Should people convert yachts to electric motors?

In this generally good and fact filled interview (“Electric Engines on Sailboats: A Complete Guide! | Sailing Uma Interview“) there is the statement “If you have a working diesel, keep it” (at 40:30).

Of all the conversions of Yachts to electric motors, Kika and Dan of Sailing Uma, are possibly the most inspiring, they have more experience than pretty much everyone. They have built multiple versions, done some amazing DIY to get things working in ways they were not designed for and used them over years of cruising (20,000 miles I think they said). Their whole channel is full of brilliant and inspiring stories that spring from their characters which are lovely, positive, empathetic and so full of energy. Their videos around tourism and the environment in Haiti, of accessible sailing catamarans, of their responses to huge unexpected boat problems such as the keel nearly falling off the boat in the early days are great. We also find the way they have reworked the interior of Uma over the years really encouraging, it has helped us be much more adventurous with out own layout decisions.


I totally disagree with this statement “If you have a working diesel, keep it”.

I fully accept several of their arguments

  • the key restriction of electric motor installations is the range
  • many people are wedded to the idea that their diesel engine is a significant safety feature (I think they are wrong to do so but they do think that)
  • that an electric motor would force significant changes on many people who cruise to a timetable

Yet, I think they have missed the key reason that nearly everyone with a yacht should be encouraged to switch to an electric motor. We have to stop using fossil fuels and do so fast. So the UN says:

Increased commitments can take many forms but overall they must serve to shift countries and economies onto a path of decarbonization, setting targets for net zero carbon, and timelines of how to reach that target, most typically through a rapid acceleration of energy sourced from renewables and a rapid deceleration of fossil fuel dependency.

I think by now most people reading this blog are aware of the problems with fossil fuels, if not here are a couple of introductions.

So I’m saying switch away from Diesel Engines because we need to stop burning fossil fuels and I recognise that will have an impact on how you can use your yacht. I’m sorry about that but it is tough. We have to change and the way of cruising with a powerful, pretty reliable (especially if we ignore the very common fuel problems) diesel engine has to come to an end as a rather short time period in the history of cruising yachts.

My rule of thumb is to replace your diesel engine with an electric motor if any of these apply to you:

  • Your diesel engine does not work
  • Your fuel system needs money spending on to solve problems with diesel bug or other sludge or water
  • Your diesel engine needs signifiant work doing on any aspect
  • Your diesel engine needs taking out to do work on your stuffing box, cutlass bearing etc
  • You use a lot of diesel

If after this you have a working diesel engine by all means sell it to someone who will use it less than you.

The impact of switching from a diesel engine in your boat to an electric motor is far more significant than just the reduction in fossil fuels. It has massive symbolic value to others. It causes a big, positive, shift in our own expectations and our commitment to change in every part of our lives. As such it is a step everyone should be considering.

2 thoughts on “Should people convert yachts to electric motors?

  1. Nunzio Molonia August 1, 2020 / 9:18 am

    Beyond the benefits of just getting rid of the polluting fossil fuel, the noise and the smell of the engine spoils a lot of fun while you are not sailing. gliding in silence with an electric engine is a better second best than sailing. In terms of safety the diesel engine has much more moving parts and is simple by nature as opposed to a maintenance free brush-less mechanism. Also in my view a lot of seasickness is triggered/exacerbated by the smell of diesel.


    • dave42w August 1, 2020 / 10:46 am

      Hi Nunzio,
      I totally agree with all your points.
      People tend to think that boats have a particular smell (salt and diesel). As we clean and paint that is gradually disappearing. The diesel soaks into everything from every drip and leak over the years.
      Oh and if we get paranoid we can carry a spare electric motor in a vacuum sealed bag, less than 40kg 😊 Try that with a diesel!


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