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Electric outboards are here, are they the future?

Published: 17 Sep 2021

Barrus Shire Ez Electric OutboardsA new wave of boat propulsion is washing ashore at a rate of knots these days in the marine world and yes we are talking electric outboard engines.

We have been talking to some of the leading marine engine manufacturers to learn about forthcoming technology to the marine electric evolution for many years now. Indeed, we have been stocking electric trolling motors, small, low cost, and low power motors, such as the Minn Kota Electric Trolling Motors and the Motorguide Electric Trolling Motors for a long while.

This technology has paved the way for what we are seeing on the market these days. The trolling motor range is quite accessible now and they are a joy to own if you are looking for a hassle-free, low usage alternative to petrol engine outboards - much fun can be had by running one of these. Their limitations of course are that they are really only suited to inland cruising at very slow speeds - ideal for attaching to small fishing boats to silently approach your desired fishing spot for example.

Propelling into the future with electric outboards

Learning from this technology and moving with the world's ambition to reduce carbon reliance, otherwise termed as decarbonisation, has accelerated the push into the electrification of boats by manufacturers. In fact, it was back in early 2019 that we sat down with EP Barrus to discuss their forthcoming electric outboard series, the Barrus Shire EZ electric outboards. Alas, the global Covid-19 pandemic halted many projects at the time, and sadly it did affect the launch timings of these engines too. However, we are pleased to say that we are now back on track and have had new opportunities to test the Barrus Shire EZ engines on The River Thames here at Sheridan Marine.

The original range of Barrus Shire EZ engines consisted of the EZ-6, EZ-10, & EZ-20, all available as either tiller-controlled or remote-controlled (an option allowing you to connect up to a steering helm position and supplied with throttle control to mount at the helm position). The EZ-3 came to the market in the Summer of 2020 to finish the current range off nicely, this has been subsequently replaced by the Barrus Shire EZ-X05. You can learn more about the engines and their technical specifications here:

Introducing 'Otter Spotter', Our New Electric Outboard Showboat

So, in the Summer of 2020, we acquired a 16-foot Orkney open-day boat, known as Otter Spotter, as the test-bed for the Barrus Shire EZ engines. EP Barrus brought along an EZ-3 and EZ-6 to mount onto Otter Spotter to demonstrate their abilities and run through the handling. Both engines performed well and the three-speed options (ECO / Normal / Sport) provide good variations for different uses.

Otter Spotter The Electric Test Orkney Boat

Particularly impressive is the Sport mode, the short amount of time in which power is available to use is astonishing. However, for general usage, the ECO mode was favourable when considering the battery draw of Sport mode, and the Normal mode provides the balance between gentle cruising and access to power when required.

We now have a showcase EZ-6 and EZ-X05 available at Sheridan Marine and Otter Spotter is powered by the 50Ah Barrus EZ Lithium-ion battery. We will begin to have show events in the future so watch this space. If you are a commercial client (for example rowing teams/colleges/academies, hire boat firms, or rescue teams, etc.) then please contact us to discuss a private demonstration.

We also have our electric inboard Freeman Cruiser 23 available for showcasing on The River Thames where more details of the Freeman E-Power engine can be found here.

How long will I be able to run my boat on electric power?

Barrus Ez Electric Outboard Lithium BatteryOf course, the age-old question of the running time for electric propulsion is still the first question we are asked. Now, there is no simple answer to this because it quite simply depends on your specific requirements as a mariner. It is dependent on:

  • The batteries you are using and how many you are using - i.e. the battery bank size
  • The weight, size, length, and style of the boat you are expecting to cruise with
  • The weather, tide, wind, and current all have effects on cruising
  • The manner in which you are cruising, whether you are trolling or getting from point A to point B in the fastest time possible
  • The final weight of the boat when in use, including passenger weight, will increase the 'drag' and thus affect the power draw requirement.

The Barrus EZ electric engine range allows you to connect to your desired battery bank so they do not have a 'run-time' themselves as they do not have an internal battery; they run on a 48-volt battery setup. This requirement of separate batteries provides the opportunity to add the number of batteries you need for your own requirements, whilst also allowing you to install the batteries on the boat in the best location for weight distribution/storage space.

On Otter Spotter, our showboat, we operate the Barrus EZ 48-volt 50Ah Lithium-ion Battery which seamlessly connects directly to the engine. A smaller 30Ah Lithium-ion model will be available also, this will be less money to purchase however the 50Ah will be the better choice if a more permanent or semi-permanent installation is required. If weight is a top priority to you then the 30Ah at approximately 16Kg is easier to move about than the 50Ah at approximately 27Kg - either way, they are both far more user-friendly and less cumbersome than traditional lead-acid batteries that you may be used to. For the full details and technical specifications see the Barrus EZ Lithium Batteries here. You can of course source different batteries so long as the system can provide 48 volts, we have access to major brands of lithium and lead acid batteries to suit most requirements.

Our initial findings are positive and we have enjoyed several trips up and down the River Thames with the Barrus EZ-3 and EZ6, even cruising to within 4 metres of a kingfisher sat on its fishing perch, and a couple of herons standing idle ready to pounce - we were amazed by this ourselves!

The mobile app and outboard 'dongle' is an excellent feature too. Not only can you see various details of the battery on your mobile telephone, including capacity, power draw, etc. you are able to have your outboard programmed to limit the speed - particularly useful for hire boats.

Is outboard motor electrification the future?

As with petrol cars where we are so used to the idea of running petrol and 'filling up' the tank with fuel that any consideration of electric cars, with a different fuel, can have a certain mental block to change. This could be associated with seeing first-hand the developing technology through the years which, almost inevitably, sometimes produced unenviable results when looked at out of context. Of course, each step in development opens doors to progress, and electric cars have certainly moved forward - thus the technology now filters to the marine environment too.

It is clear now that the electrification of boat outboards has progressed so far that they are now a genuine option. Whether you are interested because the decision is forced on to you owing to your current outboard issues, or, you are buying from new, or, whether you are trying to reduce your local carbon pollution, then the EP Barrus EZ range of outboards should certainly be a contender to add to your shortlist on engines. Of course, you will have to have access to be able to recharge your battery bank, either on the mooring quayside or at home, but you will not have to worry about lugging around petrol cans anymore!

Likewise, there is a continual shift at the Government level to reduce our national carbon footprint and the marine industry is part of this plan. In the future, we are likely to see 'Low Carbon' areas on waterways so the shift is happening and we are excited to be able to offer and exhibit a solution for the River Thames and beyond.