Photo courtesy of Majella & David Waterworth.

Electrifying The Fleet … On The Water

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Malcolm Betts of Betts Boat Electrics invited us down to the yacht capital of the Gold Coast at Coomera to show us how he is working to electrify a fleet of medium size yachts. We were joined by Jon Day, who will soon be publishing a video of the experience on YouTube. We explored 4 beautiful craft and were ferried between ships by John in his “party boat” while he told us of his time as captain in France for 30 years.

Electrify the Fleet
John and Majella enjoying the ride.

Previously, Malcolm had been supplying electric outboards, but he is now diversifying into larger craft. He has the technical skill to do so. All motors are available from Betts Boat Electrics.

The first boat we visited was “Flight Mode.” She is equipped with two 15 kW motors which take her to 9 knots. She draws from a range of power sources — sail, solar, batteries. The diesel generator (6 kW DC) allows her to cruise at 6 knots continuously — if becalmed on a cloudy day. The 12-volt rechargeable batteries run the boat’s house loads, such as instrumentation, refrigeration, and lights.

The 48-volt LFP batteries power the boat. The solar feeds the 48-volt system, and the 48-volt system recharges the 12-volt system. The diesel generator feeds the 48-volt battery pack if solar is not producing enough. When sailing under wind, the propellers can fold to reduce drag. They can also be used for regeneration, controlled by a button on the bridge. Centrifugal force keeps the blades open during regeneration.

Electrify the Fleet
Flight mode propeller. Photo courtesy of Majella Waterworth.

Betts Boat Electrics supplied motors for this brand new fit. Motors were sourced form Ocean Volt of Finland to electrify the fleet.

Diesel is a backup for when there is no wind or solar. The Germans have a name for this (of course they do) — Dunkelflaute.

Malcolm explains that an electric motor retrofit will cost about two and half times that of a diesel motor(s).

Our second boat is the Bennington, made in the USA. In Australia, this is called a pontoon, but in her home country, she is referred to as a party boat. John, the owner, ordered the boat without a motor and Malcolm has fitted her out with an ePropulsion EVO 6 outboard. She had the most comfortable seats — like travelling in a lounge room across the water. He has had to lower the torque because people were finding it hard not to hit the dock. John mentions that he has a 2020 Tesla Model S. After 30 years in France, he returned to Australia just before COVID — a timely choice.

It was a relaxing trip, quietly floating along, enjoying the music, the breeze, the good company. On his previous boat, he had a 135 hp Suzuki. He tells us that the noise and the fumes were horrendous. This boat is about comfort, not about getting to the destination. He docks it next to his 45-footer and charges the party boat from the main boat, which is supplied with plenty of solar. He tells me that the French are at a similar position to Australia with powering boats from renewable energy – fairly negligible.

John shares the story of 110 metre, fully electric, autonomous container ships plying the waters from Antwerp to Rotterdam and returning. They transfer containers from the larger ocean-going vessels. The depleted batteries are swapped and recharged. They are certainly working to electrify the fleet.

John is not a big fan of gas cooking or heating on boats. He encourages an all-electric galley. “If there is a leak, gas is heavier than air and builds up in the bilge. Then BOOM!” He has taken gas out of every boat he has owned. “How many is that?” I ask. “Oh, about 18.” Also, there are different gas fittings in different countries, making it difficult for sailors to swap bottles. The heat from the diesel engine can be used to provide hot water for showers.

We next meet Peter. He is planning to sail across the Pacific and around the world on Bubayeh when the winds are right and the cyclone season is over. You might like to follow his journey on his Facebook page for Bubayeh.

Peter’s boat has Bellmarine motors. When anchored, Peter deploys two Redarc solar blankets on his catamaran’s trampoline to complement solar panels mounted on the roof of the cabin. These plug into the boat’s energy system. The air underneath the blankets ensure they do not overheat in the sun.

Electrify the Fleet
Bubayeh solar blankets. Photo courtesy of Majella Waterworth.

