There has been tremendous focus within the boating industry in recent years on developing electric, more environmentally friendly, boats. Initial efforts, while intriguing, have often fallen short in terms of practicality and affordability. Take for example the all-electric, Nautique GS22E wake boat that was introduced in 2020. While it would be cool to surf around in a quiet and peaceful environment for the 2-3 hours of run time, I doubt few could afford the $300K price tag.
And they are not alone. In 2021, General Motors invested $150 Million dollars into the little-known electric outboard company called Pure Watercraft. Since that time, they have partnered with various boat manufacturers to produce a mix of electric watercraft – including this pontoon boat that starts at $75K – a bargain compared to the Nautique.
But electric outboards are nothing new. In fact, one of the early pioneers – Elco – has been producing them since 1893. And Torqeedo, likely the most popular brand currently, has been in the clean and quiet propulsion game for nearly 20 years.
About the Mercury Avator 7.5e
Despite these earlier efforts, the entry by Mercury – the world leader in marine propulsion – could be a signaling a major shift in the direction of marine propulsion.
The Avator 7.5e, introduced at the 2023 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, is the first of a series of electric motors to be released by Mercury this year. According to the company press release, the 7.5e delivers “750W of power at the propshaft and produces similar speed and acceleration as a Mercury 3.5 HP FourStroke.”
One neat feature of the engine is its lithium-ion “swappable” battery system. If your power is running low, you can easily pop in a new power pack just like you do with a cordless weed-wacker or drill. Another nice touch is the clear power display on the front of the motor to always let you know how much juice is remaining. This is important because “range-anxiety” is a common concern among electric car owners.
Mercury Avator Price (*updated*)
Of course, the key question everyone wants to know is the Mercury Avator price. At the time this article was first written, pricing information was unavailable. However, the company began shipping the Mercury Avator 7.5e on April 19, 2023 and I was able to find pricing information from an online dealer soon thereafter.
According to the NuWave Marine website, the Mercury Avator price is listed at $3,510 as of this writing. This is for a 15″ shaft length, tiller handle model with one battery. By comparison, the cost for a Mercury 3.5 HP four-stroke – which has similar speed and acceleration – is much less at $1,106. Of course, the actual price will likely vary from dealer to dealer. Nonetheless, you can expect that the cost will be around 3X that of a conventional outboard.
Anticipated Advantages and Disadvantages
Though I have not yet had the opportunity to operate the Mercury Avator 7.5e, the pluses and minuses vs. a traditional (3.5HP) four-stroke motor are likely to be as follows:
- Reliability: Electric motors have far fewer moving parts than a traditional internal combustion (gas) engine. Therefore, in theory, they should be more reliable.
- Performance: According to the company website, the Avator 7.5e delivers 52% quicker acceleration than an unnamed “competitor”. This is not surprising given that electric engines, unlike gas, do not need to build up RPMs to produce torque. Top speed is not mentioned but I would expect it to be comparable, or slightly less, than that of a four-stroke.
- Operating Characteristics: This, of course, is where electric engines really shine. The company reports that Avator transmits 80% less vibration and is 75% quieter at full throttle. But, given the quality of today’s four-stroke engines, this difference might not be a huge factor to most boaters.
- Range: How far you can travel with the Avator depends on how aggressively you use it. Mercury put together this informative chart that shows the maximum runtime at various speeds. At full throttle, the run time is only 1 hour which, at first, seems pretty limited. However, the internal tank of the Mercury 3.5 HP four-stroke only holds about 0.3 gallons which also would only last about one hour at 100% throttle. So, unless you connect an external gas tank, the difference might not be too dramatic.
- Maintenance: There is almost zero maintenance required on electric motors – an advantage vs. combustion engines. However, the amount of maintenance required on smaller, gas-powered, outboards is pretty minimal to begin with and so the actual benefit is fairly minor.
- Portability: One of the things Mercury touts on its website is the “portability” of the motor. However, at 43 lbs, it is slightly heavier than the four-stroke and the difference is even greater if you factor in the weight of the battery (17 lbs). But, at least you don’t run the risk of gas spilling out.
- Cost of Ownership: Given that the Mercury Avator outboard price is about 3X that of a conventional engine, it is highly unlikely that any fuel and maintenance savings will ever offset the initial investment. If you want to buy one of these, it will have to be for reasons other than the cost.
Who is the Avator Best Suited For?
Considering the advantages and disadvantages above, I think Mercury is spot-on regarding who the product is best suited for – ” it’s ideal for powering many small boats, including tenders, jon boats, inflatables and kayaks”. Sailboats are another possible application too because they typically only need power for relatively short periods of time and because the sailing community is conditioned to appreciate its clean, quiet operating characteristics.
So, will Mercury sell a lot of these? That is doubtful barring any government regulations such as what occurred in the early 2000s that gave rise to clean two-strokes and eventually four-stroke motors. Regardless, the Avator – along with Nautique GS22E and others before them – will likely be a catalyst for further innovation. Not coincidently, Brunswick (the parent company of Mercury) just introduced its new tagline of “Next Never Rests™”.
Are you ready to consider electric outboards? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.
Hah, I’ll put you down as a “no”. I agree that Electric outboards are currently not practical for 99% of boaters today. And there are serious obstacles with marine applications – even more than with automobiles. But I can tell you that electric engines/renewable energy sources are a major area of focus for many leading marine companies. My guess is that they are doing it partially out of concern that government regulations could force their hand. It is not inconceivable for places like California to outlaw selling of new internal combustion marine engines. It is this type of regulation that forced the development of direct fuel injection (DFI) outboards (OptiMax, Ficht, HPDI) in the mid to late 90s which eventually led to four-stroke outboards. Perhaps the current “electric engine” emphasis will eventually lead to something that is, in fact, better.
Unless major advancements are made on battery design I don’t see electrics replacing medium to large outboards. If it takes a 17# battery to make 3.5 hp for a couple of hours the battery weight alone would make it impractical or impossible for larger engines. Then there’s the cost and charging issues. Sort of like electric cars and trucks, only worse.
You are correct – batteries are the limiting factor at present. And unlike with automobiles, I don’t believe there is a regenerative “braking” (charging) system with boats to regain some power. Thanks for your comment.
Why is it that nobody is telling us how much it costs.
Thanks James for your comment. At the time the article was written, the manufacturer had not yet disclosed the price. Even today (March 23, 2023) I have not seen any pricing info and suspect that the product is not yet available at retail.