With a patent pending retractable system that deploys at speed, the new electric hydrofoiling skiffs from Epoch Boats are the ‘fishing boats that fly’ – offering the average boater a foiling experience at an entry level price.
Epoch Boats was founded in 2021 by Tom Ward and Diane Seltzer, who met while working on new products at SureShade, the telescoping boat shade manufacturer. Tom was the Director of Engineering and Diane the Director of Marketing – she was selected one of Boating Industry magazine’s ’25 Women Making Waves’ in 2020. Both are boaters who love being out on the water and connecting with nature. That’s what led them to electric boats.
“Cleaner water when I was growing up”
“I grew up sailing and rowing, and I think anybody who spends their whole life on the water, you inherently have to be a conservationist. “ says Tom. “It’s all around you, you touch the water, you swim in it.”
“One of the things I’ve seen over my life is that the water was cleaner when I was growing up. Now, there are more boats, two strokes, boats smoking out on launching ramps, more oil slicks..and it started to weigh on me.”
“The other thing is that in a previous job I was responsible for maintaining the four test boats in our company’s fleet, all internal combustion engine boats. Between carburetor rebuilds, new impellers, oil changes and all of it, it just hit me one day that electric has to be better.”
“So I went out and bought myself an electric boat. It’s a great little unit, 14 foot aluminum, with a 6 pound thrust trolling motor. Perfect for fishing, puttering around on the lake..but it doesn’t have the speed to make your heart race!”
“I looked around at higher performance electric boats, but they were simply too far out of my price range, and really, a lot of them aren’t made for what I want in a boat. I just want something to go out fishing, but also have a little zip available for getting there and back quickly, or for just the sheer fun of going fast.”
Demand for small electric boat with speed
This is where Diane’s marketing experience comes to the fore. “As Tom started sharing his thoughts with me, I knew from all the work and customer research I’ve done over the years that he is not the only one who would be interested in this kind of boat.”
“We started talking about use cases, and the first that came to mind is someone with a skiff style boat – small, light, flat bottomed…they are very popular for fishing on the Texas coast and Florida panhandle, where there is a lot of shallow water.”
“As we thought about it more, we realized there is a whole base of people who want an electric boat with some speed, but it also has to fit into their recreation budget. They could be looking for just a fun day boat, a dinghy or tender for a yacht or a fishing boat for any lake, not just shallow water situations. We’re in Pennsylvania, where almost half of our waterways – 47% – are electric only.”
So they decided to take the plunge and start an electric boat company, calling it ‘Epoch’ because the word means ‘the beginning of a distinctive period in the history of something’.
Tom has a tremendous knowledge of the mechanics of boats – he sits on the Technical Board of the ABYC (American Boat and Yacht Council) – and knew that hydrofoiling would give a skiff the best option of being able to combine speed with battery range.
Surface piercing vs fully submerged hydrofoils
When it comes to hydrofoiling electric boats, the Candela 8 is being recognized all over the world as the gold standard, and Tom is not alone in having a huge appreciation for its technology and performance. But it’s an 8 metre / 27 foot speedboat with a totally different usage than what Epoch is looking at, and Tom knew that Candela style technology wouldn’t be practical for the electric hydrofoiling skiff he wanted to create.
There are basically two types of hydrofoil design: surface piercing and fully submerged.
The Candela has ‘fully submerged’ hydrofoils. They provide an extremely smooth ride, in part because the boat is raised well above the water and almost literally flies, with only a couple of pedestals slicing through the water and creating next-to-zero drag. The challenge is that they do not self adjust for stability as the boat moves through the water. Candela’s engineers overcame that challenge with computer software that receives and reacts to thousands of bits of data and adjusts the foils hundreds of times a second. It is an incredible technological marvel.
Surface piercing foils pierce the surface, as the name suggests, but a significant portion of the foil is always in contact with the water surface. This means that the boat can’t completely rise above the waves and the ride will never be as smooth, but the advantage is that the contact with the water makes surface piercing foils self adjusting – they don’t need the technology and associated expense of the fully submerged design.
Electric hydrofoiling skiff has aluminum hull
With he and Diane’s many links within the boat manufacturing industry, they were able to get others excited about the possibilities of a surface piercing electric hydroiling skiff, and work began on the first prototype.
The boat will be made of aluminum, due in large part to those skiff users in Texas and Florida. The shallow waters often mean travelling over oysters beds, and the razor sharp edges of oyster shells can make a mess of a fibreglass hull. Aluminum is the hull of choice, and is an increasingly popular option for all kinds of recreational boats.
For the Epoch electric hydrofoiling skiffs, the hulls are fitted with the foils – midship and near the stern – along with the mechanisms to raise and lower them. The outboard motor moves with the foils along a track on the transom to make sure the propulsion is always aligned with the ‘wings’ to create and maintain lift. The activating controls in the driver area are very similar to a power tilt and trim control.
At low speeds and in shallow water, the Epoch looks and operates identically to any other small boat, with a draft of 4 inches (10 cm). When you are ready to take off, you deploy the motor and foils, lowering them to a draft of 15″ (38 cm) and the boat automatically elevates at speed to get you up and ‘flying’.
Steering with the Epoch hydrofoiling feels the same as with any planing boat. In effect, the surface piercing foils are like a second hull operating below the main hull, but with a lower water resistance.
Very close to a similar size fossil fuel powered boat
Hydrofoiling is a great solution for one of the dilemmas of small electric boats. The smaller the boat, the more critical the issue of battery weight becomes. Getting an 14 -18 foot skiff or dinghy or ‘tin boat’ to plane requires a certain amount of speed, so a battle of physics takes place: more speed requires a larger, heavier battery but a heavier battery requires more power to attain plaining speed which requires more battery, which…
In a larger boat this isn’t as much of a problem, because the battery is a smaller percentage of the overall weight. But in a small boat, the effect of the battery weight means there is often a trade off between speed and range. Hydrofoiling helps solve that, and the simplicity of the Epoch solution makes foiling more affordable.
“People talk about the weight of batteries in boats,” says Tom, “but the reality is an ICE motor has a cast metal power head, a drive shaft, a gearbox…you put five gallons of fuel in, and you’ve got about 100 pounds (50 kg). An electric outboard might weigh 40 pounds, so even with 80 pounds of battery, we end up with only about 10 or 20 pounds (5-10 kg) of difference.”
Diane adds that most people don’t use all the fuel in their boat on a single outing. “When we look at the recreational boating industry, particularly in North America, about 70% of the customers have a use case that fits into that spot where they can transition to batteries. With the increased range at high speed provided by hydrofoiling, the Epoch is going to be very close to a similar size fossil fuel powered boat.”
When it comes to cost, the Epoch Skiff starts at $35,000 with motor and battery included. They are working with a couple of manufacturers for a range of boat/motor packages to fit the 14, 16 and 18 foot models. On the smaller version the jumping off point is a 7-12kW (10-15 HP equivalent) motor with a 5kWh battery.
If you’re interested in an Epoch, the first deliveries are planned for this year’s boating season and you can visit their website to sign up to their waitlist – no deposit required.
Exciting things are happening every day in electric boats and boating.
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