Commercial Electric Workboats and Tugs

The commercial use of electric systems in boats is making a big statement that electric can be trusted for their livelihood. As the marine industry gets more pressure to clean up their act, we will see more of these electric workboats, and the technology will trickle down to provide better products for the pleasure boat sector.

Electric golf carts have been made since 1932. In factories, electric forklifts have been commonplace for years, loading and unloading thousands of trucks every day. The mining industry has been using electric equipment to not pollute the air underground, and the largest Electric Vehicle in the world is a dump truck in Switzerland that doesn’t need to be charged from an outside source. These industries have chosen electric for the advantages that electric power offers, along with the cleaner workplaces and readily available power that is already wired to almost every business.

Industrial applications work the systems harder and put more hours on them than most consumers could do. Among the advantages they are reporting are the noise and vibration difference, and while for most the initial cost is higher, they comment that the cost to refuel each day is significantly lower than the fuel costs they were accustomed to paying. Electric also does not have the wild price fluctuations that oil suffers from due to supply and demand. The maintenance of the motor is another aspect of savings, there is no oil or filters to change, and many do not need any special winterization in colder climates.

Batteries are getting lighter and more powerful, and the charge times are getting faster making electric power great for many applications. Generally, the shorter trip, stop and go work is great for battery-powered applications, but the possibilities are growing!

Navtek Naval Technologies – Turkey

It started with two basically normal requests for new tugs; GISAS wanted harbor tugs with lower emission and smaller size than its previous orders. The tugboats and ships have to meet a rising environmental awareness along with a particularly tight operating harbor in the Port of Tuzla, Istanbul.

Navtek Naval Technologies has laid the groundwork for the future by designing and building the all-electric tug, ZEETUG® – short for Zero Emissions Electric Tug. So it was the perfect fit when the order came for the smaller and reduced emission tugs. The 18.7 meter (61 foot) tug, was built at TK Tuzla Shipyard for Turkish owner GISAS in 2019 to the Zeetug30 design.

Zeetug electric tugboat

The electric power comes from two 1,450-kW lithium-ion battery packs supplied by Corvus Energy. The electric workboat has a beam of 6.7 m (22feet), a height of 4.7 (15.5 feet)m, and a draft of 3.5 m (11.5feet). It has 32 tons of bollard pull and a service speed of 10 knots.

The range is about 3.5 hours on a charge but the tug can be charged in one hour by a quick-charging station. The time it takes to charge a Zeetug varies based on the charger used, like other electrical devices. The QCS (quick charge station) is also designed and built by Navtek.

Zeetug electric tugboat

Running only on battery is ideal for inner harbor working tugs as they go short distances and they can easily charge often. An all-electric tug produces no noise and no emissions. GISAS has been happy with the performance of the tug and they have put in orders for more of the electric workboats.


Electric Boats / Herley Boats / Pacific7 – New Zeeland

Sean Kelly joined the New Zealand Navy at 17, and after 6 years, became a fisherman for two years, started selling ships for a while, sold before selling the whole company. Sean served on two America’s Cup campaigns as Fleet Engineer with the New York Yacht Club and the Telecom Italia Mobile syndicate.

Then he spent 9 months refitting Seamaster and then crossed the Southern Ocean on an environmental exploration program, monitoring global warming and pollution for the United Nations. Sean then started his own business building workboats and doing ocean surveys, shooting movies, and extensive work in the gas and oil industry. He then started up Pacific7 which is an Engineering & Contracting Company specializing in both land and sea repair and maintenance operations.

He is also the leader of the team at the Electric Boats shipyard in Tauranga, New Zealand, and Herley Boats where he works with the designer, Nick Herd, and boat builder, Brendon Wood. The new electronics combine the resources of all three companies to address the environmental aspects of commercial boats while also reducing long-term costs for workboat owners.

electric boats  aluminum electric workboat

The first electric boat they built, a Herley design, is named the Al Capone. It is a 6 meter (19.68 Foot) open aluminum hull with a distinctive bow. In May of 2018, Kelly took it for a go the first time around Tauranga Bay.

