Boats powered by solar and other renewable energy sources still occupy a small sliver of the about $44.5 billion global leisure boating market, but that sliver is growing rapidly. According to data from Allied Market Research, the global solar boat market stood at $0.65 billion in 2021. It’s expected to grow nearly four-fold to $2.4 billion by 2031.
Growth in the solar vessel market has been driven by the “introduction of stringent emission regulations” and a rise in marine tourism worldwide, Allied Market Research stated in the report. The main hurdles to growth include the high costs to buy and maintain solar boats.
Those hurdles aside, several companies are developing crafts powered by renewable energy sources. One of them is Kohala Blue Sail Hawaii, a boat charter company that operates out of Kawaihae on the Big Island of Hawaii. The company’s website claims to run “the only renewable electric charter vessel in the Hawaiian Islands.”
The vessel is a 34-foot Gemini 105Mc sailing catamaran named the Dolce Vita. Pacific Business News reports it can sail up to six passengers and hosts tours on protected waters of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.
Kohala Blue’s decision to replace the boat’s diesel engine with an electric one was made in 2022 when the diesel engine broke down. Replacing the diesel engine parts would have been too costly, Shaun Barnes, Kohala Blue owner, told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald.
“They just don’t make replacement parts for that model anymore, so it would have been really expensive to repair,” Barnes said. “Another alternative would be to just get a new outboard motor, which is what a lot of people do. But we just liked the idea of going electric.”
Barnes enlisted the help of a team of electricians to strip the boat of its old engine and gas tanks and replace them with a pair of electric pod motors and four batteries.
The team also installed four solar panels and two wind turbines. The process took about nine months and involved “a lot of trial and error,” Barnes said.
One of the main advantages of the electric catamaran, beyond the environmental benefits, is the boating experience itself. Electrek noted that there is no engine noise or vibration and no fumes from gas or diesel power. There is also no air or water pollution.
“Sailing is an environmentally-friendly way to enjoy the ocean, but a charter boat needs a motor to stay on schedule. Diesel and gas engines are noisy above and below the water and are not environmentally friendly,” Barnes said in a statement. “Switching to clean and quiet electric propulsion motors powered with wind and solar is a game changer for the industry, our passengers, and our marine environment, and we are proud to help lead the way.”
The new engine also makes the boat easier to maneuver despite having less horsepower than the old diesel model, Barnes told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald. She said the previous engine topped out at about 7.5 miles per hour, while the new engine maxes out at around 5.2 MPH.
“The diesel engine was 27 horsepower, I think, and now we have about 19.8 horsepower,” Barnes said. “I certainly hope to see more owners doing this going forward.”