All this time in lockdown has me scheming up new ideas, and I keep finding myself coming back to one – the electric outboard.
We absolutely loved our experience cruising and the South Pacific on renewable energy. It’s clearly the best option for the frugal sailor on a limited budget.
In the interest of continued improvement, I have been reflecting back on our experience and trying to identify areas that could use improvement.
The Sailor’s “Car”
The dinghy is vital to all cruising sailors. It’s how you get to and from shore to get supplies. It’s also how you get out and explore the areas around you, areas where the mothership just can’t go.
When we were gearing up for our voyage, we were looking for a good sailing/rowing dinghy that kept to our renewable energy, low carbon footprint mantra. Tinkerbelle was our solution.
Tink is an old Tinker Tramp, an inflatable sailing dinghy that was made in the UK. Tink rolls up and stows on deck and came with an optional life raft kit, she is perfect for a small voyaging yacht like ours.
Unfortunately, Tinker is no longer in business, but there are many small roll up or take-apart dinghies available on the market. As with all dinghies, they don’t move themselves! If you want to check out that beach two miles away, you have to get there somehow.
Being broke, young, and full of vigor, our solution has mainly been a set of oars. Over the last three years I came to find myself enjoying the art of rowing. My back stayed strong, and oarlocks can be found or jury rigged pretty much anywhere.
Just try to convince yourself to row for miles when you are already standing on a perfectly beautiful beach.
Our limited range kept us from snorkeling passes and exploring those farther off places, unless we joined friends who had a dinghy with a powerful outboard.
THERE HAS TO BE A BETTER WAY
Enter the Electric Outboard
We have seen a few small Torqeedo outboards during our travels, but none of the cruisers we met were in love with them. They are light, maintenance free, and packable, what’s not to love?
THEY WON’T GET YOUR DINGHY ON A PLANE!
Simple as that.
We want to go fast! Forget that we don’t have to row. Forget that there is no maintenance. Forget that you never have to carry gasoline. Forget that you never have trouble starting it. It’s hard to brag about all of these positives when you are wallowing in the wake of the neighbor’s dinghy that ripped right past you.
What’s on the Market?
There are companies offering more powerful products. Elco, Torqeedo and ePropulsion all have offerings that can get a tender on a plane. They appear to be quality, well designed systems, but I haven’t actually seen any of them around. Unfortunately, they are all outside of our budget.
If anyone is willing to donate one of the above to us, we will happily test it and do a full review
Build an electric outboard for small, folding inflatable dinghies. Ideally, the outboard will fit Tinkerbelle and get her planeing for an hour or more on a single battery charge. As with Cinderella’s Manta Drive, it must be affordable to the budget sailor and robust enough to handle cruising in remote locations. I also want to build my own LiFePO4 battery bank that will supply power to the motor. The system must charge easily from our current solar panels and I’d like to test the feasibility of using the outboard as a hydro generator.
- Power – enough to drive a small inflatable on a plane for over and hour
- Reliability – use robust components to mitigate failure
- Affordability – cost less than a new gasoline outboard
- Ease of Charge – must be easy to easily charged from Cinderella’s current system
- Hydrogeneration – determine feasibility as a yacht hydro generator.
Parts List/Cost Breakdown
|Donor outboard engine||$0|
|Montenergy ME1716 Motor||$600|
|Roboteq Motor Controller||$345|
|Safety Kill Switch||$35|
|48V – 5V DC-DC converter||$16|
|60Ah LiFePO4 cells||$880|
|Outboard and Battery||$2,791|
I’m hoping we can see the performance similar to that of a conventional 5 HP outboard. A brand new Tohatsu 5 HP retails at around $1800. While our project will cost about twice that, I’m hoping that we see the ROI in the form of free fuel (from the sun) and lack of maintenance.