Future focus

The much-anticipated Pathways to Propulsion Decarbonisation for the Recreational Marine Industry Report was launched at METSTRADE, Amsterdam.

Photography by ICOMIA

23 November 2023


The Pathways to Propulsion Decarbonisation for the Recreational Marine Industry Report was commissioned by the International Council of Marine Industry Associations (ICOMIA) to investigate how the global recreational marine industry can further reduce carbon emissions.

This independent study was undertaken by the leading global engineering consulting firm Ricardo PLC and it is the most comprehensive lifecycle assessment study ever conducted within the leisure boating industry.

Decarbonisation is defined as the process of gradual reduction and/or neutralisation of the footprint from fossil fuel carbon.

Recreational boats account for less than 0.1 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, specifically 0.7 percent of transportation carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the United States and 0.4 percent of transportation CO2 emissions in Europe.

For context, 46 percent of emissions are generated by powering homes and industry, and 14 percent of emissions are generated by global transportation.


In the past two decades, the US recreational marine industry alone has decreased marine engine emissions by more than 90 percent and increased fuel efficiency by more than 40 percent, and it isn’t slowing down.

Beyond this progress, the global recreational marine industry remains committed to leading conservation efforts that protect the natural marine environment and identifying ways to expand its collective efforts.

“Our love for boating is fundamentally reliant on a healthy and sustainable marine environment, and we must take care of it to ensure the experiences boating provides can be enjoyed for generations to come,” said Darren Vaux, president of ICOMIA.

“For the first time, we’ve united the global recreational marine industry around our most comprehensive, peer-reviewed research to explore opportunities that could reduce recreational boats’ carbon emissions, giving us the data to begin educating policy makers, our stakeholder community and boaters on the varied decarbonisation solutions unique to our industry.

“This new research provides guidance on the focus for the innovations we can begin exploring today to create a better boating experience that reduces our environmental footprint.”

The Pathways to Decarbonisation for the Recreational Marine Industry Report investigated propulsion technologies across nine common recreational watercraft to compare the impact of lifetime GHG emissions, financial costs, usability, performance, range and infrastructure implications.

The propulsion technologies investigated included:

    • Battery electric (electric-powered boats and watercraft)
    • Hybrid electric (internal combustion engines using liquid fuel and electric)
    • Hydrogen (internal combustion engines or fuel cell)
    • Internal combustion engines with sustainable marine fuels (sustainably produced liquid substitute for conventional fossil fuel)
    • Internal combustion engines with gasoline or diesel.

Unique demands

Recreational boats are considerably different than most other transportation sectors, including automotive (on-road vehicles). Unlike automobiles, which are relied on to get from point A to B, recreational boats are used for leisure and vary significantly in not only how, but how often, they are used (eg many gasoline-powered recreational boats are operated an average of 35 to 48 hours per year).

The research also looked at the impact on cost of ownership based on propulsion technology, and compared to boats on the water today, increases in cost of ownership ranging from 5 percent to 250 percent are expected until alternatives achieve market scale.

Due to the diversity of the types of boats in use and the varied experiences sought by boating consumers from fishing to watersports to cruising, the research shows there is no universal, one-size-fits-all approach to decarbonise recreational boats. As a result, in addition to current internal combustion and fossil fuel-powered boats, the industry must consider a portfolio of technologies, including the following.


Sustainable liquid marine fuels

Sustainable liquid marine fuels, such as renewable drop-in fuels, are expected to be the most suitable source of energy to decarbonise recreational boats by 2035 – by as much as 90 percent – without compromising the distance a boat can travel or its performance.

Of the approximately 30 million recreational boats in use worldwide, with an average total lifecycle of 40 to 50 years and global annual sales making up approximately 2 percent of the size of the current market, there is great potential for increased decarbonisation of recreational boats with immediate, widespread adoption of sustainable marine fuels.



Hydrogen is an emerging technology and another potential source for reducing carbon emissions from boats, as long as its production process is optimised. Hydrogen, if produced via electrolysis with zero fossil fuel electricity, can reduce carbon emissions for certain craft categories.


