Ottawa Boat Cruise introduces second electric boat on canal, plans to ‘green’ entire fleet

Ottawa Boat Cruise has launched its second all-electric passenger vessel on the Rideau Canal and plans to convert its entire National Capital Region fleet by 2026. 

The new 100-passenger boat, named The Colonel By Drive, arrived on the Rideau Canal Thursday. Its first electric vessel, The Queen Elizabeth Drive, has been sailing the canal since 2016. 

“Our goal is to cut all emissions for our operations by 2026 and to make the National Capital Region a world leader in green tourism,” said Robert Taillefer, CEO of Ottawa Boat Cruise, in a news release. “As one of the region’s most important tourism attractions, with hundreds of thousands of guests each year, we feel it is incumbent upon us to innovate and ensure our operations are not contributing to climate change.”

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The company also announced that it has created a sustainability arm, EKEAU (“eco”), as part of efforts to make its operations more green. Its goal will be to make the region into “one of Canada’s greenest tourism destinations.”

The vessels are designed and manufactured locally in-house, according to Taillefer. The company is one of the only in Canada to do so for large passenger vessels. 

That’s created plenty of challenges. 

“We’re proud to say that the technology has evolved over the years,” Taillefer told OBJ. “But there’s a lot of challenges now with finding suitable systems for charging and other materials suitable for passenger ships.”

Because much of the technology needed to design an electric passenger ship is new, he said there were also plenty of hurdles in the approval process. 

“We’re a bit ahead of the learning curve, so people at Transport Canada really had to certify everything to make sure it’s up to par and safe for passengers,” Taillefer said. “Safety is something we don’t take lightly. It took over three years to get all the approvals.”

Still, he said the process was a success. 

The new electric vessel has 18 hours of range, an achievement Taillefer calls incredible: “Just in five or six years, the technology has evolved so much that we’re doubling the range we had in our first vessel.”

The end result is a quieter, cleaner experience for passengers and a significant reduction in the carbon footprint.

“If you’ve been in a diesel ship before, you know there’s noise pollution, visual pollution and the smell,” said Taillefer. “You get a chance to come to our ship, you can’t hear the engine; there’s no vibration or smell.” 

Over the next three years, Ottawa Boat Cruise will work to transition the rest of its remaining diesel-powered fleet to electric, with the goal of cutting all operational emissions once complete. 

The company received $3.2 million from the Quebec government to support the project, which will include introducing a first-of-its-kind electric amphibus to the region in summer 2024, as well as replacing the classic Paula D ship on the Ottawa River with an electric 500-passenger catamaran in 2025. 

The company is also exploring the possibility of building eco-friendly waterfront patios.

“This announcement (of the Ottawa Boat Cruise’s new branch EKEAU) comes at a very opportune time for the nation’s capital,” said National Capital Commission CEO Tobi Nussbaum in a news release. “The NCC is reimagining ways to reconnect to the historic river culture that once defined the capital, to allow visitors and residents greater access to shoreline amenities.”

Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe also congratulated the company on the announcement. 

“I applaud you and your team’s dedication in developing a committed solution to reducing your vessels’ environmental impact on our waterways,” he said. “Change comes when actions match words.”

Ottawa Boat Cruise has operated in Ottawa for 45 years, offering cruises of the Ottawa River and the Rideau Canal. The company has a 42-year lease of the Rideau Canal with Parks Canada.

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