Last May, I posted about our new tech toy, a Torqeedo Travel 1103 electric outboard for our inflatable dinghy. At the time, we had only made a tour of the marina basin and I promised an update when I had spent more time with it. So with last season well behind us and a new season approaching, I thought this was a good time to provide a review, as others ponder non-gasoline propulsion options, for dinghies at least.
My exec summary is: I really like this thing.
Let’s break this report down into categories:
Sound (what sound?): I said in my previous post that the electric outboard was a game changer, and it has proved to be so. It is whisper quiet, which lets you operate the dinghy in stealth mode as you gawk at wildlife. It’s so quiet in fact that I was impressed with how much noise the dinghy (with an aluminum hull) generates in glurping and blurping through the water while you’re poking around, something you never notice when a gas outboard is running.
Performance: The Torqeedo’s power is the equivalent of a 3-hp gas engine. That’s a big drop from the 6-hp four-stroke Merc we used to use, which could get our 8.5-foot Highfield Ultralite 260SS comfortably on a plane with one occupant. So for starters, forget about booting around the way you would with a gas outboard. You’re going to use the engine in anchorages and sheltered waters, for getting to and from shore and poking around, maybe fishing.
Range: Every electrical propulsion system (see: automobiles) comes with consumer anxiety about range, and an electric outboard is no different. The Torqeedo 1103 (ours is the CS, for short shaft) has a 48-volt battery where the gas engine normally is, and how far you can run on a charge pretty well depends on how fast you go. For us, with two to three adults often in the dinghy, the range promised by the GPS unit built into the throttle arm was more than twenty miles if we stayed down around 2 mph and about six miles if we went 3-3.5 mph. Headwinds and chop could make a big difference. The two-blade prop is optimized for low-speed performance. If I turned hard, the blades would chatter a bit in protest. (The blades are plastic by the way. I haven’t bought a spare prop in case I trash the original one, but I am going to order the weedless one, which is the same cost, US$99.99, as the standard prop, which definitely likes gathering weeds.)
How suitable this power option is for you depends on how far you plan to go, how fast you feel you have to go, and how long you plan to be away from a charging source. You technically can charge our Torqeedo from onboard solar, and we do have about 80 watts of panels, but I haven’t tried, because the charge time would be somewhere in the neighbourhood of forever and we wouldn’t be able to keep the house batteries topped up while doing so. A second battery is priced at about US$1000 so I don’t see that as a reasonable option. There’s always a new model after I commit to some tech purchase, and Torqeedo now offers more powerful models with greater range in the Cruise series. But I still think the 1103 best suits our needs. We’re never away from the dock for more than a couple days, and we can ration our operating speed accordingly so as not to drain the battery to zilch.
I kept the 6-hp Merc, in the event that there were times I needed it, but it spent last summer in the basement. Our Limestone came with a transom bracket for a kicker motor and a hoist for getting an outboard on and off the mount. This summer, I’m thinking of installing the Merc there as a just-in-case option for times when conditions and range might be too much for the Torqeedo and I want to transfer it to the dinghy. But the Torqeedo otherwise will remain our power plant of choice for the dinghy.
Ease of use: Dead easy. The motor comes in three parts.
There’s the motor and prop at the bottom of the drive leg, which is topped by the transom bracket. You hang that on the back of your dinghy, then attach the other two pieces. One is the battery, which as noted occupies the place of a gas engine. The other is the tiller arm, which has an integrated GPS display that keeps track of your speed, charge level, power consumption, and estimated distance remaining. (It also has a kill-switch cord.) The three parts are simple to assemble. To turn the motor on, you twist the tiller throttle and…you’re off. It’s eerily quiet and efficient. The first time we got in the dinghy alongside our Limestone and I twisted the throttle to send us away with a quick little leap and a whirring noise, my wife became slightly wide-eyed, and her look said: That’s it?
