Making an informed decision
Looking to make a positive impact on the planet and embrace a new way of living?
Consider investing in a solar electric narrowboat. While it may seem like a leap of faith, it’s a bold and exciting step towards a more sustainable future. We understand that making this decision requires thorough information and understanding.
To help you make the right choice for your needs, we’ve compiled a list of frequently asked questions from our customers. We’ve covered everything from the technical details of solar, electric and battery systems to more general queries that will be on your mind. We believe that informed choices are the best choices, and we’re here to help guide you on your journey towards eco-friendly living.
Frequently Asked Questions
The answer to this is very simple, mathematically speaking. Our narrowboats have a battery bank of 28.6kWh of which we can use up to 80% on an infrequent basis and 50% on a regular basis. 22.8kWh or 14.3kWh respectively. Or narrowboats use 1kW to move along at cruising speed. The actual speed through the water depends on factors such as how shallow the canal is which will reduce speed, however in good water conditions using 1kWh you should expect to travel about three miles.
Rounding up and just using 50% of the battery you therefore should expect to travel 42 miles.
However, because our boats have 2kW of solar on the roof, on a sunny day you can expect to generate 10kWh. This means that to travel the 42 miles you’ve only used 4.3kWh and your battery will be at approximately 85% right State of Charge (SOC).
All Mothership Marine boats have a back-up generator and we like to view it as a back-up generator. The generator on Shine, which is Mothership Owner Tim Knox’s boat, has a total usage of about 100 hours in four years.
However, whilst a generator is not absolutely necessary, it is recommended.
The generator is a big ticket item and is probably going to be the most expensive part of the boat. Mothership Marine has fitted small 3kW marine generators and big 10kW generators. The main advantage of a larger generator is that they need to be run for less.
If your boat is more of a Summer boat then a small generator would be perfectly fine. If you are intending to live aboard, please consider a larger generator if you don’t want to listen to the noise of the generator for more than an hour a day.
The heat produced by the generator can be captured and be used to heat the boat’s hot water.
This is a difficult question to answer but if we make some assumptions that your boat is not going to be overly shaded by trees and it’s not the world’s worst summer, conservatively and taking into account British weather, you can expect in summer months to generate on average 6kWh a day. In autumn and spring expect to generate approximately 3.5kWh a day and in the winter 1kWh a day. This adds up to approximately 1260kWh per year.
Absolutely yes. Most marinas will have 240V power available which will enable you to charge your batteries. In fact, it is important that you charge your batteries in this way regularly so that your shunt (more about this later) is recalibrated. Victron, manufacturer of shunts, recommends that this is done every two weeks to maintain accuracy of the reading. There are also some public charging points available on the waterway but they are not as common as we’d hope and until this time we recommend that you have a generator.
Most shore power comes through something known as a 16A Commando Socket. Most people with caravans will be familiar with these. They are waterproof, have three pins and are blue.
16A at 240v gives 3.84kW of power. If you are connected for an hour you will take on board 3.84 kWh into your batteries. Assuming your battery is at 50% SOC it should take 3.72 hours to bring your batteries back to 100%. But it doesn’t. For two reasons. The first being that marinas rarely have 16A available. If they only have 10A available at 240V you will only be able to charge at a rate of 2.4kW per hour. The second is to do with the battery’s charging characteristics. A general rule of thumb is that batteries take a large amount of power up to 85% SOC. A medium amount of power until 95% charged and a trickle after that. It is during this trickle phase that the individual cells of the batteries balance and the shunt is recalibrated at 100%.
Lithium batteries charge much quicker than lead carbon batteries however they are three times the price.
When you connect a boat to the shore it acts like a magnet to stray current that may emit from other boats or marina infrastructure. This may cause the erosion of your boat through electrolysis. Going back to physics class we learned that a transformer was a means of transforming one voltage to another by having two electrical coils in the same proximity. The isolation transformer works in exactly the same way but the voltage doesn’t change. But it does mean that there is no common earth between the land and the boat. Therefore stray current cannot pass from the water to an earth on the land.
There is another device called a galvanic isolator which has a similar purpose to the isolation transformer but is much less effective.
If you’ve ever used an electric toothbrush or driven an electric car, you’ve already experienced the benefits of a PMAC motor. PMAC stands for Permanent Magnet Alternating Current, and it’s a type of electric motor that is widely used in many industries.
A PMAC motor is a type of electric motor that uses permanent magnets to generate a magnetic field. This magnetic field interacts with a current-carrying conductor, causing the rotor (the rotating part of the motor) to turn. The design of a PMAC motor is very similar to that of a traditional AC induction motor, but with one important difference: the rotor of a PMAC motor has permanent magnets instead of conductive bars.
How does a PMAC Motor Work?
