Industry vets create 14- to 18-foot electric skiffs

With a patent-pending retractable system that deploys at high speed, the new electric hydrofoil skiffs from vintage 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 maker of telescopic boat shades. Tom was the director of engineering and Diane the director of marketing – she was selected from the ‘25 women making waves‘ in 2020. Both are boaters who enjoy being on the water and connecting with nature. This is what brought them to electric boats.

“Cleaner water when I was growing up”

“I grew up sailing and rowing, and I think anyone who spends their whole life on the water has 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 in my life is that the water was cleaner when I was little. Now there are more boats, two-strokes, boats smoking on the boat ramps, more oil slicks…and it started to weigh on me.

“The other thing is that in a previous job I was responsible for the maintenance of the four test boats in our company’s fleet, all internal combustion engine boats. Between carburetor rebuilds, new wheels, oil changes and all that, it once occurred to me that electric has to be better.

“So I went out and bought myself an electric boat. It’s a great little unit, 14ft aluminum, with a 6lb trolling motor. Perfect for fishing, lounging on the lake…but it doesn’t have the speed to get your heart pumping!”

“I looked around for more capable electric boats, but they were just 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 fishing, but also have a little zip available to get in and out of quickly, or just for the sheer pleasure of going fast.

Application for small electric boat with speed

That’s where Diane’s marketing experience comes in. “As Tom started to share his thoughts with me, I knew from all the work and client research I’ve done over the years, that he was not the only one interested in this type of boat.”

“We started talking about use cases, and the first one that came to mind was someone with a skiff-style boat – small, light, flat-bottomed…they’re very popular for fishing on the coast of Texas and Florida, where there is a lot of shallow water.”

Diane Seltzer of electric hydrofoil skiff company Epoch“Thinking about it further, we realized that there is a whole base of people who want an electric boat with some speed, but it also needs to fit into their leisure budget. They might be looking for a fun simple day boat, a dinghy or a yacht tender or a fishing boat for any lake, not just shallow water situations We are in Pennsylvania, where almost half of our waterways – 47% – are exclusively electric.

So they decided to take the plunge and start an electric boat company, calling it “Epoch” because the word means “the beginning of a particular period in the history of something”.

Tom has an immense knowledge of boat mechanics – he sits on the Technical Board of the ABYC (American Boat and Yacht Council) – and knew the hydrofoil would give a skiff the best option for combining speed and battery life.

Surface drilling vs fully submerged hydrofoils

When it comes to electric hydrofoil boats, the Candle 8 is recognized worldwide as the gold standard, and Tom is not the only one who greatly appreciates its technology and performance. But it’s an 8-meter/27-foot outboard with a totally different use than Epoch envisioned, and Tom knew Candela-style technology wouldn’t be practical for the electric hydrofoil skiff he wanted to create.

Read: All about the Candela 8 with the new C-POD engine

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 sits high above the water and almost literally flies, with only a few pedestals cutting through the water and creating near-zero drag. The challenge is that they don’t automatically adjust for stability as the boat moves through the water. Candela engineers overcame this challenge with computer software that receives and reacts to thousands of bits of data and adjusts the sheets hundreds of times per second. It is an incredible technological marvel.

surface puncture diagram vs fully submerged sheets

Surface piercing foils pierce the surface, as the name suggests, but a significant portion of the foil is still in contact with the water surface. This means that the boat cannot completely rise above the waves and the ride will never be so smooth, but the advantage is that contact with the water makes the surface piercing foils self-adjusting – they don’t need the technology and associated expense of fully submerged design.

Aluminum Hull Electric Hydrofoil Skiff

Thanks to Diane and he’s many connections within the boat building industry, they were able to interest others in the possibilities of a surface-piercing hydroelectric skiff, and work began on the first prototype.

The boat will be aluminum, thanks in large part to skiff users in Texas and Florida. Shallow water often means traveling over oyster beds, and the sharp edges of oyster shells can mar a fiberglass hull. Aluminum is the hull of choice and is an increasingly popular option for all types of pleasure craft.

For Epoch electric hydrofoil skiffs, the hulls are fitted with the foils – amidships and near the stern – as well as mechanisms to raise and lower them. The outboard motor moves with the foils along a track on the transom to ensure the propulsion is always aligned with the “wings” to create and maintain lift. The activation controls in the driver’s area are very similar to a power trim and tilt control.

animated gif of an electric hydrofoil skiff showing foils and engine raising and lowering

At low speeds and in shallow water, the Epoch looks and performs the same as any other small boat, with a draft of 4 inches (10 cm). When you’re ready to take off, you deploy the motor and foils, lowering them to a draft of 15″ (38cm) and the boat automatically rises at high speed to get you up and “flying”.

Piloting with the Epoch hydrofoil is the same as with any planing boat. Indeed, surface piercing foils are like a second hull working under the main hull, but with lower water resistance.

Very close to a similar sized fossil fuel boat

The hydrofoil is a great solution to one of the dilemmas of small electric boats. The smaller the boat, the more critical the battery weight issue becomes. Gliding a 14-18 foot skiff, dinghy or “sheet metal boat” requires some speed, so a physics battle takes place: more speed requires a bigger and heavier battery, but a heavier battery requires more power to reach plain speed which requires more battery, which…

In a larger boat this is not really a problem, as the battery is a smaller percentage of the total weight. But in a small boat, the effect of battery weight means there is often a trade-off between speed and range. The hydrofoil helps solve this problem, and the simplicity of the Epoch solution makes the foil more affordable.

Shallow water electric hydrofoil skiff with retracted foils

“People talk about the weight of batteries in boats,” says Tom, “but the reality is that an ICE engine has a cast metal powerhead, drive shaft, gearbox… you put five gallons of fuel, and you have about 100 pounds (50 kg) An electric outboard can weigh 40 pounds, so even with 80 pounds of battery we end up with only 10 or 20 pounds (5-10 kg) difference .

Diane adds that most people don’t use all their boat’s fuel in one trip. “When we look at the recreational boating industry, particularly in North America, about 70% of customers have a use case that is where they can switch to batteries. With the increased high-speed range provided by the hydrofoil, the Epoch will be very close to a similarly sized fossil-fuel boat.

As for cost, the Epoch Skiff starts at $35,000 with motor and battery included. They work with a few manufacturers for a range of boat/motor combinations suitable for 14, 16 and 18 foot models. On the smaller version, the starting point is a 7 to 12 kW (10 to 15 HP equivalent) motor with a 5 kWh battery.

If you are interested in an Epoch, the first deliveries are scheduled for this year’s boating season and you can visit their website for join their waiting list – no deposit required.

Exciting things are happening every day in electric boats and boating.
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