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Brian Whipkey, Erie Times-News
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is looking to update its boat motor regulations in response to advancements being made in the industry.
Laurel Anders, director of boating, said electric motors in some cases are more powerful than when the regulations were first created and there are new types of watercraft using the waters.
From eFoils to outboard-sized motors powered by electricity, the agency is seeing a lot more variety of watercraft on lakes that are meant for slow, no-wake vessels.
She said the electric motor regulation was made to reduce noise, reduce excessive wakes, shoreline erosion and property damage that can come from wakes and also reduce the risk of petroleum-based pollution on certain water bodies.
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“Now there is this new (technology) that can do things that are above and beyond what that regulation intended. However, it still meets the letter of the law about being an electric device,” she said.
Newer electric motors are offered in larger power sizes than what’s traditionally been available with trolling motors.
Recent technological advancements with battery-powered electric boat motors have produced up to 180 horsepower and propel watercraft up to 60 mph. While these new units are expensive and have limited battery capacity, she anticipates they will become more affordable and widely available in the future.
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A quick online search reveals an electric outboard motor that’s the equivalent of a 50 hp gas motor sells for $8,999. The recommended deep cycle battery pack for it costs $5,352 and the charger is an additional $895.
“They are very high priced at this time, so they are limited in availability and limited by the number of people who can afford them,” Anders said. “We don’t want boaters to invest in these new and exciting technologies and be operating in a way that’s inconsistent with what’s intended by electric motors only.”
The technology is welcome on lakes that have equivalent wake regulations regarding gasoline motors.
To be proactive about the electric motor-only waters, the boat advisory board approved an amendment for the Fish and Boat Commission’s board to review and consider at its July 25-26 meeting.
It reads “Boats propelled by electric motors on commission owned or controlled lakes, State park lakes and water bodies specified in Chapter 111 shall not be operated at greater than slow, no-wake speed.”
Another recommendation being considered involves waterways that have regulations limiting outboard motors on such as waters to 10 or 20 hp. The advisory board would like the regulations to include the following wording: “On waters where horsepower limitations are prescribed, as set forth in Chapter 111 (relating to special regulations counties), [boats with motors larger than the maximum horsepower shall be permitted but the motors may not be used] the use of internal combustion motors in excess of the prescribed horsepower limitation is prohibited.”
With this change, boaters wouldn’t need to remove a large gas motor that’s on their vessel for waters listed in Chapter 111 if they have a separate motor to use that is under the horsepower guidelines.
Anders said the recommendation keeps the intention of the existing regulations in place.
“That puts everybody on an even playing field. No matter how big your electric motor is or how small it is, you may not operate at a greater than a slow, no-wake speed.”
She said the change will preserve the intentions of the original regulation by keeping noise and wakes down, minimizes the chances of shoreline erosion made by wakes and reduces the risk of petroleum-based pollution.
Regulations will remain in place for waterways that are used as public drinking water supplies and do not allow gas motors to be on a boat.
If the proposed wording changes are approved by the agency’s board, the matter would enter into the proposed rulemaking process.
“We really do encourage boaters to take a look at our proposed rulemaking and to make comments. The board of commissioners appreciates it, I appreciate it,” Anders said. “We want to know if our regulations are easy enough to understand, do people have concerns or questions about how to comply with them. How is it impacting our boaters in Pennsylvania? We really do encourage public comments.”
If approved at the July meeting, the board could have a final vote at its October meeting. The earliest the change would take effect is January.
Brian Whipkey is the outdoors columnist for USA TODAY Network sites in Pennsylvania. Contact him at [email protected] and sign up for our weekly Go Outdoors PA newsletter email on your website’s homepage under your login name. Follow him on social media @whipkeyoutdoors.