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Old 10-01-2020, 11:14   #1
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Panama Canal on an electric motor

Hi Folks,

While we were planning our electric motor conversion the topic came up of transiting the panama canal. From what we have read, sailing is not allowed nor practical. Anyone know of any electric boats that have done it?

Our understanding is that its approx 81nm. We planned on a 48v 300ah LiFepo4 bank or roughly a 14kwh bank. We dont even come close to that range even at 60% hull speed. A small 2kw generator might let us motor at ~3kts but not sure thats fast enough to get though in the allotted time frame nor fight the currents.

Dan
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Old 11-01-2020, 07:57   #2
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Re: Panama Canal on an electric motor

I did it south to north in 2007 on a diesel electric cat. If memory serves capable of 5kts was required - don`t know if that was enforced.
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Old 11-01-2020, 08:18   #3
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Re: Panama Canal on an electric motor

5 Knots is the required minimum speed spelled out in the rules.

https://www.pancanal.com/eng/legal/r...ompilation.pdf

You can't avoid the rules because you have a pilot on board for the full passage. Sailing is not allowed, and for most of the passage, as you say, "not practical."

Since you can travel only during daylight, the passage would take you 3 days--if they allow your passage at all. I am not sure where you can anchor with the range you have. The normal overnight small boat anchorages will not work for you.

Your only option might be a tow. Be prepared for that logistically and cost wise.

That towing fee could have bought you a LOT of diesel fuel...
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Old 11-01-2020, 08:26   #4
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Re: Panama Canal on an electric motor

How do you charge your batteries? The normal process, starting on the Caribbean side, is that you transit the first three locks and then go a short distance to tie up to large moorings for the night. Most of the distance and three more locks are the next day. The advisors range from really good to mostly useless. Our advisor showed up a couple of hours late the second day and wanted us to do 8 knots to catch up with the ship we were to lock though with. We said we couldn't do that and he suggested we use sails as well.This worked quite well, 7+ knots, until we got to the narrow part near the Pacific locks. I doubt they would let you anchor for a second night somewhere, they would not have a mechanism to get the advisors from and to your boat.
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Old 11-01-2020, 08:41   #5
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Re: Panama Canal on an electric motor

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Originally Posted by recollect View Post
Hi Folks,

While we were planning our electric motor conversion the topic came up of transiting the panama canal. From what we have read, sailing is not allowed nor practical. Anyone know of any electric boats that have done it?

Our understanding is that its approx 81nm. We planned on a 48v 300ah LiFepo4 bank or roughly a 14kwh bank. We dont even come close to that range even at 60% hull speed. A small 2kw generator might let us motor at ~3kts but not sure thats fast enough to get though in the allotted time frame nor fight the currents.

Dan
Any way you could temporarily rig a long shaft outboard?
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Old 11-01-2020, 09:46   #6
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Re: Panama Canal on an electric motor

Voice of Experience,
When you're in a lock and because of scheduling you're behind a 600 foot freighter, and one of the other boats you're rafted up to looses a line......and the freighter starts forward.....you'll be wishing you had a 440Cu Inch motor not your puny little 48V sewing machine motor that might do 5kt if you don't run it too hard.
The 5kt is a minimum, informally I believe that 7kt is more of the requirement, with 5kt you might be sitting there a long time.
Bill









While we were planning our electric motor conversion the topic came up of transiting the panama canal. From what we have read, sailing is not allowed nor practical. Anyone know of any electric boats that have done it?

Our understanding is that its approx 81nm. We planned on a 48v 300ah LiFepo4 bank or roughly a 14kwh bank. We dont even come close to that range even at 60% hull speed. A small 2kw generator might let us motor at ~3kts but not sure thats fast enough to get though in the allotted time frame nor fight the currents.

Dan[/QUOTE]
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Old 11-01-2020, 10:16   #7
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Re: Panama Canal on an electric motor

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A small 2kw generator might let us motor at ~3kts
Why do you think so? I can well imagine that you would be faster. Do you have any data on this?
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Old 11-01-2020, 12:30   #8
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Re: Panama Canal on an electric motor

Some boats without any engine have transitted the canal by building a temporary outboard engine mount and borrowing or renting an outboard engine for the transit.
The five knots mandatory requirement is easier when going from the Caribbean to the Pacific, as the wind is mostly behind and waves are going with you.
Transitting from the Pacific to the Caribbean can be slow, as during the Lake Gatun section there can be 25 to 30 knots of wind and chop to match on a short fetch, but definitely slower.
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Old 11-01-2020, 16:19   #9
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Re: Panama Canal on an electric motor

