New line of VETUS electric motors debuts in Old Nick canalboat

Twenty years after the first VETUS electric motors came on the scene, the Dutch company has introduced their E-LINE and E-POD range with one of the first E-LINE inboards being installed in ‘Old Nick’, a new UK narrowboat.

Founded by Willem den Ouden in 1964, ‘Vetus den Ouden‘ grew from a marine supplies catalogue business run from his kitchen table to a 100-country enterprise with a product list of almost 4,000 items. Along the way the company started developing and building its own diesel engines and other products – including the world’s first electric bow thruster for pleasure craft in 1982 and the EP2200 electric inboard in 2000.

Vetus electric motors - the 10kW E-line and E-pod

In the new E-LINE range there are four motors – with power ratings from 3.2 kW / 5HP to 11.3 kW / 22HP  – and one E-POD model of 9.1kW / 20HP. VETUS Sales DIrector Thijs Boegheim said “We are excited to return to the growing electric propulsion sector with our new E-LINE and E-POD solutions. Both of these advanced systems make it possible for more boat owners to experience and enjoy their surroundings in total silence as they gently cruise through nature.”

When VETUS announced the introduction of the E-POD and E-LINE last year, it fit perfectly into the the plans of Paul and Kay Sumpner, who were in the midst of fulfilling their dream of building a narrowboat and cruising the waterways of England and Wales. 

Attracted by Vetus electric motors ‘total boat system’

One of their goals was to reduce fossil fuel use as much as possible, and what really attracted them to the VETUS electric motors was the company’s ‘creators of boat systems‘ philosophy. They were designing  Old Nick (named in honour of Kay’s late father, a boating enthusiast) with boat builder Ortomarine, who have  6 diesel-electric hybrids and 2 all-electric canalboats under their belt. Together they all decided on a Vetus package as the best option for the new project.

As Kay wrote on their blog The Sumpners Afloat – Adventures on Old Nick’:

This is a very exciting post, we can finally announce that “Old Nick” will be the first electric, serial hybrid narrowboat with the complete hybrid propulsion system coming from one company, a one-stop solution.

A number of companies sell electric engines, but the engine is just one part of an electric serial hybrid system and we felt strongly that choosing a well known and reliable company, who could supply the complete package, had to be a good way to reduce some of the risk in embracing a new technology.

Blog has plenty of helpful electric propulsion info

Vetus electric motors were purchased by Kay and Paul Supner, shown here in their narrowboat galleyMuch of the content that follows comes from the Sumpners’ blog, which, by the way, is a great source of detailed information for anyone considering electric propulsion for a canalboat or similar vessel. It covers not only electric / hybrid propulsion, but all sorts of details including interior and galley design, heating, solar panels, GPS systems and more. Even some decorating tips!

So, to the details. While the Sumpners had hoped the Old Nick could be completely electric, the realities of living aboard and cruising for extensive periods meant a serial hybrid system was the best option to “significantly reduce our diesel consumption and the environmental impact of this boat.” 

Read about the DIY electrification of the Nu Era narrowboat

A serial hybrid system is one in which an electric motor propels the boat, but if the battery charge gets low, a diesel generator can charge it while underway. In a parallel hybrid system, there is both an electric motor and diesel motor and either can turn the drive shaft, or both can be used when extra power is needed. An example is the system in the new hybrid pilot boats of the Thames.

For Old Nick, they said “With a good solar setup (1200W or more), the need to run the generator in summer months is rare and in the autumn/winter, a night or two on a visitor mooring in a marina, on shore power, will soon top up the batteries.

Vetus electric motors serial hybrid set up diagramThe Old Nick propulsion system consists of a Vetus E-LINE 100, BowPro65 bow thruster, 6kVA generator and other Vetus equipment like the driveshaft, stern gear and propellers. Vetus also supplied items like pumps as well as items for onboard living, like water heaters. One of the advantages for the couple was being able to source everything – and receive service and attention – from one company and contact. 

Read: An innovation for installing solar panels on a narrowboat roof 

Another benefit of the E-LINE as part of a Vetus system is that they all carry the company’s V-CAN (Controller Area Network) technology. As Paul Sumpner has a long career in marine electronics, I’ll let him explain from the blog:

CAN stands for “Controller Area Network” and is a relatively simple and low cost network, developed by Bosch for the automotive industry in the mid-eighties. The “CAN Bus” has become ubiquitous in modern cars, where you will typically find multiple networks and over 70 ECUs (Electronic Control Units) linking everything from the airbags to the wind screen wipers.

Victron components control and monitor electricity

The other main elements that allow the Sumpners to achieve their low emission canal cruising dream are solar panels, batteries, and something that links up and controls all of the electricity flow, charging and recharging.

Vetus electric motors complete network wiring diagramThe flexible solar panels conform to the roof, the lead carbon 48V / 800A battery bank comes from Leoch Battery and can be charged by the panels, generator or shore hookup, and Victron Energy components include a MTTP for the solar panels, Quattro inverter and charger,  and Cerbo GX that controls everything and keeps it working. And it can all be monitored via smartphone with their VictronConnect App

By the time you add electronic fuel gauges, the heating system, bilge pumps, lights, alarms, the household electrics like TV, satellite, lights and outlets for TV, computers and a printer…you’ve got quite the schematic! This was all figured out and detailed by Rob Howdle at Ortomarine. (You can read the full details of the entire system on this post at the Old Nick blog)

All of this isn’t necessary for the average electric boat, of course. But Old Nick was designed from the beginning to have almost all the comforts of home right at hand. The Vetus electric motors and complete boat systems made it that much easier to build this dreamboat, and with their new E-LINE 100 the Sumpners are thinking they will be able to cruise along at the canal maximum speed of 4 knots for 12 hours or longer without needing to recharge the battery. They expect to be powered by solar only for at least 6 months of the year.

As we write this, Paul and Kay are presumably somewhere out on the canals, hopefully snuggled up in the cozy confines of their new narrowboat with everything they need to quietly tour the waterways burning as little carbon as possible. We’re sure Kay’s father would be very pleased to see them enjoying ‘Old Nick’.


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