The local paper The Bay of Plenty Times, asked him why he was working on electric boats for three years, Kelly laughed, ”I wanted to be the first person to do it, the stupidest one! Heaps of things tripped me up along the way,” he continued, but the boat turned out as he had planned. He still uses the original Al Capone as his personal boat for fishing and trapping for lobster and crayfish.

electric boats  aluminum electric motor

Equipped with a 120kW motor hooked up to a standard Mercruiser SE116 outdrive, it delivers a top speed of 30 knots (55 km/h) and cruises at 16 knots (30 km/h). Al Capone was designed to accept regular plug at home to charge, and it uses about $4 NZ of electricity. ($2.65 USD, €2,28).  The batteries are under the deck in place of standard fuel tanks. They make many different boats, for work and pleasure, but this is the electric workboat that I want.


Damen – Netherlands

On 4th December at Song Cam Shipyard in Vietnam, the world’s first fully-electric ship-handling tug of 70 tonnes bollard pull – the Damen RSD-E Tug 2513 – was launched into the water. Damen is building the vessel to supports its customer, New Zealand’s Ports of Auckland, in achieving its ambitious sustainability targets.

The 81 foot (24.7-meter) electric tug, built by Damen, called the RSD-E Tug 2513, has the same pulling power as their most powerful diesel tug that is also built by Damen. She will be able to do three to four shipping moves on a full charge, or around three to four hours of work. A fast charge will take about two hours. Damen, with its own goal to become the world’s most sustainable shipbuilder, was keen to take up the challenge.

Damen electric tug boat

With Ports of Auckland already operating a Damen ASD Tug 2411, the shipbuilder was able to assess the potential for a fully-electric tug. The idea proved not only to be possible, but economically viable. The RSD-E Tug 2513 is scheduled to be delivered to Ports of Auckland end of 2021. Following a vote, Ports of Auckland planning to name the vessel Sparky.

Recently, Damen signed a contract for the delivery of nine hybrid and fully electric ferries to operate in the area of Rotterdam in the Netherlands. In addition to their fuel efficiency, Damen has designed the ferries to feature sustainable credentials throughout. An example is their interiors, which will use natural and recyclable materials in order to be completely circular. They have built two ferries for Canada that they started doing sea trials on in January of 2021.


Plastic Whale – Amsterdam, Netherlands

Based in The Netherlands, Marius Smit came home from the Caribbean, and having seen the ”plastic soup” in many places, he decided to take on the problem at home. He didn’t have experience in this venture, but he put the idea forward and people came out of the woodwork to help him.

With help from professionals in many different fields, they built the first boat from recycled plastic and powered it with an electric motor from Combi Outboards. Read more about small electric outboards and batteries here. Plastic Whale set up the first annual “Old Fashioned Plastic Fishing” event in Sept 2011 and the turnout was far above what he had hoped for. 450 people and 33 boats showed up to pick plastic and floating trash from the canals in Amsterdam.

plastic whale canal and river cleanup boat

Now Plastic Whale has 11 recycled plastic electric boats and they are cleaning up Rotterdam now too. They sell excursions for business parties, tourists, and locals alike, to go plastic fishing. The idea is to stop talking and do something, but they do focus on the education of everyone who goes fishing with them

The Covid-19 has hit Plastic Whale hard and they have had to cancel many projects. Marius says there is a little less plastic now that the economy isn’t booming, but not being able to have others go fishing with him is really making it hard for him to keep up on the river cleanup. Read more about Plastic Whale


ABB – Niagra Falls, New York, USA

Tour boat passengers are able to experience the beauty and power of the Niagra Falls undisturbed by exhaust fumes, engine noise or vibrations, after a pair of vessels installed with all-electric propulsion from ABB have been approved to enter service on October 6, 2020.

Each of the vessels is powered by a pair of battery packs with a total capacity of 400 kW (563 HP), split evenly between two catamaran hulls. Having two fully independent power systems on board will increase the resilience of operations by creating redundancy.

maid of the mist ferry boat

The vessels will charge between every trip while passengers disembark and board. Shoreside charging will only take seven minutes, allowing the batteries to be charged using hydroelectricity, which is produced locally. The power setup will be controlled by ABB’s integrated Power and Energy Management System (PEMS), which will optimize the energy use onboard.

The zero-emission ferries are named the James V. Glynn and the Nikola Tesla, respectively in honor of the Maid of the Mist chairman and the renowned energy pioneer.

maid of the mist electric ferry boat

Sustainable transportation has a crucial role in the fight against climate change, with shipping accounting for 2 to 3 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The International Maritime Organization, a United Nations agency responsible for regulating shipping, has set a global target to cut annual emissions by at least 50 percent by 2050 from 2008 levels.

