greenworks also makes a pretty slick 40v twin blade mower.

my concern with a lot of electric mowers is that they don’t have the power to get it done on a single pass, which means that it ends up taking longer to cut your lawn.

Why do it manually when a robot mower can do it for you?

~20 years ago I got my first electric mower, it was a hassle. They got better and better for every year but then 5 years ago I got a robotic mower and I’m never ever going back. It’s one of the best buys I’ve ever made.

Can you get it to wash the car as well?

From the reviews I’ve read, this doesn’t seem to be an issue. Though most the batteries last 40-45 minutes max, so you may need 2. I can do my front & back yards in 40 minutes, so I should be good. I also have 2 batteries though, since my snowblower also uses the same battery.

the issue is that in order to get a good mulch, the lawn mower engine/motor has to be strong enough to produce enough suction to vacuum leaves, grass, branches, etc. so that they can get chopped up. if the mower doesn’t have enough power, you tend to have to make a second pass through your yard. if you watch videos of people with electric mowers, you will see that some of them mention having to make 2 passes through more difficult sections of their yards.

My HOA handles mowing the grass, but nothing else. I picked up a 20v B&D string trimmer and hedge trimmer. I’ve got three batteries, and they’ll handle everything the landscapers don’t.

We’ll see how many years they hold up.

Maybe his grass powered yard tool is a goat or something like that. I can totally see not wanting to keep it.

Actually, that grass powered lawn tool (Goat), will give you the best milk!

Just make sure to thoroughly flush the orchard grass and weeds out of the goat before you move it to the lawn.

#experienceisthebestteacherafoolwilllearnnootherway

Boseh has à super électrique lawnmover, check fully charged show on YouTube.

If you “can’t wait”, what are you waiting for? Get yourself a used Leaf for $8-9k, and sell it for a grand less when your Model 3 or whatever you’re waiting for has arrived.

I’ve had a Torqeedo Travel 1003 since 2011 and absolutely love it. I use it as a “kicker” motor on my sailboat. I use it to maneuver in and out of the marina – just until I’m in open water and clear to set the sails.

I absolutely love this motor. So easy. Starts the first time every season. Winterizing means leaving the battery half charged. No smelly gas on my sailboat. I could go on.

I’m so glad to hear you are loving yours too! A tender is another great application.

My sincere appreciation to you Sir for kicking the gasoline habit. Great job, please communicate this to all your friends and relatives.

I own a Hybrid vehicle which reduces the fuel consumption by 50% and on top of that, I fill the tank with E15 and E85 in 1 : 1 ratio which give it a mixture of 50 % Ethanol and 50 % gasoline. So I have half kicked the gasoline habit. Trying to find some means to reduce even the other half.

Meh, trolling motor.

I want enough power the make that little dingy plane out.

These little trolling motors are as boring as the electric boat that was just posted with a top speed of 5 MPH.

Yawn.

I know there are some 200 hp all electric outboards motors out there. I’ll find the link.

No George, this is not a trolling motor. This is a 4HP outboard. You want more power? Torqeedo has other options. Their largest is over 100HP. To get a dinghy to plane, I would recommend their Cruise motors over the Travel series. Travel goes up to 4HP. Cruise goes to 20HP. More than enough for a rubber boat. More expensive, of course.

Glad you said this. I was thinking about how a 60 mph boat could do the 10 mile journey in 10 minutes instead of 3.3 hours. If a big storm rolled in or someone needed a trip to the ER, you might want a little more speed!
Granted, this state park might have a HP limit too….not sure about that part.

Good job kicking gas though! I can applaud that effort! My SUV gets around 4 tanks a year of gas. Tesla covers the rest.

Yes brian my bad. The deep blue outboard is 80 hp. Pricey little devils though

Are you trolling the trolling motor?
🙂

@Mark Smolinsk

Thank you muchly for the article! I found it quite informative.

Nice to know that electric outboard motors have advanced past the trolling stage, and that battery packs connected by cables to the motor are no longer required.

Mark,
Thank you for the article! I was actually going to write to Jay, suggesting he ask you to contribute an article about this (-:
This is one of the big advantages of BEV drivetrains: They scale across a large variety of vehicle / transport / tool / gadget sizes, unlike hydrogen.
As long as batteries are expensive-ish, it’s also much easier and safer to make them modular so they can be used/swapped in multiple places, like power tools do.

wavelet said:
“This is one of the big advantages of BEV drivetrains: They scale across a large variety of vehicle / transport / tool / gadget sizes, unlike hydrogen.”

