Category Archives: Boats

stuff about boats – all kinds of boats, plus events that involve boats

A hydrogen-powered research boat has many advantages over diesel, lab says

Sandia National Laboratories says a hydrogen fuel cell-powered research boat is technically and economically feasible today.

The lab network has released a report describing the specifications of an ideal hydrogen fuel-cell research vessel. Currently, research boats are largely powered by diesel, but a shift to hydrogen fuel cells could offer some significant advantages over traditional technologies. Not least among these could be a complete reduction in carbon dioxide and other emissions that contribute to global warming and sea pollution during use.

Building such a vessel would require an entrepreneur to find funding and a buyer, but Sandia’s previous work on hydrogen-powered boats has sparked just that kind of entrepreneurship already with a company called Golden Gate Zero Emission Marine (GGZEM). GGZEM was founded by a researcher who worked on a earlier Sandia project, studying the feasibility of hydrogen-powered passenger ferries. Now, the company is building the world’s first commercial hydrogen-powered passenger ferry, called the Water-Go-Round. GGZEM confirmed to Ars that the Water-Go-Round is on-track to launch in Fall 2019.

An artist's rendering of the <a href="">Water-Go-Round</a>, a hydrogen-powered passenger ferry due out in 2019. This entrepreneurial project is the result of a study that preceded Sandia's recent hydrogen-powered research vessel study.
An artist’s rendering of the Water-Go-Round, a hydrogen-powered passenger ferry due out in 2019. This entrepreneurial project is the result of a study that preceded Sandia’s recent hydrogen-powered research vessel study.

Fuel cell on a boat

Hydrogen fuel cell-powered transportation, on water or on land, has yet to break into the mainstream. This is in part due to the lack of infrastructure supporting the transportation of hydrogen fuel, and in part due to the fact that hydrogen fuel can be difficult to store (it prefers very cold or high-pressure environments). Fuel-grade hydrogen also requires energy to make, leading some opponents to contend that unless renewable energy is being used to make fuel, hydrogen fuel cells really aren’t all that green.

But there are advantages to hydrogen fuel cells as well. The only emission they release is water, so if hydrogen is made with renewable energy, it is indeed a very green source of fuel. Hydrogen can also be stored and used at will in a way that renewable energy can’t be—just fill up the tank and you’re good to go, no need to wait for good conditions for solar panels to start working.

For a research vessel, the emissions issue is a big one. On a hydrogen-fuel-powered boat, researchers could take air samples without concern about diesel emissions sullying the data. Additionally, Sandia reports that “Hydrogen can be readily used in Arctic Oceanographic exploration because hydrogen is not susceptible to the waxing/ freezing problems of the petroleum-based fuels.” An electrically-powered hydrogen fuel cell boat is also much quieter, so sonar mapping could be improved.

Another advantage is that the waste from hydrogen fuel cells can be consumed. “Fuel cells generate pure, deionized water which can be captured for other purposes such as drinking water for the scientific staff and crew, or for experimental and analytical purposes,” the report notes. “This can offset the weight of potable or experimental water needed to be carried on-board.”

And none of those potential advantages includes the significant fact that such a boat would contribute less to climate change than a similar diesel vessel.

Research specifications

Sandia worked with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to determine how the vessel, called the Zero-V, would be used and how it would refuel. It also consulted with naval architecture firm Glosten as well as DNV GL, which does risk management for maritime operations.

The Zero-V is designed to carry fewer people than a ferry, but for a much longer period of time (2,400 nautical miles or a 15-day excursion, to be exact). It requires propulsion devices on either side of its hull to stabilize the boat if it has to lower equipment to the ocean floor for research purposes. And in addition to 11 crew and 18 scientist berths, the boat needs to house three laboratories.

“Part of the solution was selecting a trimaran boat design,” a Sandia press release noted. “A trimaran has three parallel hulls, and is usually used for high-speed boats. The design offers a great deal of space above deck for the tanks, and adequate below-deck space for other science instrumentation and machinery.”

Scripps also identified ports of call for such a vessel where hydrogen fuel companies could refuel the boat by truck. Nimitz Marine Facility in San Diego, Moss Landing Marine Laboratory in Monterey, Pier 54 in San Francisco, and Wharf 5 in Redwood City could all accommodate hydrogen refueling operations, the report said.

The problem is always cost

While the vessel that Sandia and its partners developed would be economic to build and is estimated to cost no more than an equivalent diesel-powered vehicle, the one thing standing in the way is operating cost. Unlike with a battery-electric vehicle, where initial cost is high but maintenance and refueling costs are much lower, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles struggle in long-term competitiveness due to the cost of hydrogen fuel.

