I'm on a Boat: Solar Powered Recycled Plastic Boats Tour the Canals of Copenhagen

CC BY 2.0. Lloyd Alter/ goboats in Copenhagen

This is the kind of feel-good story that we don't hear much anymore: a business concept designed from the ground up around sustainability. The GoBoat is a plastic boat made from recycled bottles. It's designed by Carl Kai Rand for comfort, conversation and safety, being basically a floating picnic table with seating for ten people. It's filled with enough floatation to be unsinkable, is carefully designed with no sharp edges or corners and with a self-bailing cockpit to be almost idiot-proof.

boats at dock

Lloyd Alter/ goboats at dock/CC BY 2.0

The table, and the Goboat terminal, are made from Kebony, an alternative to tropical woods like teak or pressure treated wood that's full of chemicals; Kebony uses heat and pressure to bond furfuryl alcohol into the cell structure of the wood. The result looked much like old grey teak.

torqeedo engine

Lloyd Alter/ Torqeedo engine/CC BY 2.0

The boat is an interesting design optimized for comfort and sociability rather than speed. It's powered by an 8 horsepower Torqeedo electric outboard motor that's actually been downtuned so that users are less likely to get into trouble. I tested a Torqeedo a few years ago and thought it was no competition for a gas outboard, but this unit has oomph, easily capable of pushing a 280 Kilo boat with a box full of batteries and six people. They are expensive, twice the price of gas engines of comparable power, but even so-called green outboards still pollute the water and air and on a pristine lake, that makes a difference. On a rental Goboat, the dependability and ease of use make a huge difference.

Goboat terminal

Goboat terminal/ Wikipedia/CC BY 2.0

The batteries are charged from solar panels on the roof of the Goboat terminal, a lovely building where you can buy organic food and wine for your floating picnic.

Boat full of people

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

I was surprised by the casual way Goboat just tossed us in and sent us on our way, perhaps because we were a specially arranged group tour for media attending the INDEX awards. In America we would have all signed waivers and been forced to wear PFDs, and they certainly would not be selling bottles of organic wine. So there was a glorious freedom to all this, like there used to be where I live before they made boats abide by the same rules as cars when it comes to open alcohol.

Goboat and bridge

Lloyd Alter/ approaching bridge/CC BY 2.0

Even though the boats are slow and designed so that it is really hard to screw up, it still requires a bit of skill. Ferries kick up big waves; bridges are very low and you have to duck; the goboats have to give right of way to the canal tour boats and sometimes, in a narrow canal, this is not easy. But Pietro of Designboom and I managed to make our way through without hitting anything but the base of Olafur Eliasson's new Circle Bridge, doing damage to neither boat nor bridge.

Goboats in channel

Lloyd Alter/ goboats in canal/CC BY 2.0

It was a lovely ride, slow so you can see the sights, convivial, and when I think of all the giant gas guzzler boats and the Sea-doos that churn up our lakes, I admire a concept that is made from pop bottles and sustainable wood while running on sunshine. Now that was good green fun.