Can a boat really only be powered by solar?
Yes. The boats are powered only by the sun’s energy which converts to electricity. This means there are no bills, no need to re-fuel, no need to swap out gas canisters and no need to pay for electricity. The key to success is the battery bank to store what the panels produce. Once you’ve bought the boat, all your energy is free. A standard hook up plug is available for any extra power needs.
Does the boat need maintenance?
All boats need maintenance. Some need considerably more than others - especially wooden boats. Diesel or petrol engines require regular maintenance as there are many moving parts. By contrast, the simple electric motors are virtually maintenance free. The battery bank comes with a self-watering system to keep it automatically topped up and the solar panels do not need any attention, although we would recommend you mop them once a month.
How long can she cruise for?
If the sun is out, The SunFlower can cruise all day long without using any battery. The solar panels are either powering the motors or topping up the battery. I guess a better question would be how long can she cruise at night? With a full battery she could cruise for 10 hours without any light. However, this will depend heavily on how fast you are going. Using the motors at full speed could reduce this by half. Each boat will be different depending on size.
How far can she cruise in winter?
The simple answer is there is not enough daylight for the boats to store enough to cruise most days in the depths of winter but there is more than enough for normal domestic use for living onboard. Most boaters don’t cruise when weather conditions are miserable. In winter, most either stay on their permanent mooring or find a temporary winter mooring in a marina or similar until the weather improves. The Canal & River Trust release details of temporary winter moorings in October each year.
If someone is inclined to navigate the waterways in the rain, cold and snow, the boats come fitted with an electric hook up so can be plugged in to an electrical charging point overnight. The Environment Agency has several public charging points on the River Thames for example (our local lock charges £10 for all night charging) but you should investigate your own local options if you wish to cruise in winter.
It’s a boat – surely it gets cold in winter?
The boats are extremely well insulated with 70mm minimum sprayfoam and fitted with triple glazed windows and doors to minimise heat loss. The heat recovery ventilation system uses the warmth from the old air leaving the boat to heat the fresh cold air as it comes in. No more draughty vents for a Baltic blast during winter! Plus, the concrete floor acts as a thermal mass storage heater by retaining the heat from the hot water pipes which pass under the floor from the eco-boiler stove into the hot water cylinder.
How far can she go on the canal systems? This depends on the length and width. At 13 feet (4m) wide, The SunFlower is not suited to the whole canal system. We built her for Thames cruising. This suits us but most of our boats will be a maximum 12’ 6” to enable them to travel as far as other widebeams.
Will it become illegal for boats to have diesel engines?
We don’t know. What we do know is that, currently, the UK Government plans to ban the sale of new diesel and petrol cars from 2040. There is strengthening opposition to diesel due to its contribution to air pollution and carcinogenic properties.
What about a mooring? Moorings can be difficult to come by, especially in popular locations. Leisure moorings are much easier to find than residential, especially in busy places like London. Only at official residential moorings can you be registered to vote or have post delivered so you usually need to make alternative arrangements for this. Private moorings and marinas can be selective and will often want to see the kind of boat you wish to moor before they accept you, so having an ultra-modern boat may be an advantage. Also, not all private moorings have full facilities (electrical supply or pump-out) so a boat capable of being self-sufficient is also an added advantage. Once you know where you want to be based, hit the internet to see what’s available. You should also ask around, then visit marinas and moorings as opportunities can come and go quickly. Timing can be everything.
Do I have to have a permanent mooring? Some people choose to be ‘continuous cruisers’ meaning they travel around the waterways network without a permanent mooring. This doesn’t suit everyone of course but it is a lifestyle which many people love. A boat capable of being off-grid in this way reduces your reliance on finding facilities and gives you ultimate freedom to be on the move.
Do you need a licence to drive this type of boat? At the moment there is no licence required to drive a boat on the British Inland Waterways. However, we would advise taking a few lessons on how to manouever any boat before heading out! All boats require an annual licence for whichever inland waterway you plan to keep it on (rather like a car needs to be registered). Prices vary but on the Thames, the Environment Agency currently offers a 25% discount for electric boats. For more info see www.canalrivertrust.org.uk/enjoy-the-waterways/boating/licensing-your-boat