Something to Whisper About

A small Canadian boat builder, using the expertise of a Florida-based marine electrical firm, has developed the world’s most powerful electric outboard motor. Now in its 40th year of operation, Campion Marine ( of Kelowna, B.C., unveiled its 180 hp (135 kw) electric outboard, and we were invited for a test. Ft. Lauderdale’s ReGen Nautic USA Inc. was contracted to provide the electrical and electronic technology.

Except for the striking graphics, the engine looked the same as any other outboard, and there’s a good reason for that: It started life as a four-stroke gasoline-powered Yamaha 150. The gasoline powerhead was replaced by a 180 hp electric motor and its necessary electronic controllers, yielding weight savings of about 100 pounds.

Campion clamped the outboard — the E Fusion — onto one of its favorite test models, a 2,000-pound Chase 550, which is the same model Campion used as a test boat for its bio-resin experiment three years ago. It worked so well that Campion now builds its entire line of boats using bio-resin rather than petro-resin.

The 550 is a racy-looking 18-foot bowrider with a beam of 7 feet, 8 inches and is Coast Guard approved for eight people. It has a 19-degree deadrise at the transom and normally carries about 175 pounds of gasoline, but no gas was needed with an electric outboard hung on the transom. The boat and motor combination weighed about 275 pounds less than a gas-operated setup.

However, batteries added 600 pounds, so the boat as we ran it weighed about 2,300 pounds.

Testing an electric outboard is a different experience. With a gas setup, we usually turn the key, start the engine and let it settle down, and then let it warm up for a couple of minutes before leaving the dock. With the E Fusion, we turned the key and left the dock. Without any sound.

The control system operates the same as it does on a gas outboard. Push the control lever forward, and the boat moves forward. Push it farther forward, and the boat goes faster forward. Pull the lever aft, and the boat goes in reverse; pull farther aft, and it goes faster in reverse.

We cleared the dock and shoved the throttle fully forward. In just a hair more than three seconds, we were on plane. And we had 1,000 pounds of writers, cameras and a boat operator on board. With only three people on board, time to plane was 2.9 seconds. The electric outboard popped the boat on plane faster than a gas outboard I tested previously on a 550. We went from 0-30 mph in four seconds.

During separate testing, Campion reported a top speed of 50 mph, and even with all the extra weight on board we came close to that. The only noise was the sound of the wind whipping past our ears and the water slapping against the hull. With the vessel at WOT, 6000 rpm, I reached back and put my hand on the outboard. It was silky smooth. We put the boat through the usual quick turns and a bit of wake leaping, and it behaved the same as it did with a gas outboard.

The 400v battery pack is assembled by ReGen Nautic using a number of 3.2v cells.

“We custom assemble the battery to fit the builder’s space requirement,” said ReGen’s Jean-Marc Zanni. “Our design also ensures that no one on board can come in contact with the battery or battery cabling.”

The electric powerhead is jacketed, and the heat exchanger is cooled. The electronic controls are air cooled.

Running time at about 45 mph has been about two hours during testing. Recharge time, using standard household 220v 15-amp service (the boat is rigged for 220, because it has been sold to a European buyer), is about eight hours. However, with 220v 50-amp service, charging time is cut in half. If 440v three-phase power is available, charging time can be as little as 20 minutes. In the case of rapid charging, a different onboard charger is required.