Electric Narrowboat Performance Trials Review

Location: Droitwich, United Kingdom

Date: 15th June

The Flotilla

Eight Ortomarine-built narrow boats of varying shapes, specs and sizes, began to gather at 08.00 in time for the breakfast briefing. For many of the owners, this was the first time they had met each other and they had all come together to help Ortomarine carry out the first ever series of electric narrow boat performance trials. The main goal of the day, was to record how each of the boats would perform during a typical day of cruising on a river and canal. Each boat would follow the same route, in as close to identical conditions as possible, with owners encouraged to cruise at their normal pace and style. 

This unique event was the first of its kind, to our knowledge, and was the brainchild of Ortomarine owners, Caroline Badger and Rob Howdle. The Ortomarine “Electric Propulsion Trials Event” would attempt to record real life data on power consumption, electric engine performance, propellor thrust, generator usage/efficiency, solar yield and sound levels. In addition, two of the diesel boats would compare traditional red diesel performance against the latest Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) fuel which claims to reduce CO2 greenhouse gas emissions by up to 90%, can be stored for 10 years, is immune to “diesel bug” and can be a “drop-in” replacement for red diesel. More info here.

There were 3 diesel boats. The first “Here We Go Again” (58.5 ft, Beta Marine 43) was the benchmark boat (and actually the first private boat that Ortomarine ever built) and is owned by Roy Smith, whose brief was to “cruise normally”. Another diesel engined boat – Oyster Moon – (58.5 ft, Beta Marine 43 HP Greenline) was helmed by Ortomarine’s Paul Weaver, running with HVO in the fuel tank and the third, Mokoro, (60.5 ft, Beta Marine 43 keel-cooled) owned by Guy and Sally Campbell was required to cruise as conservatively as possible – switching off the engine in locks and so forth.

Next were the “parallel” hybrid boats. These boats have both a diesel and an electric engine, either of which can propel the boat. The first of these was Stannator, (58.5 ft, Beta Marine 50, Hybrid Marine 10kW WC/EM) owned by Andrew Ford and the other was Mordiford Dragon (60  Beta Marine 50, Hybrid Marine 10kW WC/EM)  owned by Rob and Karen Barker.

And finally the “serial” hybrids, Phil and Mel Woods’ Hunky Dory, (61 ft) with its Bellmarine 10kW WC/EM engine, Perseverance with its Tema 12kW AC/EM engine – owned by Dave and Roma Jesse, and the most recently launched boat in the flotilla (just two weeks before the event). And last, but by no means least, Old Nick with its brand new Vetus E-Line 10kW WC/EM.

It was a dramatic sight as the eight boats cast off and motored up river in formation and despite the grey and drizzly conditions, everyone was in good spirits as they made their way up river to the first lock (Bevere). It soon became clear that the electric engined craft were happy to set a slower pace in the interest of efficiency, while a couple of the diesels set a fast pace at the front of the pack. Only two boats at a time could go through the river lock and also the double locks on the Droitwich Barge Canal, so the boats naturally paired up and stayed together for the first half of the day. The Droitwich canal was only re-opened in 2011 and consists of two canals; the wide Barge canal and the narrower Junction canal that meet in the very attractive Vines Park in Droitwich Spa. 

The electric narrow boat owners had been asked to carry out a series of speed tests whilst on the Barge canal; measuring motor current and voltage at various speeds and then towards the end of the day, as they exited the last “staircase” lock, they performed an acceleration test, immediately followed by an “Emergency Stop” test. On arrival at Droitwich Spa Marina a sound engineer from Warwick University was on hand to measure the engine volume and generator volume experienced by the helmsman for each of the boats and the following morning a “bollard pulling” test was carried out to  measure the amount of thrust the engine/propeller combination could generate.

Accurate measurements were taken of the State of Charge (SOC) of each boat’s battery bank, at the start and end of the day, plus the amount of diesel used by the electric boats that ran their generators during the event. Throughout  the day itself, detailed electrical measurements were constantly recorded and uploaded to the cloud by the Victron systems on board each boat.  All of this data, along with the test results, will be analysed and published by Ortomarine, so that other boat owners, boat builders and the industry in general can see how the latest electric propulsion systems perform and show case that electric narrow boats are a realistic and desirable alternative to traditional diesel vessels.    

It was a great day and the boats were helped on their way through all the locks by a succession of Ortomarine customers old and new. That evening at Droitwich Spa Marina, a suitably socially distanced get together to collect the test results, share the day’s stories, and for everyone to get to know each other was a very pleasant and fun end to a great event.  

For further details, please contact Ortomarine.
E-Mail: info@ortomarine.co.uk
Telephone: 01299 489424

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