Michigan Announces Program to Electrify Watercraft and Marinas

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has announced the creation of the Fresh Coast Maritime Challenge, a first-of-its-kind program in the United States designed to put Michigan at the forefront of future-proofing sustainable maritime transportation.
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electric-powered boat
Michigan’s Fresh Coast Maritime Challenge is part of the state’s efforts to help bring EV tech to recreational boating. // Photo courtesy of Elk Rapids Marina

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has announced the creation of the Fresh Coast Maritime Challenge, a first-of-its-kind program in the United States designed to put Michigan at the forefront of future-proofing sustainable maritime transportation.

The initiative includes recreational boating activities, marina innovation, as well as commercial activities on the Great Lakes.

The Fresh Coast Maritime Challenge is designed to offer commercial enterprises of all sizes a sustainable, cost-effective, and efficient means of transitioning watercraft from diesel to electric power. Its ongoing development will offer a growing network of shore-side charging facilities for clean-fueled marine vessels and electric passenger vehicles operating on the Great Lakes.

The initial phase of funding will focus on the northwest Michigan corridor, between Frankfort and Mackinac Island, a route known as “the boating capital of the Midwest” that offers a concentration of accessibility to recreational boating — making the area ideal for the early adoption of new technologies.

The challenge establishes a dedicated grant program that allows companies to apply for assistance that will support the decarbonization and electrification of both marinas and watercraft across the state.

The goal is for the infrastructure created through the Fresh Coast Maritime Challenge is to enable continued growth and innovation in Michigan’s mobility industry, deliver economic benefits, and create a blueprint that can be adapted to fit ports and harbors across North America.

“The Fresh Coast Maritime Challenge represents the intersection of mobility, outdoor recreation, and economic development and will create wide-reaching benefits across the entire state of Michigan,” says Whitmer. “This challenge will serve to modernize one of the most prevalent methods of mobility in Michigan while supporting sustainable marinas and commercial watercraft and protecting the beauty of our Great Lakes for generations to come.”

As part of the Fresh Coast Maritime Challenge, the Michigan Economic Development Corp.’s (MEDC) Office of Future Mobility and Electrification (OFME) has partnered with Traverse Connect to identify grant recipients and facilitate the distribution of grant funds, which will provide support for resources that align with the goals of the region.

Additional partners for the initiative include the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE); the Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“Our vision for the Grand Traverse region is to be the epicenter for the new electric boating industry – from hosting development and manufacturing of watercraft and charging stations to serving as the hub of a fully-functioning corridor for recreational and commercial boat traffic,” says Warren Call, president and CEO of Traverse Connect. “Electrification of the marine industry is at the heart of our growing Blue Economy, which will further diversify and grow our larger economic ecosystem”.

The electrification of some of Michigan’s waterways is already underway in northern Michigan, with the support of local, state, and federal partners. Key developments include the deployment of an AQUA superpower rapid charger at Elk Rapids Marina. AQUA superpower is the first fully marinized dockside network of fast chargers for electric boats with a supercharger specifically engineered and rated for use in marine environments to charge electric boats.

Additionally, projects include the first-ever conversion of a Mackinac Island passenger ferry to zero-emission electric power by the Mackinac Island Ferry Company (MIFC), and state and federal funding to upgrade the Beaver Island Ferry to be more efficient, reliable, and environmentally friendly.

“Our Great Lakes are an integral part of Michigan’s mobility ecosystem, which is why it is critical that we continue to prioritize the development of sustainable, accessible mobility solutions past just our roads,” says Kathryn Snorrason, interim chief mobility officer for the state of Michigan.

Long term, the development and implementation of the Fresh Coast Maritime Challenge is also meant to deepen the pipeline for career opportunities specific to maritime mobility.

Visit here to apply for grant assistance through the Michigan Mobility Funding Platform.