The Electric Boat Motor – a greener alternative

Recently, there has been a growing interest in electric propulsion for canal boats. As people become more conscious of the environmental impact of traditional diesel engines, the desire for greener and quieter options has increased. Electric boat motors offer a clean and efficient alternative, providing a range of benefits for narrowboat owners.


Benefits of Electric Propulsion

Electric propulsion offers several advantages over traditional diesel engines. Let’s take a closer look at some of the key benefits:

Environmental Friendliness

One of the most significant advantages of electric propulsion is its environmental friendliness. Electric boat motors produce zero emissions, helping to reduce air and water pollution. By choosing an electric boat motor, narrowboat owners can contribute to preserving the natural beauty of canals and rivers, enjoying a greener boating experience.

Quiet Operation

Another benefit of electric boat motors is their near-silent operation. Electric motors operate in near-complete silence, unlike diesel engines, which produce noise and vibration. This allows boaters to enjoy a peaceful and tranquil journey, free from the noise pollution associated with traditional engines.

Regents Canal Boat

Low Maintenance and Reduced Fuel Costs

Electric motors have fewer moving parts than diesel engines, resulting in lower maintenance requirements. With fewer components prone to wear and tear, boaters can enjoy reduced maintenance costs and increased reliability. Additionally, electric propulsion eliminates the need for costly diesel fuel, resulting in significant fuel savings over time.

Improved Maneuverability

Electric boat motors offer precise control and instant torque response, making manoeuvring narrowboats much easier. With the ability to adjust rotation speed as needed, boaters can easily navigate tight spaces even at slow speeds. Electric propulsion provides enhanced manoeuvrability, ensuring a smooth and enjoyable boating experience.

Clean & Smaller

An electric boat motor is cleaner than it’s traditional counterpart, i.e. no oil, fuel, grease etc. There is also no exhaust and hence no fumes or smells. They are also generally smaller.


Types of Electric Motors for Canal Boats

When considering electric propulsion for your canal boat, it’s essential to understand the different types of electric motors available. Let’s explore two popular options:

  • Inboard electric motors are installed inside the hull of the canal boat, typically connected to the propeller through a direct shaft. A battery bank, or even sometimes a backup generator, powers these motors. Inboard motors offer a wide range of power options, allowing boaters to select the appropriate motor size based on their vessel’s requirements.
  • Outboard electric motors are mounted on the transom of the canal boat, with the propeller and motor combined into a single unit. These motors are usually powered by a battery bank and offer a convenient and compact solution for electric propulsion. Outboard motors are easily detachable, allowing for easy maintenance and storage.
Canal boat electric motor
Cross section of a canal boat electric motor (picture courtesy Ashton Marine Services)

Choosing the Right Electric Propulsion System

Many different types of electric motors are available, so how do you choose the right system for your canal boat? Here are some key considerations to keep in mind:


How big of an electric motor do I need for my boat?

The power needed will depend on the size and weight of your vessel, as well as the desired cruising speed. Choosing a motor that can provide sufficient power for your boating needs is important. Typically though,  20kw is required for narrowboats from 50-60 feet and a 40Kw engine for the wide beam boats. Your supplier will be able to advise further.

What Battery Capacity do I need for an electric boat?

The battery bank plays a vital role in electric propulsion systems. It stores the energy required to power the electric motor. Assessing your power consumption needs and choosing a battery bank with adequate capacity is essential.

To effectively harness all the advantages of a 10kW electric motor for your boat, it’s crucial to have a battery with a voltage and amperage capacity that can deliver a minimum of 10kW, as both electric and mechanical power is measured in the same units. A 10kW battery will roughly be the size of a small suitcase.

You must also consider the desired cruising range and any onboard appliances and auxiliary systems to determine the battery capacity. However, achieving a four hour or more cruising time should be easily possible.


How do I charge an electric boat?

Understanding the charging options for your battery bank is essential for uninterrupted boating. Depending on your usage patterns and available resources, you may opt for shore power charging, solar panel charging, or a combination of both. Solar recharging is dependent on the sun, so it is much less reliable during Winter.  It is generally used as a top-up. With shore power, you are literally tied to a charging location. A full charge can take 6 hours or more. Ensuring your charging method can replenish the battery bank efficiently is important and may require some planning.

How much does an electric boat cost?

Budget is an important factor in any decision-making process. Electric propulsion systems can vary in price depending on factors such as motor power, battery capacity, and additional features. As a rule of thumb, the cost is likely to be higher than a traditional diesel alternative, but this must be weighed up against cheaper running costs.

Electric Outboard Motors
Electric Outboard Motors (Picture Courtesy of Ashton Marine Services)

Can I convert a canal boat to electric?

Yes, you can. However, canal boats often have limited space and weight allowances. When selecting an electric propulsion system, it’s crucial to consider the space available for the motor and battery bank. Additionally, be mindful of the weight distribution to maintain stability and optimal performance.

All materials and images © Canal Junction Ltd. Dalton House, 35 Chester St, Wrexham LL13 8AH. No unauthorised reproduction.

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