A Jolt of Electricity

The Torqeedo Electric motor.

It used to be that the only electric outboard motors were trolling motors from companies like Minn Kota or MotorGuide. Now there's a real small boat outboard from Torqeedo of Starnberg, Germany ($1,600, www.torqeedo.com). It's called the Torqeedo Travel 801 because it folds up and fits in its own waterproof bag that will float for 30 minutes (a nice feature if you mess up and drop it over the side). And, what's more, the Lithium-Manganese battery is actually part of the motor - no 12V chunk of lead sitting on the sole.

Needless to say, I was quite skeptical until I mounted this unique motor on my 8' Walker Bay RIB for a test ride up and down the creek behind my house. It weighs in at only 25 pounds for the motor and the battery pack - easily handled even by the young (my 10-year old grandson) and the infirm (yours truly). There are three speed settings: maximum, fixed time, and max range. My Garmin handheld GPS clocked average speeds at 4.1, 3.5, and 1.9 knots respectively which are fairly decent times. A previous test I did with small 2-3.5 HP gas 4-stroke outboards on the same boat yielded an average max speed of 5 knots. Battery life can run from a little under one hour at WOT to 6 hours using the max range speed. The twist throttle smoothly regulates the thrust in both forward and reverse. What's really nice about this motor is that it's powerful...and quiet. And, considering that more and more lakes and waterways are going green, it's just the thing to meet the basic requirements being imposed by the locals.

The motor comes standard with an AC charging unit and the carry bag. That means that recharging must be done from an AC outlet either from shore power or while the genset is cranking out the juice for all the onboard AC systems - TV, DVD, fridge, and so on. A DC charger is under development and should be available for the spring 2008 season. It can be set up in less than 10 minutes the first time and even faster once you get the hang of it. The motor is in the underwater unit and is potted to protect it from water incursion.

The Travel 801 is available in two configurations,short shaft or long shaft, at West Marine, Defender Industries and a growing list of marine chandleries. This is not your bargain basement dinghy motor. The MSRP for the 801 is a whopping $1599 - an awful lot to pay until you consider it's green, it's quiet, and it's totally cool. Consider purchasing an additional battery pack for about $600 (have the spare on charge) and a spare prop for $75 just in case you screw up and hit something hard, like a rock or a chunk of coral.