Want to replace the Atomic 4 with an electrical motor, any advice?

Fencer21

Member II
Hi Folks, I haven't posted on here in ages.

I have an 1974 E27, the boat is still in excellent shape, however, I'm fed-up with working on the damn engine all of the time. I want to replace it (A4) with an electric motor, my question is, is this a viable option, if so, who of you out there has done so and is it working out well for you.

I read in one of my sailing magazines a long time ago about someone (I completely forget who and what now) who had replaced their engine with a more efficient electrical motor, with a generator etc.

My question is, is the conversion to drive the shaft/prop do-able? In other words how does one change it to drive the shaft and prop?

Thanks...:)
 

Mark F

Contributing Partner
Blogs Author
Hi Fencer21,

look under the blogs section here. I have a couple of entries about my electric propulsion installation. I am at four years with an electric auxiliary on my 1976 E27 and couldn't be happier. The E 27 is a very good platform for EP, that said I've been reading about much bigger sailboats converting lately. I will warn you once you have the electric motor installed it's pretty boring, nothing to work on ;-).

Where is your boat, how do you use it, daysail, cruise? Are you in a slip?
 

rwthomas1

Sustaining Partner
I'll come right out and say I'm a skeptic of electric propulsion except for some very specific applications. Some are very happy but I will be waiting until the battery technology improves to the point where the electric option is equal to the conventional solution.

Consider this:
-What is the conversion cost, can you do the work and how much custom work will be required to make it happen?
-What is the cost of a rebuilt A4? The A4 gurus at Moyer Marine, and other places seem to be able to make them reliable.
-What is the cost of simply paying someone who really knows what they are doing to make your A4 right?
-Nothing is free, what is the cost of replacing a battery bank years down the road?
-Will this affect the resale potential of the boat? Correctly done, maybe not, but anything other than a pro-grade install on an alternative propulsion system will surely devalue the boat.

I don't like seeing old boats hacked. A poorly done conversion of any type will be worse than a poorly maintained original engine. Hanging an outboard on the transom is a hack as well. Go in with both eyes open and consider all the options.

RT
 

Fencer21

Member II
Hi Fencer21,

look under the blogs section here. I have a couple of entries about my electric propulsion installation. I am at four years with an electric auxiliary on my 1976 E27 and couldn't be happier. The E 27 is a very good platform for EP, that said I've been reading about much bigger sailboats converting lately. I will warn you once you have the electric motor installed it's pretty boring, nothing to work on ;-).

Where is your boat, how do you use it, daysail, cruise? Are you in a slip?
My boat is currently moored on Lake Mead here in Nevada, and I primarily use it for day sailing. Lake Mead can be fun and poses challenges one doesn't get on the open water/ocean.

I don't have the time to devote towards maintaining the engine, it has a lot of hours on it, it's used up and needs serious TLC. I'm just tired of always having to fix it. Whenever I do have the luxury of getting out to the boat, the last thing I want to do is spend what little time I have working on the engine.

Summers here in southern Nevada are hot. I've been thinking about converting to an electric motor ever since I read that article, but never knew how to execute the act of getting one. I have a personal friend who is an electrical engineer, and the challenge this presents is very intriguing to him. He has a keen eye and a very adept at attention to detail. Once he gets on this project, I know it'll get done right.

The cost would (I think) be invariably high at first, but still would be cheaper than bringing someone out to work on it or have it rebuilt. But in the long run, I don't have to put fuel in it, or oil, or make sure it's operating temperature is always where it should be, and I can get rid of the exchange/wet exhaust system and all of its associated hardware. This will make the boat lighter and more efficient, and on top of all of this I haven't read once where somone was totally unhappy with the change.

As for resale, it'll drive the value of the boat higher (that is if I were to sell it).

My plans for the atomic 4 (after a successful conversion) will either be, a big-ass paper weight or another boat anchor...we'll see. :)

Thanks to those who responded, I appreciate it, I'll continue my research with the info some of you provided and I'll let y'all know how it went.
 
