In his comprehensive book Electric Boats and Ships: A History (buy on Amazon) author Kevin Desmond covers almost two centuries of electric boat developments (in fact 182 years – the first e-boat was invented in 1837!) and provides delightful insights into the craft and creators that preceded today’s electric era.
Today Sweden is one of the world leaders in electric marine propulsion – witness Stockholm’s all-electric boat show in May – and their e-boat history goes back a long way, to at least 1913.
Sweden’s long history of electric boating
From Electric Boats and Ships: A History:
North of Göteborg, Sweden, between 1913 and 1948, the battery-electric ASEA-engined Hamnfärjan I ferried workers from Marstrand Island to their shipyard on nearby Koön Island.
It was built for the Marstrands Mekaniska Werkstad ( Marstrand’s Mechanical Workshop) by August Svenningsson. Svenningsson had no plans to work from apart from being given the required dimensions. Ferry no. 1, including the electrical cables, was delivered in July 1913 at a cost of 15,000 Swedish crowns (about 725,000 crowns today); it carried 36 passengers and remained in service until 1960. It was powered by a 5 hp electric motor and also at first by a 5 hp crude-oil engine since electric power was cut off at 5 p.m.
Volvo Penta electrifying ferries in 2019
Before we get back to the Hamnfärjan (harbor ferry) we’re going to jump ahead to 2019. In one of the first public demonstrations of its commitment to having electric power solutions for boats by 2021, Volvo Penta announced that they would be working with Göteborg’s ElectriCity program to retrofit a ferry fully electric propulsion.
Now, we can’t be totally sure that Mr. Svenningsson’s ferry in Marstrand 106 years and 40km / 33mi away was the inspiration for Goteborg’s interest in electrification, but we can say that the people of Marstrand had been inspired by their local ferry. Again, from Electric Boats: A History:
In 1948 the battery-electric Hamnfärjan II took over. It was built in 1948 by Gösta Johansson at Kungsviken on Orust Island. It was more or less identical to its forerunner. Forty battery cells of 2 volts each (generating 80 volts in all) drove an ASEA electric engine delivering 8 hp. Popularly known as “the tram,” it would continue the ferry service until 1985.
When plans were announced that the service would be discontinued, (having served some 8 million passengers over the years) some citizen fans got together to form The Friends of the Ferry in Marstrand and work to keep it alive. It’s also where we found the wonderful photos in this article.
Friends of the Ferry had her lovingly restored
The Friends volunteered long hours and got generous sponsors on board (including Volvo Penta) to have The Tram totally refurbished from 1996-1999. In 2013 she was ‘K-Marked’ – given the official designation from the Norwegian Maritime Museums for vessels deemed to be of cultural-historical interest.
The electric Hamnfärjan II is still in operation to this day. The Friends rent it for weddings, graduations, birthdays and other celebrations as well as for tours of the harbour for conferences and other events.
It even occasionally fills in for the regular ferry ‘Lasse Maja’ which, when you think of it, easily makes the beloved Harbor Ferry the longest-running electric ferry service in the world at 106 years…and counting!
If you’re interested in renting The Tram for a celebration or if you are visiting Marstrand, contact the Friends of The Ferry through their website
Electric Boats and Ships: A History
Available from Amazon, including Kindle
Amazon Customer Review: “Desmond’s new book leaves no doubt that electrically powered vehicles are already a fixture on the firmament of propulsion and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. Well illustrated, meticulously written and researched, this book is a guaranteed ‘must’ on the bookshelves of all who have interest in this subject.”
DISCLOSURE: The excerpts from Electric Boats and Ships: A History have been provided by Mr. Desmond and the book’s publishers at the request of Plugboats. Plugboats receives a standard Amazon affiliate commission for any copies purchased through the links on this site.