Electric propulsion

E-propulsion is part of the strategy to decarbonise, however, it is not universally suitable for all types of recreational craft and use cases. Electric-only propulsion may have a higher GHG contribution from raw materials and manufacturing than conventional propulsion systems.

Watercraft types with lower utilisation are unlikely to find that battery electric systems yield a reduction in GHG compared to the baseline internal combustion engine. It is important to note that this study considers both battery lifetime in years and recharging cycles as battery performance is expected to degrade over time regardless of utilisation.

This could impact watercraft that have a long life span but are not frequently utilised as it may require several battery replacements throughout its lifetime.



Boats that use both electric and internal combustion engines powered by liquid fuels offer the potential for reducing carbon emissions from boats in certain scenarios—namely boats used for longer periods of time and for greater distances.

As a result, hybrid technology provides the most potential for emissions reductions for boats that are used for rentals and other high-use environments.


Path forward

This new research paves the way for the recreational boating industry to begin educating global governments and boating industry stakeholders on the technologies and policies needed to further reduce carbon emissions.

Key next steps the industry is seeking include:

    • The adoption of a technology-neutral decarbonisation approach for marine environments.
    • An acceleration of the development and distribution of sustainable marine fuels and consumer education campaigns that support the adoption of these new fuels.
    • Consumer safety and government entities partnering with the recreational marine industry to establish marine electric technology standards and consumer safety protocols.
    • An expansion of R&D tax credits and investments to improve electric battery density and hydrogen research that can be applied to the marine environment.
    • Continued research to evaluate existing and emerging technologies and how to best apply them to the unique marine environment.

“Despite our progress over the past two decades, our industry recognises and embraces the challenges and opportunities to create a sustainable future for recreational boating. We are excited to support and encourage the latest innovations to create a better boating experience,” Vaux continued.

“Sustainable marine fuels allow boaters to act now while the industry continues innovating and investing in new technologies that push the boundaries of what’s possible.

“Through this research and a global education campaign, we’re uniting the recreational marine industry around a portfolio of solutions that creates positive change through multiple pathways and a framework to collectively move our industry forward.”

To support the report findings, ICOMIA, on behalf of the global recreational marine industry, has launched Propelling Our Future, an international campaign to educate and advance the industry on research-driven technology solutions.

To learn more and to download a summary of the full report, visit propellingourfuture.com.

The Boating Industry Association (BIA) has joined with the Queensland State Development Group to deliver a series of industry briefings in the Sunshine State on the study.

BIA CEO Andrew Scott said the report was a significant event for the industry. “BIA is a member of ICOMIA and holds key roles on its Sustainability Committee, and we support informed discussions.

“The BIA welcomes the opportunity to host what will be some of the first industry briefings in the world on this report. BIA also acknowledges the support from the Queensland Government to deliver industry briefings at the Gold Coast, Brisbane, Mackay and Cairns.”

Industry and media are invited to connect with like-minded professionals and leaders to share insights, experiences, and ideas on how we can collectively reduce our environmental impact and champion a more sustainable boating future.

Briefings are being held as follows:

    • 27 November: 3–5 pm – Coomera, TAFE
    • 28 Nov, 3–5 pm – Brisbane, Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron
    • 29 Nov, 3–5 pm – Mackay, Mantra at the Marina
    • 30 Nov, 4–6 pm – Cairns, Cruising Yacht Squadron.

To RSVP, please register your attendance by reply email to info@bia.org.au. BIA will produce a webinar of the briefings to share the findings with industry and stakeholders nationwide after the series of events concludes.

The boating economy generates significant benefits. The BIA reports industry national turnover of AUD$9.64 billion, directly employed more than 25,000 people with more than 7,000 contractors, with 75 percent in small family businesses, employing local workers and supporting local communities. The global industry is estimated to have an annual turnover of $400 billion.

Download the full Pathways to Propulsion Decarbonisation for the Recreational Marine Industry Report here.



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