Making waves: The future of the boating industry is electric

‘I think the industry has been too traditional’, says the Elon Musk of the nautical world

The dogs in the street know electricity and water don’t mix. Only back in 1978 did the lethal combination have a positive outcome when the killer shark in Jaws 2 got his comeuppance by chomping on an electric power cable. Public interest in climate change, air quality and emissions is growing and has already had an impact on the motoring world.

Already the major car makers have committed to some form of electrification in the future to reduce emissions. Electric vehicles are starting to become popular so why not have electric marine craft. The X Shore Eelex electric sports boat is being hailed as the Tesla of the sea and its enfant terrible founder Konrad Bergström, a nautical Elon Musk.

Leisure craft need powerful petrol engines to be swift; the classic Riva Aquarama is a case in point. The Italian boat always announces its arrival with a glorious soundtrack as it sucks up fuel and belches out emissions. The potential loss of that rich sound has been used with little success to dismiss electric vehicles. The fact is electric motors are far more efficient than internal combustion engines.

They produce more torque, are easier to maintain with fewer moving parts and are far kinder to the environment at the point of use than a traditional car. Charging and range anxiety are obvious issues but most docks and marinas have power points.


Technological differences

According to Bergström: “When it comes to boats I think the industry has been too traditional, especially compared to cars there is a huge difference in technology. It is a sector that has been forgotten and is sleeping and it’s time to shake it up a bit.” The Swedish firm has three pillars: design, technology and sustainability. Its boats are designed to have minimal direct impact on the environment and marine life through the use of zero emission electric motors.

X Shore's electric eel inspired craft may be more Monaco than Dublin Port but it shows a greener path. Global shipping may be efficient in terms of cost of delivery per ton but the merchant fleet of over 50,155 ships is a major polluter. Ships burn cheap dirty fuel producing tons of emissions.

Other perhaps less known consequences include the potential spread of disease and non-native species of marine life when ships take on and later jettison ballast water in another part of the world.

X Shore got Bergström's full attention in 2012 as Tesla was really taking off and by 2016 his first prototype craft was built

Propeller cavitation generates a lot of noise and has an impact on marine species ability to communicate. The Hunt for Red October introduced movie goers to silent propulsion.

Captain Ramius was able to park the titular submarine's nuclear missiles undetected off the coast of American thanks to its silent propulsion system. The Eelex might not have a caterpillar drive but it has the next best thing.

Konrad Bergström is a former professional windsurfer and the Svenskar looks every inch like central casting's definition of a Viking chieftain. It is no surprise the sea is in his blood, Bergström says: "My Grandma is from a fishing family and my Grandpa was from a sea faring family and an engineer. When I was 16, I moved to New Zealand to become a professional windsurfer. I'm very connected to the sea and have always been close to it.

Oddball inspirations

Described by some in the business world as an enfant terrible, he didn’t follow the usual Harvard business school track. As far back as 1996, Bergström was thinking of electric boats but technology wasn’t quite up to scratch and he got distracted with other projects made and also lost him a fortune.

He founded a number of tech-based companies including Zound Industries and Sweden's fastest growing firm ever Urbanears (headphones) that made him a multimillionaire. He draws inspiration from genius oddballs like Albert Einstein to Salvador Dali and loves the fact they often appeared crazy but followed through on their ideas.

Today you can see fire in his eyes and his beaming smile is infectious. In business, he seeks out experts to partner with; former Ikea managing director Ola Thoren is the company's chief operating officers. Thoren was responsible for the highly profitable Ikea Pax wardrobe factory, where trees go in one end and flat pack wardrobes come out the other.

Bergström’s passion for nature and our responsibility to combat global warming comes through when he describes how his electric boat brings nature closer to the user.

He describes the soulful sound of water on the hull of the Eelex and how as the faster you go the sound becomes a waterfall, Bergström says: “people pay money to buy soundtracks of this sound. To achieve you have to believe. I believe in the near future energy will be almost infinite as we learn to get it from the sun, from the wind and the movement of the earth”.