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rwthomas1

Sustaining Partner
This will make the boat lighter and more efficient, and on top of all of this I haven't read once where somone was totally unhappy with the change. As for resale, it'll drive the value of the boat higher (that is if I were to sell it).
When someone spends $10K and it doesn't work out as they planned they very rarely admit it. If your boat is worth more than book value and you sell it after electric conversion I'll send you a crisp $100 bill. I'm completely serious. You have already made up your mind, and in your case I think you will be happy with the conversion. Best of luck. RT
 

Mark F

Contributing Partner
Blogs Author
Hi fencer21,

If you have any specific questions when/if you and your friend start the project don't hesitate to contact me. My only concern is how are you going to charge the batteries since you are on a mooring.
 

jreddington

Member III
Another alternative to driving the existing propeller is the Mastervolt Podmaster

http://www.mastervolt.com/press-releases/the-new-podmaster-from-mastervolt/

A conversion of a classic daysailor with no auxiliary to this system was outlined in the most recent edition of Professional Boatbuilder. For this application the Podmaster was perfect since there was no engine compartment to put even a motor and very shallow bilges. The advantage in your situation is that the pod system is engineered as a unit. You don't have to re-engineer and re-specify propellers, etc. Just plug up the shaft log.

With the pod on the outside, this also frees up the old engine room space for easier retrofitting of a battery bank. One of the most complicated parts of retrofitting a boat to electric is finding places to put the batteries.

The same article notes another conversion where professionally installed the cost was $17,000 and estimates that this is $3,000 MORE than an equivalent diesel. Not that your installation would run that but illustrates that a proper electric install is not going to save much if anything over a traditional repower.

There was an article a few months ago in either This Old Boat or Sail that outlined converting a boat to electric drive using the original propeller. It was on how to do this on the cheap. However, the author appeared to be skilled to more than the shade tree mechanic level.

Also, as Nigel Calder has noted in several articles, there are significant hazards with available fault current and other issues that are associated with newer batteries (lithium) or just the scale up from an A/B battery set to a multi-battery bank.

As a minimum, adhere to ABYC standards and work with an ABYC technician certified eletrical technician. /And even current ABYC standards are really not designed to address these larger banks. These standards are in active development but since the industry is still in the infacncy of these electric and hybrid vessels the standards are chasing a moving target.

And make sure you are realistic about the application and your expectations. People frequently overestimate how much they can get out of a battery bank. In a hybrid boat presentation I gave, I used the Chevy Volt as an analogy. The state of the art batteries in this car weigh about 700 lb. Electric range is 30-40 miles. MPG once the engine kicks in is in the 30 mpg range. So this 700 lb. of battery has equivalent energy to about a gallon or gallon and a half of gasoline or diesel (we're talking just rough ballpark numbers to illustrate).

Envision it this way. Would you head off on a cruise with just a gallon or two in your tank, especially if even Sea Tow can't supply you with a gallon or two of emergency "fuel" out on the water? (Your electric "tank" size would vary depending on the size of your battery bank). If your answer is "yes" than you are a good candidate.
 

Mark F

Contributing Partner
Blogs Author
Hi Fencer21,

You might want to checkout some of the online forums by groups of people that have converted to electric. You do not need to reinvent the wheel. Electric propulsion for sailboats is a nicely maturing technology.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/electricboats/messages?o=1
http://www.electricseas.org/

some of the manufacturers that I'm familiar with;

http://www.electricyacht.com/
http://www.propulsionmarine.com/electric
http://www.c-e-marineamericas.com/products.php
http://www.advancedmarineelectricpropulsion.com/index_files/Page497.htm

and for grins you can view a video that the now defunct manufacturer (SolidNav) made of my E27 a few years ago;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjqC9wZUVL8
 

Fencer21

Member II
Hi Fencer21,

You might want to checkout some of the online forums by groups of people that have converted to electric. You do not need to reinvent the wheel. Electric propulsion for sailboats is a nicely maturing technology.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/electricboats/messages?o=1
http://www.electricseas.org/

some of the manufacturers that I'm familiar with;

http://www.electricyacht.com/
http://www.propulsionmarine.com/electric
http://www.c-e-marineamericas.com/products.php
http://www.advancedmarineelectricpropulsion.com/index_files/Page497.htm

and for grins you can view a video that the now defunct manufacturer (SolidNav) made of my E27 a few years ago;http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjqC9wZUVL8
these are great resources, thanks Mark...
 

Lucky Dog

Member III
Other than be old and cranky, is there anything major with the A4? I used to hot rod engines in younger days and now teach small engine repair.
 

Randy Rutledge

Sustaining Member
Keep the boat whole

If your boat is moored: you will only have the huge solar panel and a wind generator to charge the battery bank. (More money). As for as the weight, the battery bank will probably weigh twice what the A4 weighs (300#) With the A4 and a 17 gal tank you should have over 17 hours of motoring or over 90nm (minimum). I would rather tinker with the A4 and have that range not to mention a gas can on the deck with 5 more hours range.

