Electrifying The Fishing Boat Biz

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, if more and more motorists are excited about electric cars, maybe fishermen are ready to trade their outboard motors for battery-powered boats.

Frank Jones has wagered $500,000 that they are.

His Carolina Electric Boats makes a two-seat boat that looks a bit like a rectangular plastic kiddie pool–its hull is recyclable polyethylene–with a couple of cushioned lawn chairs in the middle.

Its bigger difference from conventional boats is that the 10-ft. craft is propelled by two 36-lb. electric motors that can run four to eight hours on a charge. Twin Troller X10 is also hands-free operated; controls are in two foot pedals.

Jones, 51, president of the Benson (N.C.) company, came up with the idea when he saw a boat created by a “backyard inventor.” After getting patents, finishing a redesign, and partnering with Nova Chemicals for resin for the hulls, Jones and his handful of employees began production.

Since June 2008, he has sold about 300 boats, at $2,395 apiece. Jones, a veteran operations manager, picked an admittedly bad time to launch a boat biz. Brunswick (BC), the recreational-boat industry’s leader, predicts industry sales will fall to 150,000 in 2009, half 2005’s volume, and it sees no snapback for years.

Jones says, though, that his sales have picked up this summer. He says he’s adding a dealer or two every week, though he’s still looking for more, especially in the Upper Midwest. If his startup can top $450,000 in sales this year, he says he’ll break even.

Photo by Rachel Z. Arndt.

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