UK’s ‘first hybrid pilot boat’ aims to cut pollution

Engineers claim to have built the UK’s first hybrid pilot boat to cut pollution on the River Thames.

The boat, which is zero-emission when in electric mode, will be used to take maritime pilots to and from large vessels like cruise liners and container ships at the Port of London.

The role of a pilot is to board a vessel and use local knowledge to guide it safely into the port.

The Port of London Authority commissioned the hybrid pilot boat as part of its Air Quality Strategy, which aims to reduce river-based air pollution on the Thames.

The authority said that in 2013 river use accounted for 1.05% of London’s emissions, but this proportion is “likely to increase as emissions from road vehicles fall due to tightening legislation and use of the river grows”.

A prototype boat will start a year-long trial at the port this summer, based at Gravesend in Kent.

The hybrid pilot boat built for the Port of London Authority by Goodchild Marine Services in Burgh Castle, Norfolk. (Goodchild Marine Services/ PA)
The hybrid pilot boat built for the Port of London Authority by Goodchild Marine Services in Burgh Castle, Norfolk. (Goodchild Marine Services/ PA)

Alan Goodchild, managing director of Goodchild Marine Services at Burgh Castle, near Great Yarmouth, which built the boat, said: “This is certainly the UK’s first hybrid pilot boat and we believe it’s probably the world’s first hybrid pilot boat.”

He said the concept of hybrid boats is not new, but it is for fast patrol boats like pilot boats.

He continued: “This boat has been developed and built for the Port of London Authority who have got a clean air strategy where they’re looking to have zero emissions in and around the centre of London so it’s the ideal platform to start the process off.

“It’s been developed to operate 90% of its operational duty cycle in electric mode and then, when it’s needed for high speed, it converts over to diesel power.

“In diesel mode it then regenerates the batteries when it’s at the higher speeds in diesel mode.”

He said the boat’s hull has a “wave-piercing design” which has 40% less resistance than a conventional, lighter vessel, making the heavier hybrid possible.

It can last for five to six hours at a cruising speed of 10 knots before it needs to be recharged or just under two hours at the maximum speed of 15 knots, he said.

“It’s becoming politically driven that vessels that work in and around cities where they’ve got green energy policies coming in will have to start embracing the new technology,” he said.

He admitted it was more expensive to build than a standard vessel but said the operational cost is lower.

He said the hybrid cost more than £1 million as well as research and development costs to build, while a diesel pilot boat costs around £850,000.

The prototype will be monitored during its trial, with live data streaming back to the boat-builders.

Mr Goodchild added: “We’re getting a lot of inquiries already from other operators that are being put under pressure to operate hybrid.”

Peter Steen, director of marine operations at Port of London Authority, said: “This vessel is the first in probably many that we will have into the future that are using less fuel, pushing out less emissions and just improving the environment for everyone on the river.

“We’re fairly confident that, if she’s plugged in enough of the time, she’ll just be able to run on the batteries alone.”