Visitors who want to see the 200 wild bottlenose dolphins that live around the lower Florida Keys now have a more eco-friendly option. Squid, the first lithium ion battery-powered hybrid charter boat with electric motors, takes visitors on four-hour dolphin watching and snorkeling tours. The solar-powered boat’s electricity stores can be recharged at shore, via solar panels or, when necessary, with a diesel generator.

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dolphins swimming near solar-powered boat

The amount of energy Squid consumes varies day to day, depending on the location of the dolphins. Sometimes the bottlenoses are close to shore and easy to find. Other days, they’re farther away. Even on the longest journey, when Squid enlists its generator, the boat only burns 3 gallons of diesel fuel per trip, or about one quarter gallon of fossil fuel per guest. The previous dolphin watching boat consumed about 2.3 gallons per person.

white boat with solar panels

Sunflare solar panels are the secret to the Squid’s success. Because the boat carries 1200 pounds of lithium battery, the panels themselves had to be lightweight. Sunflare’s 12 modules on the Squid produce 2000 watts of power and weigh about 120 pounds combined, which is a quarter of the weight of traditional solar panels. Sunflare’s carbon footprint is 80 percent less than traditional solar panels, based on heat generated in the manufacturing process. Because the panels are lightweight, they also require less fuel to transport.

Related: Bring your reef-safe sunscreens when visiting Key West

man wearing hat and sunglasses on a boat

Billy Litmer, founder of Honest Eco Sustainable Nature Tours and the Squid’s owner, arrived in Key West on a Greyhound bus in 2005, with a dream of working on the water. When creating Squid, Litmer enlisted the help of David Walworth, a naval architect and marine engineer who owns Walworth Designs. They’re proud of achieving the first Coast Guard certified electric boat. It was a challenging process for a near-coastal hybrid catamaran like the Squid and sometimes entailed rebuilding parts of the boat. “There was not much precedent for getting this boat certified,” Litmer said. “There was no rule book.”

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Images via Honest Eco Sustainable Nature Tours

aerial view of white boat with solar-panels in clear blue water