What The Future Holds For Narrowboats

Recently we’ve noticed a bit of a trend, we’ve found ourselves moored up next to multiple Hybrid/Electric Boats. Is this the future of canal travel? The roads are fast becoming a different place, Addison Lee this month announced that they are committed to running fully electric autonomous fleets in London by 2021, something which really took me back given they are relying on third party developments. Are the canals destined for the same fate?

I’m not entirely convinced if I’m honest, this may be one of those moments where two years down the line I have to eat my words, but I’d be surprised. I’ve done a fair amount of reading up on the area to try and understand how these canal unicorns work in practice.

It’s an interesting concept, and for the leisure user I can see how these could make sense with the opportunity to hook up to on shore power after a couple of days cruising. Long term liveaboard, I struggle with more. The need for power is greater, and the ‘hybrid’ solution of having a generator to charge the battery for the boat off, well I think that almost defeats the object of electrification, and as you read on will the fuelling of a generator be practicable?

What’s more, what do all boaters know to be a truth? Electrics are a flaming nightmare, I dread to think if we relied on these for everything, particularly with the complex systems involved.

Want to know what I dislike about the electrification, more than anything else? I miss the noise. Sounds mad? One of my favourite things on the cut is having a lovely old boat pass you with that gentle pap-pap of the engine, there is something truly magically about it. Even with the modern engines, the rhythmic engine can be so soothing, the electric boats are like ghost ships, eerily silent as they make their way by.

Now I hate to sound like I am just massively against any form of change, I’m really not, and welcome developments in this area. I’m just not yet convinced the technology is there to support successful or worry-free living aboard just yet.

Perhaps the answer is pay as you go charging stations at mooring points across the country. In fact pretend you never read that and stay tuned to BBC2, where James and I will appear on the next Dragons Den series. But maybe this is the way the world will be going, with the rise of electric, with the rise of driverless will fuelling a narrowboat still be practical, affordable and possible? Perhaps not.

Upon the invention of the combustion engine it took three years to phase out the use of horses as the main transport mode in the UK. Three years. It’s no time at all is it? As you’ll all know that’s the same amount of time the Frilled Shark is pregnant for. Experts are predicting 5G will unlock the frontier on autonomous and electric roll out. 5G is upon us and experts are convinced as little as three years and we could be well on our way to driverless, electric roll out.

Away from the arguments over whether or not we think it will work, whether or not we like the idea of it or not, it’s happening (Honestly following recent experiences on the road I can’t wait!). Only recently I’ve got to thinking how this could affect the life we have come to know on the cut.

Are electric boats the way forward? Well I think in the space for 593 words I’ve managed to change my opinion on them entirely … they just might be. Or perhaps I should think of trading my Shetlands for a Shire Horse just to be safe.

James & Kirsty

A diary of live aboard life

7 thoughts on “What The Future Holds For Narrowboats

  1. Probably going to be the same as gasless boats. Not many of those around now and many marinas still do a good trade in bottled gas.


    1. Fair point, I think the difference with the gas bottles is they have a purpose away from marine use too, meaning they are produced at a fairly economical rate allowing them to continue to be viable for those boats which aren’t gas free. James & Kirsty


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