One advantage of the Torqeedo is that it is a lot lighter than the 6-hp Merc. The Merc is 57 pounds with the integral fuel tank dry, while the Torqeedo short shaft is only about 38 pounds (17.3 kilos). The Merc is light for a gas outboard, but it’s still a bit of a beast to lug around. And because the Torqeedo easily assembles and dissembles into three pieces, the motor is eminently portable. It’s no big deal to fetch the components from the main boat and put them together in the dinghy, and vice versa.
You can spend US$149 (I haven’t yet, but I’m tempted) and get an add-on called Torq Trac. It’s a cable-based Bluetooth device that sends the performance info to a free app on your Apple or Android phone. There you can see your range and position on Google maps along with the other info, and plot routes and whatnot.
One reason I wanted to go electric was my spouse never operates the dinghy. She has seen me too many times in a struggle with the Merc’s starter cord and choke, especially when the engine has been shut down and is semi-warm and I’m trying to restart it. (Is this a cold start? A warmed-up restart? Only the gods know.) The Torqeedo does exactly what I hoped it would, in letting her get out and about on her own.
Like any other outboard, it has a tilt lever. I do wish it had an intermediate position like the Merc that would allow you to run it only slightly immersed in shallows. That said, it’s easy to flip up out of the way of imminent groundings.
My one mistake in operating the Torqeedo last summer involved the tilt lever. I got in the habit of leaving the main assembly attached to the dinghy’s transom while it was being towed, keeping the battery and tiller arm in our boat. The Highfield empty only weighs 37 kilos, and I was worried about how skittish it might be under tow if there was nothing weighing it down, as I was used to towing it with the 6-hp Merc in place.
In September, I discovered that three welds in the Torqeedo’s tilt assembly had broken and the round bar that supports the motor when tilted had deformed. I sent photos to Torqeedo’s customer support in the U.S. (I bought the motor online through Torqeedo U.S.). They were back to me immediately. (Torqeedo was also very good when I placed my original order. A customer support person immediately got in touch to check the type of boat I had and confirm I needed the short shaft.) The tech person politely directed me to the owner’s manual, by which I should have known NEVER to leave the motor mounted and tilted on the dinghy while it was being towed. It’s a light, precision assembly and I could see why the tilt assembly had been damaged. Most of the weight when the battery pack isn’t installed is down at the immersed bulb. Towing our Highfield behind our Limestone 24 express cruiser at 20-plus miles per hour, the dinghy gets bounced around, and the bulb weight’s leverage would have placed a lot of strain on the entire tilt mechanism. The tech person I suspect took pity on me. He said he thought one broken weld was flawed to begin with and shipped me a new tilt assembly, with instructions on how to swap out the old one, at no charge.
Cost: This motor wasn’t/isn’t cheap. Between the U.S. dollar conversion, shipping and taxes, I think I spent about $4500 Canadian, and at the moment (February 2023), it’s listed by Torqeedo for US$2948 plus shipping (and taxes). You can get a four-stroke gas outboard for way, way less than that. While I no longer have to buy fuel or do engine oil and gear oil changes, I don’t expect those savings to add up to anything close to an advantage for the Torqeedo.
Is this thing for you? You’re going to buy an electric outboard from Torqeedo (or someone else) for your dinghy because you want a different on-water experience, and maybe you want to wean yourself off at least some fossil fuels when on the water. I have no illusions about achieving some massive reduction in my environmental footprint with an electric outboard, when the 5.7-litre Merc I/O in my Limestone is consuming 8-9 US gallons an hour when planing, but there is something to be said for not pumping outboard exhaust into shallows when you’re noodling around an anchorage.
The appeal of the electric is simplicity and silence. My wife and I also liked the reduction in clutter in the dinghy. There’s no fuel tank and hose to stumble on (and no fuel odour), which leaves more room for feet and legs, fishing gear, the portable depth sounder, and the stuff we take ashore. Electric propulsion involves tradeoffs and compromises, but the net benefits, for us at least, have been well in its favour.
2 Replies to “Times are a-changin’ (and a-chargin’) UPDATE”