Hybrid electric boat launches on Halifax’s Northwest Arm

A unique new boat was launched Wednesday morning on Halifax’s Northwest Arm, carrying with it a smudge blessing from a Mi’kmaw elder and the hope that it can help reduce the carbon footprint of the marine industry.

The Alutasi is the first lithium-ion-powered boat approved in Canada to carry more than 12 people.

The boat is owned by Halifax’s Ambassatours and was converted from diesel to hybrid electric by Glas Ocean Electric.

“What’s significant about this boat is this carries over 12 passengers, and that’s a rating with Transport Canada that requires significantly more safety to be involved,” said Sue Molloy, CEO of Glas Ocean.

Smaller recreational electric boats do exist in Canada, but Molloy is excited about the potential for this boat. It will be used for deep-sea fishing tours offered out of Halifax harbour.

Molloy’s company chose to make the boat a hybrid with a backup diesel engine in order to balance the size and weight of the batteries with the need for space for passengers. She said the boat could be converted fully to electric if needed.

“The marine industry is risk-averse, which is understandable when you think about people going out in the ocean, and if something goes wrong,” Molloy said.

“We decided to focus on day-trippers because day-trippers tend not to go in really extreme weather. And they’re always planning to come home. So, by focusing on the day-trippers, I think it’s given us a way into the industry, to show people what the options are.”

In a partnership with Mi’kmaw artist Alan Syliboy, the boat is covered in colourful designs of ocean animals.

Alutasi, which signifies “fishing guide boat” in Mi’kmaq, received a smudge blessing from elder Dorene Bernard.

Artist Alan Syliboy and elder Dorene Bernard pose with the Alustasi at its launch on Wednesday. (Robert Short/CBC)

“Finally, we have something clean and quiet that’s going into the water. It’s almost like the canoes that have a very small footprint,” Syliboy said.

The federal and provincial governments contributed a total of slightly under $500,000 to the project, with some of that money supporting a partnership between Glas Ocean, the NSCC and the Offshore Energy Research Association.

The Alutasi has a hybrid diesel-electric engine. (Robert Short/CBC)