Sean Kelly is the leader of the team at the Electric Boats shipyard in Tauranga, New Zealand and has a long and colourful history that covers the breadth of every type of nautical endeavour in that country and beyond. It includes six years in the NZ Navy, two America’s Cup campaigns and nine months on a UN environmental monitoring programme with the late Kiwi sailing legend Sir Peter Blake.
In addition to Electric Boats he also heads up Pacific7 marine contractors and Herley Boats where he works with Designer Nick Herd and Boat Builder Brendon Wood. The new electrics 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 commercial boat costs $4 a day to ‘fuel up’
The first electric boat the crew put together is named the ‘Al Capone’, a 6 metre open aluminum hull with the distinctive bow of many Herley designs. It made its debut in May of 2018, when Kelly took it for a spin around Tauranga Bay.
He had been working on the concept of an electric workboat for three years, and when local paper The Bay of Plenty Times, asked him why, 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 work was not in vain. That first Al Capone has been in regular use since then, used for general fishing and trapping for lobster and crayfish.
It has a 120kW motor hooked up to a standard Mercruiser SE116 outdrive – and delivers a top speed of 30 knots (55 km/h) and cruising speed of 16 knots (30 km/h). Kelly designed the Capone so that it can be charged using a regular plug at home, using about $4 NZ of electricity. That’s about $2.65 USD, or €2,28. The batteries are placed under the deck where gas tanks would usually have been.
Electric boats also offers another model similar to the Al Capone, a yacht tender that uses essentially the same hull shape but with an open roof over the cockpit area rather than an enclosed wheelhouse. It also has interior finishings more suited to passenger use, like bow seating and a planked deck.
All Electric Catamaran launched in September
In September Electric Boats launched a full size all electric catamaran, the PowerCat 3400 with their proprietary EBP (Electric Boats Platform) for controlling and managing the propulsion system. It is also available as a hybrid.
The boat is an adaptation of a powercat from sister company Herley and has twin 100kw motors with a 180kWh lithium ion battery bank and solar panelled roof. At a cruising speed of 6 knots the 10.2 metre yacht has a range of 100 nm, and can charge from the panels while offshore.
The hybrid version has a 60kW diesel generator that, together with the batteries and panels, can extend the range to just about as far as anyone would like – up to 3500 km (2200 mi). The Electric Boats website says the genset is a ‘quarter of the size of a standard marine generator and accordingly only uses about 1/4 of the fuel that a standard one would.’
The EBP system integrates touch screen controls with a regular throttle and displays real time information about the electric motors, throttle, battery bank, generator engine, the cooling system. It also manages and monitors shore power and onboard charging.
Kelly said they set about designing their own system because “We couldn’t find a suitable system integrator at the right price. This has proven a lot less expensive to build than any competitive brands and has greater versatility. Plus, it allows you to add any module or interface, such as multiple solar panels, multiple battery chargers and multiple inverters.”
Things are ‘starting to spark’ in the New Zealand electric boat world. While the Al Capone may be the first electric commercial boat in the country, it definitely will not be the last. The Wellington Electric Boat Building Company has been hard at work the past few months trying to overcome COVID delays so that they can launch the first fully electric ferry in the southern hemisphere. We’ll keep you up to date!