SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine - A hybrid power boat that does not require gasoline or diesel fuel is generating interest at a Maine marina.
A 14-foot skiff billed as the marine industry's first fiberglass hybrid boat is on loan as a demo at South Port Marine in South Portland. The boat, which is on loan from South Carolina-based Scout Boats, has not generated any sales. But with boating season in full swing, it has been turning heads.
Chris Cutshall, sales manager at South Port Marine, said many boat owners are using their boats like "cottages on the water" rather than burn up pricey fuel. He wonders whether boaters will rebel and just jettison everything that guzzles gas.
"We're at some sort of juncture," he said. "Nobody's sure where it's going to go, but things have changed."
Electric boats are not new. A few niche builders make them for speed-restricted harbors, and fishing boats rigged with battery-powered trolling motors are common on lakes.
The Scout 145 Hybrid offers twists to the old concept. The boat is powered by a pair of stern-mounted electric drives and three batteries, which can run up to eight hours on a full charge.
The boat is steered with a joystick, not a steering wheel, and has a top speed of 8 miles per hour. It has cruise control for hands-free operation and a battery meter that tells how much charge remains.
If the operator wants more speed or range, an outboard engine hangs off the transom available for use.
Horsepower rules at marinas, where it is not unusual to see power boats with two or even three beefy outboards on the stern. Still, some are asking if boat owners are ready to go the way of car owners, who are bypassing sport utility vehicles in favor of smaller, energy-efficient and hybrid models.
Boaters' reaction to the Scout hybrid is being watched by Nim Marsh, editor of Points East, a magazine that covers boating on the New England coast. His first impression is that the craft is more of a prototype, too slow for broad appeal.
But if the boating industry can develop hybrid models with more speed, that could change everything, Marsh said.
"I think Scout is really a generation or two away from something that's really marketable," he said. "If they can get a boat that gets up on a plane, that could change everything."