If your A4 doesn’t require a complete overhaul a couple of days and $400 to $600 would make it dependable. Can you convert to electric for that in time or money? As for as buying the boat electric would be a deal breaker for me.

Lake Mead is a lot of water to cover when you have a non-replenish-able energy source and limited range. I guess you could pull into one of the many marinas on the lake and rent a slip for the day/night and recharge. I know that it is a sailboat and it is great when you sail away from anchorage and sail up and drop anchor again but there are times you have a hard stop time for the trip and well would it not be nice to have wind or auxiliary power.
I hope I don’t sound anti-electric; it works fine for a golf cart if the batteries are fully charged and you are only going a short distance. Consider this as driving a golf cart to work and back 20 miles a day and ask how confident you would feel. Do you now run 12V fans, lights, radio, and other electronics as though there is all the power in the world or do you use them sparingly? Propulsion should be there for extended use, always enough to get back to the BALL.

You have offers for help for the A4, consider talking to one of us before you spend more on the conversion than both our boats would bring in todays market.
 
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toddster

Curator of Broken Parts
Blogs Author
I have to admit that I find some appeal in the electric conversion scenario. (Perhaps with a small diesel generator on board.) For a real gadget freak, it could have its own rewards, which need not be explained to spouses or skeptics.

However, re: A4 range. I've been crawling around in the lazarette a lot lately and can't help but suspecting that there is enough empty room in the curvature of the hull underneath the fuel tank for an auxiliary bladder tank that could at least double the range.
 

Randy Rutledge

Sustaining Member
Toddster,

I have a 17 gal plastic tank that would fit athwart ship behind the rudder post and would give double the range. My fuel use is more like 3/4 gal per hour though I used 1 gal per hour to be conservative on my range estimate. The tank on Rumkin hugs the line of the hull and its front even with the rear of the engine.
I have toyed with the 1 cylinder diesel alternator to give renewable 12 V power without running the A4. There was a post of adding a scoop transom that I have considered modifying to have a ½ scoop with boarding ladder and a generator locker on the other ½. Would be added transom weight that would be slow but would allow use of Marine air and frig at anchor with the proper inverter.
 

toddster

Curator of Broken Parts
Blogs Author
Toddster,

I have a 17 gal plastic tank that would fit athwart ship behind the rudder post and would give double the range. My fuel use is more like 3/4 gal per hour though I used 1 gal per hour to be conservative on my range estimate. The tank on Rumkin hugs the line of the hull and its front even with the rear of the engine.
I have toyed with the 1 cylinder diesel alternator to give renewable 12 V power without running the A4. There was a post of adding a scoop transom that I have considered modifying to have a ½ scoop with boarding ladder and a generator locker on the other ½. Would be added transom weight that would be slow but would allow use of Marine air and frig at anchor with the proper inverter.
Interesting. Happen to have a link? I guess my boat is laid out differently (tiller model.) The stock fuel tank location is on a wooden platform behind the rudder tube as you mention. Since it's above the engine, the fuel system is self-priming. In fact, there's a rather cavernous compartment back there that doesn't get used because it's difficult to reach. Behind the engine is a battery compartment, then more empty (though narrow) space.
 

Emerald

Moderator
I've got to vote for staying with the A4 for all the things stated, as well as sheer safety. At some point you stand to get caught in a situation with the wind dead on your bow, a lee shore, or some such scenario, and having the power to make progress and get out and home can't be stressed enough. I've certainly been there. I had the reefed main blown off the mast in a serious gust combined with a wind shift which caused a jibe that wasn't in the game plan - instantaneously broke every slide holding the main to the mast. The control lines for the Dutchman were all left holding it in place and keeping it from really getting out of control. With the main out of action, I was now just using the staysail, and guess what? In the 4-5 foot Chesapeake chop and 25-30 knot winds continuous on the bow, about all I could do was tack back and forth and hold my ground, barely, and there was nothing but shoal water to the lee (Bloody Point Light, for those who know the area), I was damn happy to have an engine with power that I knew was going to work, and it did. I was able to make about 2 - 2.5 knots of headway at RPM that normally has me at 6.2+ knots cruising. I needed every bit of the power without worrying about running out of juice. So, even though I have a little 30hp diesel, it could just as well been a little A4 doing the trick. Moyer Marine even has blocks for these things now. No reason to give up on her. Doing a full rebuilt exchange with Moyer will give you a better solution for less money. If you want to play with electric propolsion, I could see doing some neat stuff on a skiff or john boat for river fun, but not my big boat that I really head out and do stuff with.
 
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