In addition to integrating the ship-to-shore battery charging connection, ABB will supply the Maid of the Mist newbuilding project with switchboards, drives, and the integrated control system, as well as the ABB Ability™ Marine Remote Diagnostic System for remote equipment monitoring and predictive maintenance.


Glas Ocean Electric – Nova Scotia, Canada

The Alutasi is a classic Cape Islander-style lobster boat converted to an electric hybrid deep sea fishing charter boat that can carry up to 25 anglers. It is the first commercial passenger boat with lithium-ion batteries approved by Transport Canada. The safeguards had to pass particularly stringent regulations before the boat was okayed to carry members of the paying public.

Dr. Sue Molloy, a professor of tidal power engineering at Dalhousie University, in Nova Scotia Canada, oversaw a team at Glas Ocean Electric that did the conversion. The hull is covered with a mural of ocean animals by local indigenous artist Alan Syliboy. The Mi’kmaq First Nations are the native people to the areas now known as Canada’s Atlantic Provinces and the Gaspé Peninsula of Quebec as well as the northeastern region of Maine. The name of the boat, Alutasi, is Mi’kmaq for ‘a boat that guides to the best fishing’.

glas Electric ocean fishing boat

Glas Ocean Electric (GOE) is committed to scaling the impact and benefits associated with introducing cleaner energy to coastal waters. They are working to measure the impact of smaller vessels on our marine environment. GOE builds electric boat kits to convert existing and new boats to electric propulsion and develops opportunities for dual-purpose boat batteries as dynamic energy storage.

They also work with governments to develop drivers and incentives to support electric workboats. GOE works to ensure the solutions provided are financially viable and help companies work toward a future with electric options.


Grovfjord Mekaniske Verksted and Danfoss – Norway

Norway has taken the lead on reducing emissions in its waters with the goal of being emission-free by 2026. The regulations will ban the use of scrubbers for removing SOx and NOx from emissions. This means that ships that do not use clean energy, such as batteries or hydrogen, will have to use low-sulfur fuel, catalytic converters, or other alternatives.

Owner/ operator Northern Lights Salmon is already making the change, saying that electric workboats are perfect for fish farming. The lack of engine noise is not only an advantage for the crew, but also for the salmon. It actually reduces stress levels in the fish. There are no longer any diesel fumes on deck either. So the environmental benefits are obvious.

Astrid Helene fishing boat

Grovfjord Mekaniske Verksted, which designed and built Astrid Helene for Northern Lights, is Norway’s leading manufacturer of aluminum workboats. While Astrid Helene is their first fully electric workboat, the fishing company already has orders for another handful on the books.

The catamaran hull is very efficient and needs only a few kilowatts to glide through the water and reach speeds up to 6-7 knots. While the energy demand increases exponentially at speeds above 10 knots, a single charge can keep the vessel running throughout a long workday on the fish farm. Most days they say they return with 45% of battery left. then they simply plug her to the grid overnight. And the next morning, she is fully charged, costing a fraction of the fill up in one of their diesel boats.

If the vessel would need to traverse a long stretch of water, a regular diesel generator could be strapped on the deck and plugged into the charging plug. And just like that, Astrid Helene is transformed into a hybrid long-range boat.

Astrid Helene electric fishing workboat

Astrid Helene is full of heavy equipment, including a 32t crane and electric winch hauling nets that can pull 12 tons of salmon. But it still motors silently through the water at up to 10 knots. Three types of components make it happen: A 4m3 big lithium-ion battery pack, two electrical propulsion motors, and seven drives.

Drives are key components for the functionality of the vessel. Seven Danfoss Vacon® NXP drives control the flow of energy between batteries, motors, chargers, and power in the cabin. Two batteries from Corvus Orca generate a total of 440kWh, supplying all power onboard. Two 107kW permanent-magnet motors ensure that propulsion is silent and efficient. They are also powered by Vacon® NXP drives.


Elco Motor Yachts – New York, USA

The 40ft, 1928 tug boat, Tender#4, now used as a dredge tender, for removing buoys and other canal work is living a quieter, cleaner life. Previously repowered in the 80s by a 175 hp, 6-71 Detroit diesel engine, the boat is now driven by a battery-powered all-electric powertrain system. The twin motor system, built by Elco Motor Yachts LLC, eliminates exhaust emissions and the potential for fuel spills while lowering maintenance costs and reducing noise.