X Shore got Bergström's full attention in 2012 as Tesla was really taking off and by 2016 his first prototype craft was built. Bergström admits it created more problems than it solved. X Shore's vessels are built by Storebro, one of the world's most respected boat manufacturers. Roll Royce designed its high tech X Blade propellers and rudder. The striking craft uses minimal design language like the best Scandinavian designs.

Premium leather and cork are some of the materials favoured. A large 24-inch touch screen display sits in front of the wheel and there is fine detail everywhere, so I decided to pitch my mock-Tudor electric vehicle boat idea.

The Eelex 6500 (6.5m) and larger 8000 (8m) are priced from a quarter of a million and can be configured in countless ways thanks to a modular deck rail system. You can even fit roof boxes to the roof.

Our 8000 series one test boat was launched in January this year and is getting its first trials now in the waters off Palma where Bergström keeps a magnificent six story house.

Bergström has personally invested €10 million in X Shore so would he sell up if the price was right?

Many of us may be guilty of checking our mobiles while taking a bath but we’d never put anything with a plug near a bath so the act of going to sea with a huge capacity battery seems counter intuitive.

The Eelex is a fine sea-worthy vessel but the use of electrical equipment or power on board any vessel can potentially prove fatal to people in the water, especially in fresh water. Salt water is less of an issue as it is anywhere from 50 to 1,000 times more conductive than fresh water.

Only a tiny amount of electric voltage in fresh water can throw a human in to paralysis as the electricity tries to ground itself. There are many accounts of lake fatalities in particularly where AC power is used from shore to vessel.

Bergström told the Irish Times that the Eelex is as safe as can be. “There is one safety system for the software, one safety system for the hardware and one combined. These of course are checking how much is the output of energy and that it’s not starting to rush because that what can cause fire. It’s also looking to see that everything is connected and no electricity is leaking because then it would shut off. It checks the torque to make sure it’s not too much because things can break. We several systems built in to this.”

A Z-line hull acts as a semi-hydrofoil and above 10 knots partially lifts out of the water leaving just the bow and stern in contact. Hull ridges aid stability at speed. Water is 784 times denser than air and requires a lot of energy to push through it so any reduction in drag helps. It is like constantly driving a car up a 45 degree slope. Bergström says he wanted to make a publicity splash and a sports boat capable of 40 knots (74km/h) was the ideal vehicle. A lower speed craft would have a hull designed more like a shark.

The boat’s fixed propeller spins off a straight shaft to minimises power loss. The prop is similar to those used on stealthy Royal Navy mine sweepers. Compact lightweight lithium batteries take up minimal space and deliver impressive power to weight performance. A couple of metal panels in the hull act as cooling radiators for its sealed motor and battery systems. X Shore’s Swiss made Eel electric motor delivers ample power.

Frictionless and silent

Production models will have a magnetic gearbox similar to those used in wind turbines with no metal cogs and will be both frictionless and silent. Our 2.2 tonne pre-production Eelex 8000 looked ready to go but didn’t get the memo.

The previous day it was out at sea not quite hitting full speed but still cruising. On test day air was found in the liquid cooling system that could have caused an overheating issue so we were limited to a low speed, very quiet and stealthy tour of the harbour that Captain Ramius would be proud of.

Bergström has personally invested €10 million in X Shore so would he sell up if the price was right? Without hesitation he says yes. In one instance in 2004 he made the mistake of falling in love with a business and says. “I found myself going from the cover of a business magazine to sleeping in my car”.

On X Shore’s sales Bergström says: “We will sell 10 or maybe 20 boats this year and scale up from there to a couple of hundred in the next three years and thousands over the next five years.”

The profit margin will be big yet the retail price will eventually be roughly a third of what it is now. He says conventional boat makers move slowly and X Shore’s unique global ambition is the key to profitability.

Factfile: X Shore Eelex 6500

Price: circa €300,000 with an average fit out
Length: 6.5m
Weight: 1,800kg
Seats: up to 8
Depth: 0.6m
Width: 2.4m
Battery capacity: 120 kWh
Maximum engine output: 220 KW
Charging: 8 hours (360 V) or 12h (220 V)
Top speed: 40 knots
Cruising speed: 25 knots in 2.5 hours
Max range: 100 Nautical miles at lower speeds