February 25, 2016



This is Fish Radio. I’m Laine Welch –  Electro-powered boats – a builder’s view after this —

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Fish Radio reported yesterday on the nation’s first all electric passenger boat, the Tongass Rain –  a 50 foot eco-tour boat set to be on the water in Juneau.  Once its propulsion system is signed off by the Coast Guard, building will get underway.

We are really excited about it. We’re some of the front runners here with this project and we really think it is the future. The ecotourism industry is, in my opinion, the best one to start out with.   

Lithium ion battery pack Credit: US fed gov't

Lithium ion battery pack
Credit: US fed gov’t

Trevor O’Brien manages the production engineering team at Armstrong Marine in Port Angeles, Washington. He says adapting all electric for fishing boats would be much trickier –

This first boat is a lot simpler than a fishing boat – it’s a passenger boat and we know exactly how many miles they run out and back – and figuring out how much electricity they need to make that run is a lot easier than a fishing boat that you don’t know where they’re going to be going, or how long they’ll be running chillers and how long they’ll have their lights on. 

O’Brien says the biggest plus for fishing boats is the simplicity of using a battery and an electric motor.   But chillers and compressors for the fish hold are a big power draw and the lithium batteries do pose challenges –

The most complicated part of the system is the batteries and getting the batteries charged quickly and actually requiring a cooling circuit for the batteries. Some of the systems are liquid cooled and that can get kind of complex.  

The biggest drawback now is price – the 50 foot Tongass Rain, for example, will use 10 five kilowatt batteries at $5,000 each. But as with any new technology, O’Brien says prices will drop fast as it gets wider use.

And he is certain that will happen. He points out that all electric ferries are being used in Europe. For Alaska’s fishing fleets, he agrees it will take time to build trust in the new technology.  To accomplish that, O’Brien says, all it will take is for a few people to prove it works.

That’s why I’m excited about this project because no one has done it yet and we are willing to be the guinea pig, if you will, and make it happen.  

Fish Radio is also brought to you by Ocean Beauty Seafoods, an Alaska company  proudly supporting Alaska’s coastal communities and the Alaskans who depend on fishing for their livelihoods and culture.  www.oceanbeauty.com    In Kodiak, I’m Laine Welch.