Hybrid technology is seemingly everywhere in the automotive world these days. And not just in small cars, but also in heavy trucks, buses, and sport utility vehicles. But what about the boating world; is this a technology that has any place in a boat? Well the answer is “sort of,” and not for the reasons you might think. Let me explain.
First of all, hybrid boats do exist. And no, we’re not talking about backyard and basement Frankenboat experiments with car batteries and trolling motors on Jon boats or small skiffs. Maybe you’ve heard of Seaway, the Slovenian boatbuilder that has been importing its Greenline diesel-electric hybrid boats to the United States since 2010.
The idea behind the Swift Trawler 34 Hybrid is to take an already proven powerboat platform and see if it works as a hybrid. I can personally attest to the fact that the Beneteau Swift Trawler 34 is an excellent boat on its own, after delivering one up the full length of the Chesapeake Bay in a sporty 25- to 35-knot blow. Unlike the Greenline, which is designed almost expressly as a hybrid, the Beneteau Swift Trawler Hybrid is first and foremost a fast, capable, passage-making boat.
To get the job done, Beneteau enlisted Elco, a company with 120 years in the electric boat business. Elco started with a completely stock Beneteau Swift Trawler 34 (hull number 271), which had a 425-horsepower Cummins turbo diesel. That standard power plant is good enough to push the Swift Trawler 34 up to about 20 knots, with a reasonable and efficient cruise speed of around 15 knots.
To that Elco added a 72-volt, 20-horsepower belt drive electric motor/generator, a bank of 12 absorbed glass mat batteries, a 7.5-kilowatt diesel generator, a beefed-up battery charger, a battery management system, and helm control panel. Most everything else about the boat, including the five-bladed prop, is stock. The batteries, charger, generator, and electric motor/generator add approximately 2,200 pounds to the boat, and the batteries are situated in such a way as to keep the boat in trim. The whole system is installed so neatly and so far out of sight that I found it impossible to get decent pictures.