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Vintage narrow boat goes electric

Published: 25 June 2015 - Rachael Morling

Curtis Instruments has completed a project with a charity who wished to convert Birdswood, a 1938 iron narrow boat, to an environmentally friendly electric drive.

The boat was originally built as an engineless, cabinless butty in 1938 and worked around Birmingham towed by a horse or motor boat. It’s hull is made of iron that is pointed at both ends to enable easy running in either direction.

Around 1955 the boat was modified and fitted with a cabin; and in 1995 the cabin was extended, a diesel hydraulic propulsion unit was added and the boat was used on the Caldon canal as a trip boat serving food. The unusual conversion was partly due to the pointed stern which does not easily permit a direct drive shaft through the centre point, so a small hydraulic motor was fitted into the rudder to which a propeller is attached. Hydraulic hoses run over the back of the boat to the hydraulic pump which was powered by the diesel engine.

In 2013 Birdswood was purchased by the charity, to work on the Cromford canal in the Derwent Valley world heritage site which is also a designated SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest).  As such, zero emission propulsion was required and after evaluating different ideas it was decided that although the hydraulic drive would remain, the diesel engine would be replaced by a CFR Induction motor controlled by a Curtis Instruments 1238 Vector Controller.

48V 820Ah batteries were supplied and Curtis commissioned the system.  In addition, Curtis fitted Acuity, its battery monitoring system, to monitor the battery data, state of health, total power used and operating temperatures. 

Now, almost two years later, interesting and useful data is coming through from Acuity.  As the hydraulic system is very low pressure, Acuity proves the efficiency to be very good with the boat easily managing four pleasure cruises before an overnight recharge is needed. It was a great team collaboration which is what Curtis likes to promote with all customers and colleagues.

If anyone would like more information, would like to view the boat, take a trip or volunteer for a day or more per month please contact the FCC.

Industry Connections: Curtis Instruments (UK) Ltd

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