The operation of a PMAC motor can be divided into two parts: the stator and the rotor. The stator is the stationary part of the motor, and it contains a series of coils that are energized with an alternating current. This creates a rotating magnetic field that interacts with the magnetic field of the rotor. The rotor, which contains the permanent magnets, is attracted to the rotating magnetic field and begins to turn.
One of the key advantages of PMAC motors is that they’re highly efficient. Because the rotor contains permanent magnets, it doesn’t need to be energized with current, which reduces the amount of energy that is lost to heat. Additionally, the use of permanent magnets allows for a higher power density, meaning that PMAC motors can generate more torque in a smaller package than other types of motors.
PMAC Motors on boats
PMAC motors are increasingly being used in boat motors due to their high efficiency, reliability, and low maintenance requirements.
In summary, PMAC motors offer a number of advantages for use in boat motors, including high efficiency, reliability, and low maintenance requirements. As more boaters look to reduce their environmental impact and enjoy quieter operation on the water, PMAC motors are likely to become an increasingly popular choice for marine propulsion systems.
If you own a narrowboat and it is in the water, you must pay a licence fee, even if it is moored in a marina and doesn’t go out onto the waterways. The Environment Agency (EA), the Canal & River Trust (CRT), and other authorities offer a 25% discount to electrically powered boats, which can be a helpful cost-saving measure. However, it’s worth noting that fees can vary between different regions and waterways in the UK.
The EA and CRT play important roles in managing the UK’s waterways and ensuring they are safe and enjoyable for everyone to use. The EA is responsible for managing the water levels and quality of water in England’s rivers and canals, while the CRT manages and maintains the majority of the country’s inland waterways.
As an example, in 2023, the narrowboat Shine, which is 57′ long, was charged £885.51 for a one-year licence fee by the Environment Agency. However, it’s important to note that fees can vary depending on the size of your narrowboat.
There are no current regulations that state you must have a licence to sail/drive a narrowboat on the inland waterways in the UK. However the RYA does run a very good training scheme designed at helping newcomers find their feet and understand the ‘rules of the road’.
The cost of your narrowboat will very much depend on the specification of your boat. But as a guide, boats similar to the level of finish seen on our Narrowboat page, with the exception of the Sailaway+ would start at £250,000 inc. VAT. The Sailaway+ would have a start price of around £150,000 inc VAT.
As a guide it takes approximately seven months to build one of the fully finished narrowboats on our website, with the exception of the Sailaway+, however you need also to add in at least two months to build the shell and for that shell to be painted.
It’s true that many other boat builders achieve much shorter build times however the use of reclaimed materials and the handcrafted nature necessitates a longer build time.
Unfortunately, you cannot moor anywhere for the night on the inland waterways in a narrowboat. However, there are many designated mooring spots.
The Canal and River Trust, which is responsible for managing the waterways in England and Wales, has established guidelines for mooring. These guidelines specify that you can only moor in designated mooring spots, which are marked with signs, and that you should not moor for more than 14 consecutive days in any one location.
A constant cruiser is a term used to describe someone who lives aboard a narrowboat and continuously travels along the inland waterways rather than staying in one location for an extended period of time. Constant cruisers are required to move their boat every 14 days, in accordance with the Canal and River Trust’s guidelines, and are not allowed to moor in one location for more than this period of time.
The term “constant cruiser” has become more prevalent in recent years due to the increase in people choosing to live aboard narrowboats as a lifestyle choice. Many people enjoy the freedom and flexibility that living on a narrowboat provides, as well as the opportunity to explore different parts of the waterways.
While being a constant cruiser can be a rewarding and exciting lifestyle, it also requires careful planning and adherence to the rules and guidelines set out by the Canal and River Trust. It is important to have a good understanding of the waterways and the logistics of cruising, as well as being prepared for the challenges that come with living aboard a narrowboat, such as limited space and the need for regular maintenance.
A Boat Safety Certificate (BSC) is a document that shows that a narrowboat or any other type of boat meets the necessary safety requirements for use on inland waterways in the United Kingdom. The certificate is issued following an inspection of the boat’s safety equipment and systems by an accredited examiner.
The inspection covers a range of safety aspects, including gas and electrical systems, fire safety equipment, ventilation, and hull integrity. The examiner will ensure that the boat meets the necessary safety standards and that all equipment is properly installed and functioning correctly.
Once the inspection is complete, the boat will be issued with a Boat Safety Certificate, which is valid for four years. The certificate provides proof that the boat is safe to use on inland waterways and can be requested by the relevant authorities, such as the Canal and River Trust, during routine checks or in the event of an incident.
It is important to note that the Boat Safety Certificate is a legal requirement for all boats operating on UK inland waterways, and failure to obtain one can result in fines or even imprisonment. It is the responsibility of the boat owner to ensure that their boat is properly maintained and meets all safety requirements to obtain a valid certificate.
