The Loon solar-assisted electric pontoonboat
May 24, 2006 “Exhausting hydrocarbons directly into your own lake isn’t much different from urinating in your family room”, states Monte Gisborne. “We need sensible options if we want to leave something for future generations to enjoy… and I believe that water and electricity do mix!” Monte backed up the talk by building a solar-assisted electric pontoonboat and took his family for a 100 mile, 6-day trip down Ontario’s historic Trent-Severn Waterway to evaluate it. Now he’s developed a commercial version called the Loon for sale to environmentally-conscious boaters around the world. The Loon emits no noise and no emissions and carries up to eight passengers in comfort.
“I designed the Loon to address a number of areas lacking in conventional boats, making the Loon the ideal craft to enjoy the natural splendour of Ontario’s lakes and inland waterways” stated its inventor and boat builder, Monte Gisborne, president of the company which is now building these boats for retail sale. “Everything from the seating arrangement to pontoon design to the propulsion system was designed to minimize man’s impact on the ecosystem while maximizing enjoyment on the water”. The result is a boat which probably won’t satisfy the go-fast waterskiing crowd, but should attract a lot of attention from people who enjoy a more relaxing ride, particularly the baby boomers. The chosen hull is the aluminum pontoon deck boat, the most popular style of boat today with North America’s aging population.
A prototype boat was built and tested last summer to determine the viability of solar-powered boats. A trip down the Trent-Severn Waterway was completed in August; Gisborne felt so confident in his invention that the family came along for the ride. He summarized that trip “Miles traveled: over 100. Cost of fuel: zero. Reaction from boaters who never expected such a boat to make the trip: priceless”. The results of this trip encouraged Gisborne to bring the product to the market. Some timely seed capital was raised and a suitable production facility at Starport Landing Marina on Lake Simcoe was discovered. After months of further development work, the first production boat was completed, with many improvements over the original prototype.
The sale of the first boat came as a bit of a surprise to Mr. Gisborne; the call didn’t come from a Toronto cottager, but from Belize, Central America. An entrepreneur from there wanted to take people on guided tours to see the indigenous species of Howling Monkey, but found out that only zero-emission boats were permitted. “Gas boats were not allowed so I began to search out options. The Loon seemed perfectly suited to my needs so I contacted Mr. Gisborne” stated Byron Chu, president of Maya World Promotion Ltd. Further research on commercially-available solar-powered boats yielded higher-priced and less-capable vessels from abroad, so Mr. Chu put in his order for a Loon, which he will take delivery of this month.
With the price of gas like it was after Katrina ($1.90 per litre at marinas) and the detrimental effects of internal combustion, people are becoming more sensitive to the issue of burning fuel purely for pleasure, believes Gisborne. My primary interest is to work directly with the end-customers, not through dealers. I have done a fair bit of work with resorts and camps and have taken regular pontoon boats and fitted them with electric components to create an electric passenger ferry.
“ I am patterning my company on innovation in the recreational travel sector, however, with an obvious focus on the environment. As such, I have no interest in moving people faster or in a non-sustainable way, therefore the speed thrills/jet ski crowd won't be interested in my products ever. All of the products and ideas I have developed including my electric snowmobile are zero-emission.
“My primary market is the eco-tourism set, along with the baby-boomers who prefer to travel at a slower speed. As far as the Loon goes, my intention is to further develop it as an enclosed boat with roll-up fabric sides to enable people to overnight in it in comfort. This would give it the full functionality it is capable of, to be used as a cruiser to take families on eco-vacations along extended waterways for many days. I have also seen some demand for a larger Loon, capable of carrying more people for day-trip excursions, and may make efforts to develop such a boat which I would call "The Osprey".”
Technologically, our main focus is in innovative design, rather than developing new technologies, since I believe that the planet is better served by introducing creative options based on existing technology today, rather than 30 years from now. The electric motor and a conventional battery, combined with a supplemental source of energy such as a solar panel, makes a fine propulsion system for a boat and spending billions tosqueeze an extra percent better efficiency is pointless in my opinion.”
“I just decided that since the bigger companies missed the point in bringing such a product to market, using current available technology, then I would capitalize on this and thus the Loon was borne. I took my family on a 6-day excursion down the Trent-Severn Waterway last summer in my prototype model Loon and was so completely taken by the experience and the capability of my boat that I decided to make it available to others. The response so far is excellent and I have exceeded my planned first-year production in booked orders to date.
Gisborne is seeking a manufacturing partner as well as potential investors. “Our biggest challenge right now is to manage growth as best we can since I have personally financed it to date.” He can be reached at the company web site or via email.