The problem is easily solved by hiring and using a diesel gen-set to power you through the canal via your electric motor if required. That way you have a diesel vessel--temporarily--and in my case, my next vessel will be diesel electric, the diesel just as ballast and a standby..
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Old 11-01-2020, 16:59   #10
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Re: Panama Canal on an electric motor

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Originally Posted by anacapaisland42 View Post
Voice of Experience,
When you're in a lock and because of scheduling you're behind a 600 foot freighter, and one of the other boats you're rafted up to looses a line......and the freighter starts forward.....you'll be wishing you had a 440Cu Inch motor not your puny little 48V sewing machine motor that might do 5kt if you don't run it too hard.
The 5kt is a minimum, informally I believe that 7kt is more of the requirement, with 5kt you might be sitting there a long time.
Bill









While we were planning our electric motor conversion the topic came up of transiting the panama canal. From what we have read, sailing is not allowed nor practical. Anyone know of any electric boats that have done it?

Our understanding is that its approx 81nm. We planned on a 48v 300ah LiFepo4 bank or roughly a 14kwh bank. We dont even come close to that range even at 60% hull speed. A small 2kw generator might let us motor at ~3kts but not sure thats fast enough to get though in the allotted time frame nor fight the currents.

Dan
Example video of currents in PC locks. These are not prop wash as described above, but normal current from lock operartions.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/kcresenhe9...92107.mp4?dl=0

Either type of current can be significant in the Canal.
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Old 11-01-2020, 17:39   #11
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Re: Panama Canal on an electric motor

Thank you for the reponses.

Id agree that towing might be possible but not preferred by any means. I wasnt sure if this was feasable or safe.

As far as adding an outboard, we displace 16000lbs and have a canoe stern thats loaded with cruising gear. If it would even fit, we would have to size it correctly, plan for and test the solution out ahead of time.

A higher power gen-set seems to make the most sense in this case as its a longer term solution to the range issue. We did not plan on having a generator with our setup so more research would be required on our end to ensure power and range requirements are met.

The arguments for sticking with our diesel grow more compelling the more we research the conversion.

-Dan
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Old 11-01-2020, 23:03   #12
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Re: Panama Canal on an electric motor

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A small 2kw generator might let us motor at ~3kts but not sure thats fast enough to get though in the allotted time frame nor fight the currents.

Dan
2 Hondas 2200 in companion configuration will give You 4400 W max power.
As a range extender once Your batteries are full that might give You more then 5 knots.
I am sure those 2000 $ are a good investment as there will be most likely more situations like that.
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Old 11-01-2020, 23:44   #13
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Re: Panama Canal on an electric motor

The currents are definitely signifiant but you will never need full power for more than 5 minutes or so.
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Old 11-01-2020, 23:58   #14
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Re: Panama Canal on an electric motor

Quote:
Originally Posted by recollect View Post
. . .

A higher power gen-set seems to make the most sense in this case as its a longer term solution to the range issue. We did not plan on having a generator with our setup so more research would be required on our end to ensure power and range requirements are met.

The arguments for sticking with our diesel grow more compelling the more we research the conversion.. .

Most electric conversions rely on being able to manage on drastically reduced power and range compared to what a standard direct drive diesel could provide. There are many situations when long-distance cruising besides a Panama Canal transit where this can cause serious problems.



For day sailing short distances where you can connect to shore power every night, and when the boat is pretty small, the case for an electric conversion can be compelling. But for long distance cruising and larger boats, it becomes more difficult and more expensive to make it work acceptably well. I would guess that with 8 tons of displacement you would want at least 20hp available short term and at least 12hp available for hours at a time, to cope with most situations you will encounter cruising long distances. I am guessing; that may be too little. 12hp is 1.5hp per ton. You could ship a 10kW gasoline powered generator for your canal transit, and if the electric motor is big enough, then that might do the trick. But the canal transit may not be the only time you need that kind of power and I'm not sure where you could carry or install such a thing, on board such a boat. If you could permanently install a diesel generator of similar capacity then that would be ideal, but a 10kW is a beast -- will be quite a bit larger and heavier than your previous direct drive diesel.
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Old 12-01-2020, 01:44   #15
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Re: Panama Canal on an electric motor

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If you could permanently install a diesel generator of similar capacity then that would be ideal, but a 10kW is a beast -- will be quite a bit larger and heavier than your previous direct drive diesel.

The OP also has the AC/DC conversion to worry about. A 10kw 48 VDC generator is a rarity and a 10kw AC to DC charger is a substantial charger.
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