Solar (Assisted) Electric Boat Navigates the Erie Canal

Solar (Assisted) Electric Boat Navigates the Erie Canal

ByGroovy Green Sep 13, 2007

This news story caught my eye during the busy month of August. While electric cars have been the talk of the green blogosphere over the last year, this is the first instance I’ve heard of electric boating.On August 12, the Tamarack Lake Boating company launched “The Loon” a pontoon boat with 738 watts of solar panels mounted on its cover, and a 30 mile range on its 48 Volt deep-cycle battery array. (

With the flick of a switch, Canadian boat builder Monte Gisborne turned on his solar-powered pontoon boat, The Loon, and quietly slipped out of Oswego Harbor.

“It’s beautiful. It’s my first time on this canal and it’s beautiful,” Gisborne said as The Loon approached the Minetto Bridge. “The sky is clear, there’s a nice breeze blowing and people along the shoreline are waving I couldn’t be happier.”

The 12-day journey will take the Gisbornes – Monte is accompanied by his wife, Denise,

and daughter Deanna – through the Oswego Canal to Three Rivers Point and the Erie Canal, ending at the Hudson River north of Albany.

Traveling at a top speed of 5 mph, they will head east through Oneida Lake and the Mohawk Valley. Along the way, they will stop for the night at marinas in Fulton, Clay, Cicero and Sylvan Beach.

“As far as we know, he is the first one to make the trip using solar power,” said Jennifer Meicht, spokeswoman for the state’s Canal Corp.

For full disclosure, the sun provided only a portion of the power needed to make the trip. The rest of the power came from charging the batteries at local marinas. However, Monte dispels criticism about the “grid-tied” portion of his charging as not being clean in this Globe and Mail interview:

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Vaughan: With all that battery charging, aren’t you just transferring the load off petroleum and on to the electricity grid?

Gisborne: That’s a frustrating and common misperception.

The primary consideration here is that internal combustion automobiles and boats, even in this advanced age of computers and emission controls, are horrendously inefficient. We just cannot seem to turn the energy available in a litre of gasoline as efficiently into mechanical energy as we can into heat.

Negating the obvious benefit of solar, and assuming that my boats will get 100 per cent of their energy from the grid, my system efficiency is at least eight times more efficient than the equivalent gas-powered boat, meaning that I can travel at least eight times as far on a unit of energy than the most efficient gas-powered boat.

The actual truth is that a 1969 Chris Craft boat with twin 454-cubic-inch engines (not uncommon on the waterways) is so horrendously inefficient that my boat costs only 1/150 of the fuel costs to run per km.

Generally, the solar panels provide you with about 16 km of free travel on a sunny day. For most customers, 16 km is ample and, even if you travelled 32 km one day, as long as you don’t use it the next day, you’re fine and the batteries will catch up.

Generally, these are weekend toys that soak up the sun all week long, gathering a charge for the weekend.

The Erie canal remains a open and functional passageway. Kudos to Monte for making the trip, and working to make solar powered boats a reality. Traditional ICE powered boats are a environmental double-whammy, polluting not only the air, but leaving a slick of oil and particulate waste in the wake. Solar assisted electric boats would go a long way towards reducing pollution and preserving our nations waterways. I look forward to more good news out of Tamarack Electric Boats in the coming years.