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What is an Electric Boat?

 , updated on July 30, 2016
Electric boats, or electric ships, are vessels that are powered with an electric motor. They often use renewable energy sources such as wind turbines, solar panels and towed generators. Many ships take a hybrid approach with sails or diesel engines as a primary power source with electric motors as auxiliary power.
In the period 1880-1920 electronic boats were reasonably common during a period of enthusiasm for all things electric. By 1920, diesel engines had taken over and this continues to be the dominant power source for boats and ships to this day. The primary advantage of diesel engines is their range but this is changing due to efficiency gains in technologies such as wind turbines, solar panels and power storage.
It is estimated that 2.2% of global greenhouse gas production is due to shipping. Ships often burn a high sulfur content fuel oil, also known as bunker oil that contains up to 4,500 times more sulfur than is allowed in petrol for cars in Europe. As such, ship smoke contains sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, particulate, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and hydrocarbons.
Overview: Electric Boat
TypeSustainable Transport
DefinitionA boat or ship powered by electric motors.
ValueUse of sustainable energy sources such as solar and wind.
NotesA towed generator is a device that produces electricity when towed behind a sailboat.
Related ConceptsSustainable Transport
Ocean Plastic Cleanup


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An overview of the precautionary principle.

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International Maritime Organization, Third IMO GHG Study 2014.