In a world that seems to be moving at the speed of light, there’s nothing quite like Michigan’s Great Lakes to remind you to slow down every once in a while. It’s on those very waters that Lilypad Labs is looking to redefine boating experiences. Their Lilypad solar boats are quietly stirring up a recreational revolution by offering an accessible alternative for those seeking both calming and carbon-free moments on the water.

Lilypad Labs began with founder Jim Hotary, who hails from Michigan’s automotive industry. Hotary is a sailing enthusiast who, after years of navigating traditional sailboats, recognized the need for a more approachable and comfortable boating experience. “I’ve sailed for a long time and love the feeling of the peace you can experience out on the water,” said Hotary. “Unfortunately, it’s hard to do, which makes it intimidating and inaccessible to most people.” Hotary envisioned a solution that would prioritize tranquility, simplicity, and inclusivity.

Along with Lilypad CEO Dana Lowell and the rest of the industrious team, Hotary embarked on a journey to reinvent recreational boating. What if you designed a boat so simple, so easy to maneuver, that almost anyone could captain it? The result? The Lilypad—a vessel designed for “slow boating,” where the focus is on enjoying the journey rather than rushing to a destination.

At a leisurely 5 mph, these solar-powered boats quietly transport passengers with an easy four-way controller (think old-school Pac-Man joystick). No need to back up dockside; boaters can simply slide left or right into the slip. “Our focus is on creating an easy and awesome experience on the water,” said Lowell. “But we’re also going to make sure it’s the most sustainable and eco-friendly experience at the same time.”

Lilypad Labs drew inspiration from their automotive industry experience. The company developed proprietary technology that maximizes energy efficiency while ensuring ease of use for all passengers. Because Lilypad wants to maximize the utilization of the boats, ensuring that each one is shared and enjoyed by hundreds of individuals throughout the boating season, they partnered with marinas to make the boats available to rent in four locations. This takes out the large investment to own a boat and allows access to water recreation for anyone.

While other boats on the Great Lakes may leak oil and gas, the Lilypad, made from recyclable aluminum, offers a greener option. “Michigan has over 20% of the world’s fresh water,” said Lowell. “The blue economy is vital to Michigan. We wanted to make sure we were leaving a better environmental footprint for everyone to enjoy.”

The boats look a bit like outdoor cafés, each with sofa-like lounges and a coffee table. However, you won’t see people logging into the WiFi or joining conference calls—more conversation, less overly caffeinated business jargon. “Our goal was to create an easy and accessible way for people to get on the water,” said Hotary. “Being in nature is one of the easiest ways to slow things down. We need more of that.”

As the company prepares for its second summer on the water, they remain committed to a new era of boating—where water recreation can be both stress-free and carbon-free.


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