Are electric-powered tenders the future?

14 June 2021

In an age where sustainability is the ultimate goal, Lynden Vikingur, director of Vikal, spies a buoyant market for smaller electric watercraft. 

Superyacht tenders have a broad spectrum of utility, but their primary role is to serve as a rapid luxury transfer, whisking guests from ship to shore and back again in a matter of minutes. For a vessel with the sole purpose of traveling short distances, an electric propulsion system could be the perfect solution for a forward-thinking owner. Lynden Vikingur, director of Australian tender manufacturer Vikal, certainly thinks so.

Vikal has delivered tenders to the likes of Octopus, Al Mirqab, Barbara, and Topaz (now A+), but is now looking to the future with its electric and hybrid offerings. "We see a bright future for electric power in yachting generally, and particularly in the superyacht tender market," says Vikingur.

Vikal e-Rib

"Every tender we deliver is one-off," he explains, " and as a custom tender manufacturer we are less constrained by the tooling burdens of scaled production." Each vessel fitted with the latest tech and hardware and an electric or hybrid propulsion system can be offered as an add-on in exactly the same way at the owner's request. 

The rapid rate of change in battery capacity and electric propulsion technologies has meant that many production outfits struggle to keep up with the latest developments. But as a custom builder, and with its eyes set on the future, Vikal has harnessed its competitive edge to present two electric tenders: the 13-metre e-Rib and the 12.5-metre e-Limousine Futurist concept.

The Vikal e-Rib can carry up to 12 guests and two crewmembers, while its modular layout allows the tender to transform into a dive platform, game fishing deck or an open aft deck. Most importantly, though, the e-Rib features an electric drive propulsion system.

"An electric-hybrid propulsion package is not only an eco-conscious solution, but carries significant performance benefits for an owner, as it has done in the automotive world," explains Vikingur. One of the many benefits of electric propulsion is that torque and horsepower can be dialled in via the digital control systems on board. This opens the gates to a "ferocious" delivery of power with an instant throttle response that is a "step change from diesel power," says Vikingur. Other advantages include increased safety and improved manoeuvrability at low speeds.

The Vikal e-Rib is estimated to reach a top speed of 32 knots, but as battery capacities continue to improve, this particular hull could be capable of exceeding 40 knots with ease.

The second 'e-offering' from Vikal is the e-Limousine Futurist, a conceptual tender design inspired by the Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic with an SS bow grille, transom air vents and sweeping curves from bow to stern. Set to deliver "blistering speed in a whisper-quiet fashion" the e-Limousine is truly a vision of things to come.

The benefits of switching to hybrid or even fully electric propulsion systems are "enormous", says Vikingur. But, he adds, "if there is a hold-up it's the battery energy density." What he's referring to the technology gap that exists where battery capacities aren't strong enough to service both the drives and engines or undertake longer passages on battery power alone – yet.

Vikal e-Limousine Futurist

"It seems we are some years away before full electric systems can compete with the range diesel offers", says Vikingur. Battery power density is supposedly increasing at a rate of 7% year on year, but in the meantime, hybrid technology can provide a happy medium. "As a general rule we recommend hybrid in favour of full-electric," he adds. "The technology is well established, reliable and modular in nature, and systems are also fully upgradeable as battery power density improves over time."

Hybrid propulsion systems have already proven their mettle in a marine setting, following on from the success of their automotive counterparts, and are an excellent solution for owners in search of range, power, and efficiency, while sparing a thought for the environment. Vikal's electric proposals are the result of forward-thinking design and provide a snapshot of what is already on the horizon for the yachting industry.