When Will Electrification Come to Boating?

By Soundings Trade Only.

New technologies are augmenting electric propulsion in boats, but battery standards and charging infrastructure are still developing.

Electrification has been an increasingly common buzzword in the marine industry, especially in the past four to five years. Most notably, the recreational marine industry is seeing advancements in lithium-ion batteries, electric propulsion and the need for charging infrastructure.

We can attribute the electrification revolution — both in on-board power supply and electric propulsion systems — in large part to developments in battery technology. Although batteries have improved since the first lead-acid battery was constructed in 1859, this type of battery technology still has shortcomings. Lithium-ion batteries addressed many of those problems; these batteries tend to be more suitable for larger loads and to deliver more usable energy. They also have a much longer life span and provide much higher energy density.

The vast majority of lithium-ion systems installed on boats use lithium-iron-phosphate (LiFePO4 or LFP) batteries. LFP as a cathode material has very high thermal stability, which means these batteries are much safer than cobalt-based, lithium-ion batteries.

Using quality batteries and cells is important. The market is flooded with lithium-ion cells of unknown quality, and many boat owners might be tempted to opt for those low-priced products. Even the best system can fail if subpar batteries are used.

Nevertheless, correct installation and system design are important for the safety and performance of the boat’s electrical system. The American Boat & Yacht Council responded to industry demands for guidance when installing these batteries, first with a Technical Information Report (TE-13) that will be superseded this year by an updated Standard E-13, titled Lithium-Ion Batteries. While Standard E-13 does not contain any testing requirements, it refers to industry-accepted IEC and UL testing standards that battery or cell manufacturers need to follow.

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