Actually, hydrogen can also scale across a large variety of vehicle / transport / tool / gadget sizes. It’s just a much more nascent technology compared to electricity. With regards to boats, renewable hydrogen fuel was recently used in an ICE engine (no fuel cell) to power a 33-foot catamaran for a voyage around the Isle of Wight in England. The hydrogen-powered boat made the 62 mile trip in 8 hours using 6.59 kg of hydrogen from its 15 kg, 350 bar H2 tanks. The average speed was 7-8 knots and the top speed was 12 knots. The Petrol requirement for same trip is 32 liters, which represents a 0.78:1 hydrogen to petrol ratio.

http://www.cheetahmarine.co.uk/en/deliveries/worlds-first-hydrogen-powered-boat-smashes-targets

Great article – thx. Wish I had access to similar electric aux o/b motor for my yacht, now sold. Would’ve been ideal.

Great write up, Mark. We are also kicking gas entirely out of our lives. Cars, check. Lawn, yard, and snow equipment, check. And I just bought a Torqeedo Cruise 2.0 and 5.5 kwh of batteries to put on our 16 ft deck boat. Not for planing, just for cruising, just as in that recent Fully Charged. Can’t wait to get the boat back from the shop (new deck) and get the Torqeedo mounted.

Nice article Mark! A friend of mine has the Torqueedo on his sailboat and likes it a lot too. He just wishes they offered a larger battery, or a higher power charger, so he could increase his range while on the water. 🙂

Great post – thanks!

Great article. I have gone similar route as well (no gas). Our tender has a small standard electric trolling motor with a 12v lead-acid battery. I mounted a small solar panel to the top of the battery box. It is only a 6 watt panel, but it mostly keeps up with the manner in which our tender is used. My two young daughters learned how to handle and maneuver a boat with this setup and I loved the safety, simplicity, and reliability. No fuss, just twist the handle and go. IAs to electric lawn tools, I bought a Lawnbott (LB300) five years ago along with several upgrades since. Although not perfect, this thing is awesome. There was a fair bit of setup, but… I have not used a drop of gasoline to mow since. I have not spent a minute pushing, driving, or riding on a mower. No oil changes, no belts, no spark plugs, no filters, no… you get the idea. The unit does it’s own scheduling, starts itself, recharges itself, and automatically stops mowing when it is raining. When the rain stops, it gets back to work. As to yard size, we have a little over an acre… Read more »

How would a Torqueeto work as an auxiliary for a small sailboat (20-23ft displacement hull)? Great article!

The Torqeedo Cruise series are billed as perfect for this exact application.

I’m pretty sure that the cruise line was introduced after I bought my motor. If I had to do it again, I’d get a cruise 2.0 for my boat. Twice the power, and the external battery allows for scalability. You can use lead batteries for a cheaper option. The weight is less critical on a sailboat that already weighs 2500lbs.

http://forums.sailboatowners.com/index.php?threads/torqeedo-travel-1003.131151/

Here is a review I wrote. I have been using the motor since 2011 on my 22′ sailboat. It works well, always fires up the first time, and moves the boat almost to hull speed. It is great for my lake (22 miles by 5 miles) but I wouldn’t recommend it for fighting current.

BTW, my avatar has the boat in the background because it is part of my electric fleet.

I have two electric outboards for my 10′ inflatable dinghy: an ePropulsion Spirit 1.0 and an ePropulsion Navy 6.0. The Spirit is for tooling around on smaller lakes (5mph top speed), the Navy is for planing around 16mph (and even towing my kids on the Zup board)!

I looked at Torqeedo, but ePropulsion’s offerings are more robust, quieter, and much less expensive (especially when you include the various accessories; chargers/etc). Neither company sells competitive batteries for their planing outboards; I bought a 7.2kwh 48v Li-NMC pack from GTK that only weighs 60 lbs (same cells as the new 2019 Zero motorcycles). Torqeedo’s 5kwh battery is twice the price and weighs more, with less energy. I put 360w of solar panels on the bimini top for some extra juice while underway, but the kids always get bored/tired before we run out of energy.

I’m not really interested in electric cars at this point (love manual transmissions too much), but I’m all in on small electric boats and yard tools.