Green Dreamboats Finally Come of Age

Green dream boat: Solar power runs the over-the-top amenities in the Island Pilot hybrid yacht. © Island pilotUntil recently, boating was one of the least green things one could do. Powerboats guzzle fuel at a rate that makes a HUMMER look like a teetotaler. (We’re talking gallons per minute, not per mile.) As for sailboats, call them yachting’s dirty little secret: They all need smoky, leaky engines and generators to power their increasing amenities: lighting, refrigerators, stoves, air-conditioning, TVs, hot tubs.

And so began the Great Tinkering. All through the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, boats sprouted windmills, solar panels, solar-heated showers and underwater electricity-generating propellers.

In the late 1990s a French company, Lagoon, outfitted a sailing catamaran with electric motors to give vacation renters a noiseless option for inshore cruising. Its heirs, the Lagoon 420 and 421, are sailing catamarans—double hulls being easier to handle, especially in shallow coastal or island waters—with electric and diesel-electric options. Lagoon has stationed them in rental fleets in 50 resort locations worldwide for testing the sail-hybrid option.

Lots of Luxe, Less Emissions

This year, three real green dreamboats came on the scene. Electric models from American Beauty Boats have the distinctive look of 1940s wooden runabouts—but hull and deck are actually fiberglass treated for a glossy teak-like veneer. Like all electrics, the 18-foot boats are bigger on style than speed—they max out at only 6.5mph, but deliver eight hours fully charged at cruising speed. Prices start at $29,950.

solar powered boat

The Frauscher is a 25-foot Austrian hybrid speedster developed to meet strict European guidelines on lake emissions. Its new Steyr diesel hybrid, charging off a brushless magneto flywheel, caught importer Ralph Silverman’s eye. “Frauscher started building electric boats in the “70s,” he says. “They were perfect people to make the Steyr motor and make it into a hybrid.” A gleaming Gatsbyesque vision executed in teak and leather with chromed Art Deco fittings, the boat glides on electric battery power out of marinas and inshore waters, where fossil-fuel pollution is trapped by tide and lack of recirculating currents. Once in open waters, the twin 256-hp Steyrs take over at the push of a button, lifting the boat up to 40 knots. It’s a luxury escape at $155,000.

While the Frauscher still gulps gas like a speedboat, the Island Pilot 12m DSe hybrid yacht needs to make no apologies. It’s full of creature comforts that would be over the top if they weren’t all solar-powered—48,000 BTU air-conditioner, CookTek induction stovetop, Hitachi refrigerator, Bose 3.2.1. home theater.

The Island Pilot is Reuben Trane’s dream, decked out in 850 square feet of SunPower solar paneling. Even the dinghy is electric. “We started this project three years ago,” Trane says. “Fuel had reached $3 a gallon. I’ve railed against the automobile industry…Here we could actually be proactive.”

Originally launched with lead batteries, Trane is now putting in lithium ion batteries that can extend the 42-footer’s charge to 100 hours. Using a remote, you can even steer from the master stateroom’s sleigh bed. The bridge seats 12 and the foredeck has room for six chaise lounges.

Imagine an upscale second home—the price is $650,000—that pays its own utility bills as it glides in silence through the barrier islands, the Caribbean, the Gulf of California, and onward to farther fantasy reaches.

Green Boat Insurance Advantage

Travelers Insurance is offering a discount of up to 10% on electric and hybrid boat premiums. “We first began offering the discount on electric boats,” says company spokesperson Matt Bordonaro, “because there are fewer issues with breakdowns at such low speeds. We’ve added hybrids because we want to encourage environmentally friendly behavior.” A profile of green consumers comes across as rather flattering. “We think hybrid and electric owners are going to be careful with how they use the boat,” Bordonaro says.