Technology

Vancouver’s iconic Aquabus adds electric boat to fleet

‘I’ve always wanted to do this,’ says Aquabus owner Geoff Pratt, who plans to electrify more of the fleet eventually.

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Vancouver’s Aquabus, the colorful little False Creek boat that ferries residents and tourists to popular destinations like Science World and Granville Island, is going electric.

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Geoff Pratt, the owner of the family run business, describes himself as a bit of a gear head who is excited to ditch the diesel and eventually transform all the boats to electric.

However, that will take time, especially with the larger Cyquabus platform boats.

For now, the family has already switched over one of its smaller, 12-passenger wooden boats from 1985, and the result has been fantastic, he said.

“It actually is very comfortable and quiet. So we are happy with the outcome,” said Pratt, adding: “I’ve always wanted to do this.”

Vancouver Aquabus has switched one of its older wooden boats to electric from diesel.  Photo credit: Edwin Poulston.
Vancouver Aquabus has switched one of its older wooden boats to electric from diesel. Photo credit: Edwin Poulston. Photo by EDWIN POULSTON /.jpg

In fact, he did try to go electric about 10 years ago but the technology just wasn’t the same as it is now.

“I spent a lot of money and we put a system in but all the controllers would break,” he said. “Marine environments are the toughest because of the saltwater, and the systems just weren’t ready for it yet.”

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He said batteries used to be very heavy and now they’re much lighter, while the charge lasts much longer. Pratt estimated the boat could be out on False Creek for five or six hours before needing to be charged.

Pratt said it’s expensive to retrofit the boats but as the technology keeps changing it should become more cost effective, and although he hasn’t yet crunched the numbers he is banking on an eventual cost savings in fuel and engine repair.

“You’re taking out a handful of things that you don’t have to maintain anymore. Like there’s no transmission in the electric system. It’s just reverse and forward,” he said.

“I love mechanical stuff. So for me this project was fantastic.”

Pratt, 62, said his son and daughter also work for the business and he is excited for them to have a transition to an all-electric fleet in the future — not that he’s planning on retiring any time soon.

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Vancouver Aquabus has switched one of its older wooden boats to electric from diesel.  Photo credit: Edwin Poulston.
Vancouver Aquabus has switched one of its older wooden boats to electric from diesel. Photo credit: Edwin Poulston. Photo by Edwin Poulston /.jpg
Vancouver Aquabus has switched one of its older wooden boats to electric from diesel.  Photo credit: Edwin Poulston.
Vancouver Aquabus has switched one of its older wooden boats to electric from diesel. Photo credit: Edwin Poulston. Photo by EDWIN POULSTON /.jpg

Aquabus been serving False Creek and the surrounding area since its inception in June 1985 by owners Jeff and Margot Pratt, who initially operated just one boat. They quickly added three more boats just in time for Expo 86.

In 1995, they added the first Cyquabus, a boat able to carry bicycles, strollers and wheelchairs. They now have a fleet of 14 vessels, eight of which are Cyquabusses.

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