A solar-powered boat for purchase or hire has been designed by an innovative Ai Group member that recently scooped a prestigious award for manufacturing excellence. 

Linked Group Services, which operates a 100 per cent off-grid commercial and manufacturing complex in Mackay, has created a prototype for a pleasure craft that requires no fuel, servicing or boat licence. 

“As far as we know, it’s an Australian first,” Linked Managing Director Jason Sharam said. 

“There are electric boat companies around, but our design has a solar canopy that means the boat produces its own energy as it's moving. 

“Solar batteries on board mean that even on a cloudy day, you'll still get at least two hours of boating if you're just running off the batteries.” 

Linked is working on technology — expected to be ready within three to six months — that will allow the boats, when used for hire, to be operated via an app. 

“If a fleet is purchased by an ecotour or party boat operator, for example, a tourist will be able to scan a QR code on the boat to activate the moored vessel,” Mr Sharam said. 

“A geofence will be displayed on their phone to show where they can and can't go.  

“They can simply climb on board and take the boat out on to calm water, like a river or a dam.  

“You just start driving, and the app bills your credit card every minute you're on board.  

“You won't need a boat licence because it does less than six knots. 

“Once you've brought the boat back, moored it and taken a photo of it just as you would when you borrow an e-scooter, you can then just walk away. 

“It is seriously cool.” 

The boats, to accommodate four to 12 people, will be available in several sizes: 4m, 6m and 8m in length and 3-4m in width. 

While Linked is ‘in charge’ of the electrics, the boats are being built by Blacker Marine Customs, also in Mackay. 

“At this stage, the boats are not designed for the open water, but we are looking at that as an opportunity, as well,” Mr Sharam said. 

“We’ve had a customer who made an enquiry about whether we could build one big enough to travel around the world. 

“He wants to break the (solar-power boat) world record. 

“He’s got the money, so it's quite possible; he's talking about a 16m boat.” 

Linked has never been afraid to push the boundaries. 

Established by Mr Sharam and CEO Peter Shaw in 2010, the business defied sceptics by going completely off-grid five years ago. 

“We build a whole new complex, the Linked Powerhouse, to showcase that it was more than possible,” Mr Sharam said. 

“(Sceptics) said: ‘You can't produce base load power with solar’ so we said: ‘We'll show you that you can’. 

“And, we did. I think we're one of only two companies in Australia that have done it.” 

Even before then, Mr Sharam was ahead of the curve.  

“I started doing solar in 2007, but it didn't start taking off until about the time that we started the business and even then, it was just rooftop,” he said. 

“It wasn't considered in the industrial or commercial market or utility scale at that stage, so we were unique when we started talking about doing renewable energy products back then. 

“They all thought we were crazy, but now we're the cool kids on the block.” 

Linked, which started as a mining services business, has transitioned completely to being a manufacturer of renewable energy products. 

Its range includes EcoPort customised solar structures, EcoG3n portable solar generators, rapid deployment EV charging stations, communications trailers — and the solar-powered boat. 

It is this innovation which led to Linked winning the Queensland Resource Industry Network’s 2023 Manufacturing Excellence Award. 

“We're not advocating for people to go off-grid, we're advocating for people to understand the reality that producing your own energy on your own site to offset your own consumption is an opportunity they should be investigating,” Mr Sharam, pictured at the awards with Stephen Smith, Director, Regional Economic Development and Manufacturing, Department of Regional Development, Manufacturing and Water, said.

“People don't adopt to change in a hurry; it’s a slow burn, but once they start to understand the economics and the need for everyone to be able to demonstrate their scope 1 emissions with regards to the supply chain, they’re becoming more aware of that opportunity and the reality of why, what and how. 

“It's an economic decision as well as an environmental decision, so it’s a win-win.” 

Linked Group Services has been a member of Ai Group since 2023. 

“We have long valued Ai Group’s advocacy on behalf of members and appreciate all the other services on offer. Acting Queensland Head Dean Deighton is tremendously supportive.” — Jason Sharam, Managing Director, Linked Group Services 

Wendy Larter

Wendy Larter is Ai Group's Communications Manager. She has more than 20 years’ experience as a reporter, features writer, contributor and sub-editor for newspapers and magazines including The Courier-Mail in Brisbane and Metro, News of the World, The Times and Elle in the UK.