Peter is totally self-sustainable for energy and water. The solar blankets can be used to recharge the 12-volt house system or the 48-volt batteries that power the twin 15-kW Bellmarine electric motors. They run the desalinator so he always has a fresh water supply. Bubayeh used to have two diesel motors, now she just has the one 48-volt diesel generator. Peter now uses 25% of the fuel that he used to. Because the generator is used so little, there is very little maintenance needed.

Electrify the Fleet
Diesel generator — not much space! Photo courtesy of Majella Waterworth.

He has only changed the oil once a year, not 4 times a year as he used to. Changing the oil in a diesel motor in a boat is not an easy task. It has to be pumped out and there isn’t much space to work. The Eniquest DC generator is cooled by seawater. The motor is cooled by seawater. It has water-cooled windings so it can handle the lithium-ion batteries.

When the wind is strong and he is travelling at about 6 knots, he also has regeneration as a top-up. He emphasizes — that’s one diesel running for 40 minutes every two hours, rather than 2 diesels running full time.

Electrify the fleet
Peter’s app to track his batteries. Photo by Majella Waterworth.

When cruising at 4–6 knots, he needs to run the generator for 40 minutes every two hours. He motors for about an hour, which takes the battery down to 50%. The generator kicks in and charges the batteries to 90% while the boat is still moving. Then the generator turns off and the Victron batteries carry the load.

As we talk, I notice that the boat is plugged into a 16-amp charging cord from shore. Apparently, the cost of the power is included in the berth fee. Why not use the solar blankets? Peter needs to be around when the blankets are deployed in case of a storm – this is Brisbane, and it is storm season. If the shore power isn’t enough, the battery will kick in, to run the stove perhaps.

Electrify the Fleet
Use of shore power. Photo courtesy of Majella Waterworth.

If the wind is low, sailors will run the diesel, but at low revs, the motor is very inefficient. Using the electric, the speed can be boosted from 2 knots to 4 and “you can use the batteries all day,” says Peter.

In my naiveté, I asked about mini wind turbines — would they be a useful energy source at sea? I am obviously not a sailor — at sea, the wind turbines would drag; and at anchor, they would be less effective because sailors seek a calm site out of the wind. “Solar is king.” Peter uses iridium as his internet provider because of it weather and route-planning content.

Then, it is back in the party boat to travel to our last ship, the 66-foot carbon fibre catamaran Kato. We passed multimillion-dollar yachts berthed for maintenance. It is explained that whatever you purchase your yacht for, you will spend 10% of that per year in maintenance. There is a lot of money tied up here at the many docks. The Gold Coast economy benefits from the patronage of the super-rich.

Electrify the fleet
Jon’s Kona is dwarfed by the Kato. Photo by Majella Waterworth.

The Kato was specifically built as electric 6 years ago. She has two 15-kW Oceanvolt motors with an 11-kW Fischer and Panda DC generator. The Kato is one of the first boats built using Oceanvolt motors by Oceanvolt in Australia. 18 months ago it was hit by lightning while berthed and had to be X-rayed to check damage to the structure. The structure proved to be sound, but all electrics had to be replaced — BMS, motor, controllers, NAV, etc. Thankfully, Kato’s batteries did survive the lightning strike.

Electrify the fleet
Solar panels on the Kato. Photo by Majella Waterworth.

As society moves more and more into electric power, we will have more electronics, which are sensitive to surges and spikes. Perhaps we will need surge arresters on our homes and cars, as well as our boats?

The Boat Works is the largest haul-out boatyard in the Southern Hemisphere. It is a good spot for Malcolm to work to electrify the fleet. It incorporates the Garage 25 café, which displays a magnificent car collection. The boats and the cars are certainly worth a day out on the Gold Coast!

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David Waterworth

David Waterworth is a retired teacher who divides his time between looking after his grandchildren and trying to make sure they have a planet to live on. He is long on Tesla [NASDAQ:TSLA].

David Waterworth has 750 posts and counting. See all posts by David Waterworth