Nu Era on the canals – my new electric narrowboat!

This story about a new electric narrowboat is the first article in our new DIM – Did It Myself! – section of boaters who converted to electric propulsion using their own ingenuity (not to mention hard work). If you have a story to tell, or know someone who does, use the contact form at the bottom of the page and let us help you tell the world know about your experiences.

Our inaugural DIM is from Jonathan Evans of Stourport on Severn, in England about his narrowboat, Nu Era. Narrowboats date back to the 18th century and were originally built as working boats, drawn by horses. There are now an estimated 10,000 people in London alone who use canal boats as their principal residences.

My new electric narrowboat 

Nu Era began life when I decided to build a narrowboat to serve as an office and spare bedroom for my canal side house in central England. I had done a degree in Design and designed a few motor boats and RIBs before leaving that industry to design data centers.

Most narrowboats are based on the traditional working cargo carrying boats of the last century. I, of course, had different needs, so the starting point was a clean sheet of paper and a design brief.

I wanted a manoeuvrable, airy, spacious boat maximizing the dimension restrictions of the canal system: a  2metre/6foot beam to fit in locks,  the same 2m/6ft dimensions above the waterline as the height to fit under bridges, and a 1m/3ft draft. I also wanted an inside helm under cover rather than a rudder on the stern.

I didn’t want a dangerous exposed propeller so I decided on 4 x 12″ (300mm) electric thruster propellers in tubes, one in each corner. They are driven by 4 x 12kW Lynch motors, chosen because of the compact size.

Turning spaces are few and far between on the canals and turning itself is difficult to do so this arrangement allows me to have the same speed going both forward and reverse. (If you’re interested, you can download a map of UK inland waterways)

Originally I installed a single joystick for all four motors, but I now have individual sticks on each motor for better control. In future I might make it remote control so I can steer it into locks from the bank!

Nu Era has a 48V Yuasa Battery bank with 2 days cruising range. A 240V 10kVA generator sits under the bed to provide domestic power and charging battery when no shore supply is available. The generator starts automatically when the battery capacity is low.

Manoeuvring has been very good, forwards, backwards, sideways, around in circles all done with ease.

New electric narrowboat, traditional Edwardian detailing

Aesthetically I felt the boat should hint at an Edwardian river launch with oak detailing and large windows. A similar theme ran through the interior.

Read about some electrified classic Amsterdam canal boats

I have also designed the boat potentially for wheelchair access as the deck is all on one level.

This has been an extremely rewarding project and Nu Era boat has provided many hours of relaxing cruising on the River Severn and local canal system at a very comfortable 4-6mph (3.5 – 5 kts/6-9kmh).

For my uses it has many advantages over the original narrowboat design. Of course, I didn’t build Nu Era to sell more, and no one has asked me for copies. But I put that down to narrow boaters being notorious traditionalists!

Jonathan Evans    Stourport on Severn

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