The researchers estimated that, using natural gas-derived hydrogen fuel, the Zero-V would cost seven percent more than a comparable diesel vessel to maintain and keep fueled. But natural gas-derived hydrogen fuel offers no overall emissions benefits compared to diesel when the production, storage, and transportation of hydrogen is factored in. Researchers also spoke to two hydrogen fuel companies that said they would be able to produce hydrogen from renewable energy in the quantities that the ship would need, but at that point, “the total annual O&M costs for operating the Zero-V are 41.9 percent higher,” the report stated.

Still, in the Sandia press release Scripps fleet manager Bruce Applegate was optimistic and compared hydrogen-powered vessels today to solar panels several years ago. “Like other game-changing ideas, this approach initially seems expensive. But solar power was very expensive not too long ago, and now it’s affordable and widely adopted. Hydrogen fuel cells are just as transformative a technology.”

Listing image by Glosten


Thanks to a lot of help from John Prentice I was able to replace the centerboard on Pineapple Express (SR31 #105).
I posted some photos in an album, and shared with the Searunner group.

This was a pretty standard board, built mostly to plans, but a little thin and without the split hose padding — the original builder made the boat’s centerboard trunk narrower than plans, so the old board was always a tight fit.

3 sheets 3/8″ marine grade okume plywood
2 gallons system three silver tip epoxy
36 feet x 50″ fiberlay 3.6 oz cloth
2″ pvc tubing
3/4″ pvc tubing with caps

  • How we did it
    Laminated 3x 3/8″ Marine plywood
    Laid grid with pencil
    Drew shape with pencil
    Cut shape
    Made foil jig from thick plywood
    Draw contours with grid
    Cut guide grooves with skill saw and foil jig
    Shaved edges down with power plane
    Sanded fair
    Indented around pivot point
    Filled low spots with thickened epoxy
    Laid first layer of 3.6 oz cloth dry
    Lapped over 2″ on leading edge, kept trailing edge loose
    Laid 2nd layer of cloth wet
    Painted on cover coat
    Flip and repeat
    Fair the trailing edge with thick epoxy
    Thickener coat 12 oz with silica
    2x thin gloss coats 6oz each
    Bevel trailing edge 10° to one side to prevent oscillation
    Sand, wash weigh (98lbs) and cure 3 days



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Former Ferry


As someone who rode out 2 hurricanes, one with a 10 ft tidal surge, on a 33 ft. former ferry boat where the engine had to be kept at half throttle in forward just to keep the mooring from dragging, some “duds” are devoutly to be wished for.    

Love   Dad

The Spindrift was the former Bustin’s Island ferry before Dad bought it, removed about a third of the sitting area and built a flying bridge and forward cabin. This harrowing exploit took place in the Royal River just off of Alec Twombly’s boat yard.  It wasn’t called a marina in those days.  Joe and I alternated duty. The river was running so swiftly that we had to use an outhaul arrangement to get back and forth to the Spindrift.  Fortunately Dad had filled the fuel tank (must have been 50 or more gallons) before the storm. Good thing as the gas pumps on shore were flooded over.  I ought to see what Joe remembers of this. It was in the fall of 1956 I think because Jamie was in the Marine Corps.  

 Love   Dad

Boat Check

Hot and still on the water today. Ned a fan our two in the at cabin.
A little compressed air cleared out the cooling system on the motor.
Talked with Bruce of Legacy (across the fairway) over burgers in the shade.


Epoxy Weather

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA           Glueing in backstop for cockpit locker

Thought I would spend the weekend sailing, but actually, what I really value bachelor weekends for is epoxy. It’s bad for kids, need hot weather to cure properly, and holds my boat together.

So this weekend I glued in a new stop plate for the cockpit locker, reamed out a bit of rot around the anchor hatch, and patched up a dime-sized chunk taken out of the port ama bow by a passing Bayliner.

The System3 Rotfix was, as usual, way too drippy.  Smiths CPES is clearly better for rot and for sealing. System 3 with silica and wood filler held off long enough to work well on the bow patch. But system 3’s caulking gun tube didn’t do so well for the cockpit locker – wasn’t fully set on schedule and came loose when clamps removed.  West system 610 looks better for the caulk gun.


I also pulled out the forward window, and was pleased to find no rot or issues underneath. Now I’ll have to have a replacement made with 2″ of extra all around, and bend it to a 2″ camber over the length of the window.

Boat check


Forward cabin 80° | 45% | dry cubbies
Aft cabin 72° | 41° | starboard cubby wet
Electrical system 14v on solar alone
Boat looks clean and happy
Plans to free center board pennant, empty head and fill fresh water went smoothly
Hosed down the head compartment
Left at cabin lights breaker on to charge iPad