It is easier than you may think to convert your yacht to electric propulsion. As part of moving their lifestyle to being more sustainable, Ed and Carolyn Phillips decided to switch their cruising yacht to electric power in 2021, as part of their goal for zero-emission sailing.
Ed recollects, “Somehow taking a perfectly serviceable engine out and going to an emerging technology seemed quite scary. Especially when it involved drilling holes through the bottom of your own boat.
Having done it we now feel the most complex part was taking the old diesel out. And, that if you can put together a piece of IKEA furniture you can convert a yacht to electric. We will never look back, nor go back to a diesel.”
We outline the process to convert your yacht to electric propulsion, which Ed used for converting their Parker Super Seal, Skylark.
1. Remove the old engine
Although still going strong, Skylark’s 40 year old Bukh 10 engine was getting expensive to run and maintain. Taking it out was the most painstaking part of the process. This took time and patience, required getting spanners into restricted places and a lot of WD40 to loosen nuts and well embedded bolts. The numerous hoses and cables came out relatively easily.
2. Lift the engine out
The next task was to lift out the140kg stripped down engine. Ed constructed a frame over the boat, whilst on her trailer, using scaffold poles and attached a chain hoist. The engine was gently lifted up and out, and once in midair they rolled the yacht forwards and lowered the engine down.
3. Remove the fuel tank
A large space was left by the engine, which was further increased by removing the entire exhaust system.
Ed says “This a genuine ‘five minute job’ and revealed a massive space we now use for extra storage. Next, take out the fuel tank and its attendant tubes and more space gained. Best of all was the joy of saying goodbye to smelly diesel.”
4. Clean up & fill the holes
With the engine out there was the opportunity to deep clean the boat and bilges. After 40 years in situ, there was a lot of muck and oil. Ed recommends a traffic film cleaner to get the grease off followed by soap and water. Remember to choose an eco-friendly one, especially if you are working in a boat yard.
Although a mucky job, Ed says “the task was made so much easier knowing that it was the last time our lovely hull would be subjected to those yesteryear hydrocarbons!”
Next was to fill the redundant skin fitting holes left by the water inlet tubes and the exhaust system. At this point the yacht hull was ready to make the switch to electric propulsion.
5. Installing the electric POD drive
This proved to be the most straight forward part of the process. Before you start to convert your yacht to electric Ed recommends:
- Plan thoroughly
- Read the instructions
- Assemble the right tools
- Engage the help of knowledgeable friends for a bit of confidence
- Work out the best place to fit the POD drive
The ePropulsion POD drive motors are fitted externally, and Ed secured their 6kW POD Drive to the hull with three 10mm bolts. Although not absolutely necessary, they decided to glass in a half-metre marine ply square inside the hull to provide a long-term secure base to attach the POD drive onto. A 66mm hole was made for to feed the cables to feed through the hull.
6. Positioning the POD Drive
Working out exactly where to position the POD drive electric motor took some careful planning. The choose to shorten the drive shaft cowling by 15cm to ensure the propeller was not too close to the rudder.
Ed explains, “Cutting the shaft down was easy. It was shaping the spacer to the shape of the hull, to allow the engine to sit vertically which took a bit more time. In retrospect, a better cutting edge and more confidence, would make it much simpler next time.”
7. Install the instruments
Engine fitted, the next step was to install the control panel, throttle (morse) and the charger, which was straight forwards. Ed’s top tip is to place the throttle in an easy to reach position with the instrument readout on the forward cockpit to make the useful data easy to view.
8. Fitting the electric batteries
Skylark has been fitted with an ePropulsion eSeries 175 9kWH battery. It’s compact size 52 x 55cm x 27cm fits perfectly on the engine mounts. Weighing 87kgs, a piece of ply wood spreads the load. It was lifted on board using the hoist used for removing the engine, and ingeniously placed on a skate board in the cabin to slide it around.
The battery takes up only half the space of the original engine, leaving room for adding an additional battery should the family ever wish to extend their battery power and motoring range.
Ready to go
With electric engine, battery and control panels in place, it was a logical, methodical process to connect everything up.
Ed recalls, “Then it was the big switch on. I still marvel every time I switch it all on. Apart from a few lights, there’s little to show or hear! Push the morse forward and silent, powerful thrust results.”
Cruising with an electric motor
Since converting Skylark to electric propulsion the Phillips have had little concern about running out of power. No more or less than having enough fuel on board.
The POD drive has a hydrogeneration system that recharges the battery whilst you are sailing. Skylark is also fitted with a wind generator, and solar panels to charge the 12v on board systems. If they happen to be in a marina, they take the opportunity to plug in to 240v power if needed.
Ed adds, “In practice, we rarely use more than a small proportion of the engine’s potential. Skylark weighs approximately 3 tons loaded. We normally motor cruise at about 975W at just under 4 knots, which gives over nine hours of motoring. A full 6kW gives around 8 knots for a much shorter time.”
They lived aboard for a three week stretch in the summer with very little wind and charged just three times.
“We never went below 50% on the battery even when doing passages up to 40 miles. Motor sailing back from Southampton Town Quay to Chichester Harbour in under 4 knots of wind, a distance of 29 miles used less than half the battery.”
Other advantages they have found include:
- a huge amount of torque giving fabulous manoeuvrability
- the joy of silent motoring
- more space freed up on board (from the engine and fuel tank)
And Ed’s final tip to convert your yacht to electric…
“Take courage, go electric now. We haven’t looked back and will certainly never go back to burning noisy, smelly, dirty, hydrocarbons. Going electric is such an all-round better experience as well as making a significant difference to the fragile marine environment.”
For more tips about making Skylark zero-carbon and life aboard with alternative power systems read this feature article in Practical Boat Owner.
Following his experience of converting Skylark to an electric motor, Ed & Carolyn Phillips have jointly set up eSolent to supply electric marine products and are now a dealer for ePropulsion UK.