Recreation Craft Rules (RCR) are a set of rules and regulations that provide a framework for the safe design, construction, and operation of recreational vessels in the United Kingdom. The RCR are applicable to all types of recreational vessels, including narrowboats, motorboats, sailboats, and personal watercraft.
Spending time on a narrowboat in the winter can be a lot of fun. With double glazing and modern insulation and a good heating system they can be very cosy.
However, long periods in the winter can be a bit of a drudge. Finding fuel for your fire, winter stoppages, muddy banks and what to do with your wet boots and coats on board. Did I mention wet pets? You might also not have a washer/dryer which means you will either need to find a launderette or put up with clothes drying in the cabin. It means that only the most resilient of people are going to be able to maintain a smile.
Some of these issues can be overcome with a cratch at the front of the boat or a pram hood aft which allow boaters to store items and disrobe and deboot easily before entering the cabin proper.
The main thing to consider before giving up your house is that even on the largest of narrowboats you are going to be living in only a fraction of the space you have available on land. A 57’ narrowboat will have only about 24m2 in total. A small one bedroom apartment will probably have between 50-60m2.
We found from experience there are two types of person that want to live permanently on a narrowboat. One is an optimist, the other is a realist. The optimist will try and put the contents of their three bedroom house on board.
The realist however has often had previous experience of living on a sailboat. If you own a sailboat you become very aware of the pitching and rolling of the boat plus the fact that the lighter the boat is, the better it sails. That’s why sailors only take the bare minimum of what they need on a boat and always ensure that there is a place to stow it so that it can’t be broken with the pitching and rolling.
Many people sell their houses to fund their boats and it should always be borne in mind that whilst it is likely a house will appreciate in value a boat will depreciate.
However all things considered there is a romance and a freedom to giving up your house and cruising around the UK that cannot be found on land. After all, we only live once.
Mothership Marine have designed their own solar panels to fit a ‘Tyler Wilson’ type narrowboat roof. These roofs have only a moderate curve in them. Between the handrails there is 1400mm, the centre of the roof is 50mm higher than the side. The semi-flexible panels will cope with this level of curvature.
To avoid having any wires visible on the roof itself, the Mothership Marine solar panels have their junction box to the rear which means that a hole will need to be cut out of your roof to accommodate this box. This means that you will have to take the ceiling down in your narrowboat to retrofit our solar panels.
Mothership Marine is totally committed to the environment. It’s not just the trees, it’s everything that lives in them and depends on them together with the quality of the air that we breathe. By using reclaimed timber we are doing our bit to preserve the natural world.
A wonderful consequence of using reclaimed timber is that it adds patina and time to the boat and means that your boat will have a feeling not dissimilar to an old thatched cottage.
Working with reclaimed timber is more time consuming and it will reflect in the total cost of the build. But on the upside if you ever damage the wood a simple rub down and coat of finish will only add to the patina.
If you are buying a new boat from Mothership Marine you will probably want us to paint your ‘index number’ in the colour scheme of the boat. In order to do this you need to sign up to the Canal and River Trust online licensing portal.
Once registered with your personal details, navigate to the ‘My Boats’ section and choose ‘Buy an index number’. The charge to buy an index number is £20 and normally takes 3-5 working days for the CRT to issue.
Canals by nature are less susceptible to weather than rivers however they do require much maintenance and it is probably this that is going to stop you navigating on the full system all year round. That said, most ‘stoppages’ occur during the winter when the canals are less busy. A handy guide is produced by the Canal and River Trust. Please click the link below:
Yes in theory it is possible to navigate on a river at any time of the year however winter being winter and the UK being the UK there is a possibility of heavy rainfall which leads to fast flowing rivers and the inevitable closure of those rivers for navigation for safety purposes.
On some rivers you may see the sign below placed at lock gates. The colloquial term for this notice is a ‘Red Board’
You can check the river conditions and closures using the following link:
Futher Strong streamadvice can be accessed from the services below.
Strong stream advice telephone service
Telephone: 0345 988 1188
24 hour service
Strong stream advice messaging system
To register for a messaging service Telephone: 020 3025 5068
Put simply an electric narrowboat doesn’t use a diesel fuelled engine to move along; instead they use electric motors. Because of the slow speed of life on the inland waterways and the advances in battery technology, electric motors are perfect for narrowboats propulsion.
You might think that it’s a little risky to mix electricity and water but in fact electric motors were used to power boats before diesel motors were invented. Readily available petrol and diesel halted the development of these motors and batteries. What’s changed is climate change and the need to reduce carbon emissions together with an advancement of battery technology.
As part of the UK’s push to become carbon neutral by 2050, many motoring sectors are seeking ways to reduce their environmental impact. The canals sector is no exception. The will no doubt lead to diesel narrowboats being banned.
Real benefits of electric motors
- Zero Carbon Emission
- Silent operation
- No unpleasant fumes
In summary, electric motors on boats are great for the planet, the flora and fauna and you.