Home Technical Sailing Videos Electric Engines on Sailboats: A Complete Guide

Electric Engines on Sailboats: A Complete Guide

written by Terysa June 21, 2020

Absolutely everything you need to know about electric motors on sailboats is right here, in this episode where we have an in-depth discussion with Dan and Kika from Sailing Uma about their experiences with electric motors on sailing yachts. Still have questions? Post them below and we’ll try and answer them!

Cheers, Nick & Terysa

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Marco November 19, 2020 at 5:32 pm

Hi Nick & Terysa, I am a fairly recent newcomer to your channel and sailing channels in general. I am normally dedicated to skiing videos, but I love sailing too. Thank you so much for the excellent videos you have produced, technically very good, informative and super interesting.

As an electrical engineer I am also interested in living off grid and sailing seems to be the perfect medium to achieve this goal. You use solar and wind in the most natural manner, why carry on with these nasty, clunky, noisy diesel engines?
You seemed very taken by what Dan and Kika had to say about electric motoring and no doubt you have also seen loads of other videos and info regarding electric power.
Very exciting about your new Seawind 1370, it must be sooooo exciting for you to start this new era of your adventures. I could feel the excitement in your presentation about your new boat and I feel sure you will find it a very fulfilling period of your life. What I was not expecting though, and it came as a shock to me, was your decision to go with diesel engines. Oh dear, why? Power? Certainly not. Range? Yes but one diesel generator would provide all the range you ever need. Reliability? Well no of course? Ease of maintenance and simplicity by reducing the amount of complicated electronics? Yes, keep it simple is always the best practice, but you already have masses of complicated electronics on board. Regeneration? Ah, you just don’t have it with diesel engines.

I would be very interested to hear about your reasons. I fear I might have missed the point entirely and you have some very valid reasons, you strike me as careful and thorough people who would not take easily any decision, let alone such an important one. Do write to me please if you have the time.

As an electrical engineer I am always amazed that internal combustion engines can work at all, but there are compelling reasons why electric propulsion is so much better on the water, not least that you need far less power to get the same performance. I found a couple of videos by Dave Tether who explain far better than I could why it is time for the whole sailing industry to change over to electric propulsion. If you have not come across these videos you might be interested to listen to what Dave has to say. Here are the links
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDPcB–VxqQ and
Note that these videos are 10 years old. The technology has improved a lot in the meantime for electric motors and marginally for diesel engines.
Yes a 15KW electric motor performs better than a 50HP diesel!!

All the best

Terysa November 30, 2020 at 9:09 am

Hi Marco! Thanks for the question. We’re going to be producing a dedicated video on this because we’ve had so many questions about it! Yes, we would love to have electric engines onboard Ruby Rose. However, she is a performance cruiser and performs very well in light winds so we don’t expect to have to motor much at all except on and off anchor, and perhaps on the occasional no-wind day. So that’s the first thing- we hope to not run our engines much. Second, which is the main reason we’re going with diesel, is because we would need a diesel generator to keep up with our energy requirements if we had electric motors. We’ve worked closely with Mastervolt and Seawind on this, and that is their firm advice. So, if you need a gen set anyway, it’s kind of a pointless exercise. Jimmy Cornell is currently sailing around the world on an electric catamaran and he has said that it will only work if they basically never motor- they will always, always sail and if there’s no wind, they’ll wait for wind to fill in. Which is admirable, but we don’t want to be restricted like that. When the technology improves, we’ll take a second look at it because we’d love to be able to have an all-electric boat.

Bob Hackenberg March 31, 2021 at 5:05 pm

Hi, Terysa. I picked up your website from the two sessions you did in July 2019 with Jason and Nikki Wynn. I actually know nothing about sail boats and my wife and I are totally absorbed in watching YouTube videos involving you with the Ruby Rose and with the Wynns. We’re at the point where the Wynns have both engines failing and are struggling to repair them in French Polynesia. Something like that would terrify me. I keep asking the question if the boat had all-electric engines, would they be having as many problems. My wife and I have a Tesla Model 3 and a Chevy Bolt. I’m 80 years old and have owned many cars in my life. The idea of replacing gasoline engines was a big attraction for me. We can go (a nominal) 300 miles in our Tesla on a single charge. The ‘maintenance’ on either car consists of replacing the windshield wiper fluid and rotating tires when needed. That’s it!
Charging the batteries in each car is done inside our garage or at superchargers around the country. With a boat, solar panels would be the predominant charging source. It appears now that there are systems where the propeller can charge the batteries while the boat is wind sailing. When in neutral, the reverse rotation of the prop can send a charge to the battery. As for batteries, I would think that the current best choice would be a Tesla Powerwall adapted for boat use. I think a system like this would be prone to much fewer problems than one with a diesel engine. It would also be a lot cheaper to fuel. The most likely problem would be corrosion of the wiring. However wiring issues are a lot simpler to deal with than engine repair. I will check on the Jimmy Cornell issue about essentially not using his electric drive. I wonder what kind of batteries he is using.


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