Riding the waves low-noise and emissions-free – a perfect day out on the water: Start-up Greenboatsolutions helps boat owners convert to electric engines

27. August 2019

Riding the waves low-noise and emissions-free – a perfect day out on the water

Start-up Greenboatsolutions helps boat owners convert to electric engines

Johann Gocht, Elias Kerlinski © WISTA Management GmbH

Johann Gocht (left) and Elias Kerlinski on the Dahme in Berlin-Grünau © WISTA Management GmbH

Electric cars, bikes and scooters: out on the streets, the electrification of transportation is well underway. But how about on the water? Germany has more than 500,000 boats on inland waters and in coastal areas. Most of them still run on combustion engines. The three Berliners, Johann Gocht, Paul Wagner, and Elias Kerlinski, are bent on changing this. Through the waves and into the harbour, low-noise and emissions-free – electric engines could be a game changer for boating enthusiasts. However, especially for amateurs, the transition is complex, time-consuming, and still very costly. What is the best engine for my boat? Which battery is best for my engine? The three entrepreneurs developed Greenboatsolutions, a website aimed at helping boat owners to make the transition to clean boating.

Electric car ferries, water taxis with low-noise electric engines, or freighters that use sun and wind to power their motors – maritime electric mobility is not a thing of the future. Many in the shipping industry are working on concepts aiming to reduce maritime fuel consumption and ship emissions.

Amateur sailors, too, are looking for alternative engines. However, e-mobility out on the water can be challenging. According to the Bundesverband Wassersportwirtschaft, the German association for the water sports industry, electric boat engines are still a niche product. The market share for electric outboard motors is under 3 percent. This is curious considering ships on inland waterways have been using electric engines for quite some time. The world’s first electric boat drove across the canals of St. Petersburg as early as 1839. The retrofitted rowing boat travelled at a leisurely 2.5 kilometres per hour and carried a dozen passengers. Fifty years later, Siemens developed the ‘Elektra’, which carried 25 passengers at 25 kilometres per hour across the Spree river.

‘Why don’t we do better at protecting the environment on water?’ asks Johann Gocht, who is the start-up’s numbers cruncher and responsible for marketing. He originally completed a banking apprenticeship through a dual study programme. ‘I always thought, I would work at a bank until I retire,’ says the 22-year-old. Paul Wagner, who is currently studying technical informatics and is responsible for the website’s design and coding, always wanted to have his own business. The idea of working for a large company was ‘scary’ to him. Elias Kerlinski is a fresh-out-of-uni industrial engineer and in charge of all the technical aspects of their business.

They have been friends since 5th grade and spent every waking hour out on the water where Wagner’s parents lived. Many boats passed their house. It seemed increasingly paradoxical to them to go down the path to more nature, more peace, and flora and fauna powered by a smelly and noisy combustion engine. Their first self-designed float – made of barrels with a chassis made of scrap metal – also had a smelly two-stroke engine, which was ‘so loud you could hardly talk to each other,’ says Wagner. They all agreed they could do better and started tinkering on a modern, sustainable, and electric alternative. ‘A perfect day out on the water, that was our mission,’ says Wagner, ‘in terms of design and sustainability.’ After working on their prototype for over a year, they took sixth place out of 160 and completed the first stage of Berlin’s Business Plan Competition. Their idea won a Berlin Senate start-up grant, which led them to Adlershof, namely the Adlershof Founder’s Lab and the site’s co-working space.

While searching for ideal components and equipment for their own electric float, the three business founders had a second idea with an even greater impact. They set out to pool the knowledge, which they had accumulated in the course of their own research, having contacted numerous manufacturers and retailers, and share it with other boat owners bent on ‘electrifying’ their vessels. The result was Greenboatsolutions, an independent, digital support platform with a shopping option for select components.

‘We kick off by asking boat owners some specific questions. Their responses result in concrete recommendations, which can be easily compared with each other,’ says Elias Kerlinski. Simple questions – e.g., ‘How large is the boat?’, ‘What range should it have?’, ‘Inland waters or salt water?’, ‘What type of engine?’ – guide the user through the jungle of parameters, components, and vendors. ‘Input, comparison, solution – with all advantages and disadvantages,’ says Wagner, ‘the search shouldn’t take longer than five minutes.’

The platform is ready, says Gocht, but they are looking for a business angel ‘to scale up’ their business. Why has nobody had this idea before? ‘The boating industry,’ says Wagner with a smile, ‘is not known to be terribly digital.’

Despite the hot temperatures, the three business founders are not out on the water much. ‘We spend seven days a week at the office.’

By Rico Bigelmann for Adlershof Journal