Electrified: Old tug gets new life with electric power

WorkBoat Magazine by Michael Crowley – October 2014

It’s not uncommon to repower older boats, especially those built 86 years ago.

But replacing an older diesel motor with brand new electric motors — electric motors powered by batteries? That may be about as uncommon as it gets, at least at the moment.

But this is the case for Tender 4, an old tug with two new EP-10000 electric motors from Elco Motor Yachts in Athens, N.Y. The 40-footer is working as a dredge tender on the Erie Canal for the New York State Canal Corp. With its new motors, the Tender 4 has been maneuvering dredges and dredge barges on the canal since June 17, according to Joe Fleming, Elco’s chief engineer.

The Canal Corp., a subsidiary of the New York State Thruway Authority, oversees and maintains New York’s canal system. It is comparing the performance and maintenance costs of the twin Elcos with the motor that had been in the boat, a 175-hp Detroit Diesel 6-71. Early results show they are “delivering 15 percent more horsepower to the shaft” than the Detroit, and “they drive the tug to its maximum hull speed.” said Fleming. 

Then there’s the obvious working benefit to the crew. Asked what the biggest difference was between the electric motors and diesel motor, “the crew said there was no smoke, you can have a conversation and there is no vibration. The work day is a lot better because of the lack of vibration,” said Dean Heinemann, Elco’s director of sales. 

And come this winter, the electric motors won’t have to be winterized, and any periodic maintenance that’s necessary with a diesel simply isn’t required. 

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