The electric workboat on average consumes about 55kw of energy, so they installed batteries designed to provide 66kw for a safety factor of 20 percent. The boat gets about 10 hours of use out of each charge that takes 6 to 8 hours. Charging can be done in almost any marina as they use the standard shore connection, single phase 240v input. The tug put out 3,500lbs in the bollard pull test. Elco isn’t new to the electric-powered boat scene, started in 1893 with electric outboards they have a lot of experience in this field.

Tender #4 workboat
Tender #4 electric workboat motor room

The New York State Canal Corporation collaborated with Yorkville-based New West Technologies, LLC, in order to determine how best to transition the States workboat fleet to a cleaner propulsion system. They monitor the electric and the diesel fleet and look at feasibility for more of the fleet to go to electric.  Early indicators point to combined savings from reduced energy costs, maintenance costs, environmental impact, and other variables that will eventually yield a breakeven ROI in two to three years, after which there are significant annual cost savings.

With its new motors, the Tender 4 has been maneuvering dredges and dredge barges on the Erie Canal since June 17, 2014, according to Joe Fleming, Elco’s chief engineer. The result is a more environmentally and economically sustainable solution.  If you want to read more about the canal and how the tugs are used, this guy has a great blog with lots of pictures.

Elco also builds electric outboards, read more about outboards, batteries and range here.

Tender #4 electric workboat

Torqeedo – Munich, Germany

Based in the United Kingdom, Water Witch has been in business for over 50 years building skimmers barges, and dredges. Their Versi Cat Skimmer is like a pontoon boat with a big basket between the pontoons for river cleanups, focused on plastic and trash. Working with the German company, Torqeedo, the aluminum catamaran is powered by a Cruise 10.0 RS TorqLink, electric outboard for considerably lower maintenance and running costs as well as zero-emissions operation. Rethinking of water-based electromobility, Torqeedo has set many standards since its founding in 2005, leading the way among electric outboards and other solutions available on the market.

The trash collection basket can be lifted out of the water with the onboard winch for less drag, better transit speed, and battery life. Rated to collect 2,000lbs of debris, the Versi Cat is fitted with roller wheels on the front and rub strips on the sides so getting into tight spots isn’t a scraping, grinding affair. While they don’t specify what battery this comes with, Torqeedo says about 6 hours on a charge for the standard pack that comes with this 20hp motor.

water witch floating plastic river cleanup workboat

Over 200 of Waterwitch’s debris collection and trash retrieval workboats operate around the world, combating the growing tide of plastics in our seas including Hong Kong, New York, Cape Town, Kuwait, and London. Torqeedo has received a large order from China, where the mega manufacturing hub Suzhou struggles to clean up its act. 177 electric workboats powered by Torqeedo’s all-electric drive are to be deployed on the region’s many waterways to scoop up debris.

Their range of electric workboats has been developed to offer users a versatile, multi-purpose craft or pontoon boat that can perform a wide range of duties in addition to efficient aquatic trash and debris removal. To see 12 other methods of river cleaning systems, check out this article about river plastic cleanup.


Schlieker Shipyard – Netherlands

Opening new opportunities for the well-known Schlieker Shipyard, they have developed a full electric workboat. CVBA Brabo, the Antwerp Harbour Pilots and Boatmen, are making innovation a reality by investing in their first electric workboat.

“We are pleased to see a true commitment to sustainability. It is crucial to work towards decarbonization in order to achieve a sustainable future, as this is one of the greatest tasks of our generation,” says EMPA President Stein Inge Dahn.

Over time, Brabo wants to use electric power in a large part of the fleet. “Electric motors are perfect for use behind the locks,” says Commercial Manager Koen De Groof.

Schlieker Shipyard electric workboat

The vessel was built in Sliedrecht at the Schlieker shipyard. The test runs show that electric propulsion can be a valid alternative for conventional diesel engines. Brabo currently has around forty motorboats. While the exact price tag is given, according to De Groof the price difference with a classic motorboat is very small.

“One of the core responsibilities of maritime pilots has always been the protection of the environment and we are aware these initiatives are becoming more and more widespread among pilot organisations across Europe.” adds Stein Inge Dahn.

“This investment fits in nicely with our current efforts to focus on innovation, digitalisation and contributing to a sustainable future for port operations.” says Brabo CEO Ronny Detienne.

Schlieker Shipyard workboat

It seems that electric workboats are finding their place on the water. While there are limitations, and no system is perfect, and the progress is good to see.

Thanks for reading and if you found this article interesting, share it with a friend. Stay curious!

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