Building a green boat: Ortomarine electric hybrid boat

Me and my boat

Me and my boat - Credit: NA

Paul and Kay Sumpner’s dream was to liveaboard, so they set about building a canal boat for the future

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archant canal boat march me and my boats archant canal boat march me and my boats archant canal boat march me and my boats archant canal boat march me and my boats archant canal boat march me and my boats archant canal boat march me and my boats archant canal boat march me and my boats archant canal boat march me and my boats archant canal boat march me and my boats archant canal boat march me and my boats archant canal boat march me and my boats - Credit: Archant

Way back in the late Autumn of of 2017, Kay and Paul Sumpner mounted an exercise to find someone to build the boat of their dreams. Kay’s dad (the Nick in Old Nick) had been a liveaboard boater and it was always the couple’s dream to follow in his footsteps.

Armed with a massive spreadsheet, they worked their way through numerous boatbuilders, comparing and contrasting and looking at the style and finish of the boats they built. They whittled their search down to a select few – one of which was Ortomarine.

Early in 2018, Kay spotted that Ortomarine was selling a newly built boat (as a result of the owner falling ill, sadly) and arranged to meet them to look at it. They promptly fell in love with the boat and the craftmanship with which it had been built and decided there and then that Ortomarine would be their boatbuilder.

They paid their deposit and were allocated a build slot for completion in March 2019. They went home and put their four-bedroom house on the market and started flat-hunting. Months passed and in late autumn, around the time that Ortomarine would have needed to order the Tyler Wilson hull, it became obvious that they could not guarantee that the house sale (from which funds were required) would be completed in time for the March build slot. They reluctantly released their build slot until things looked more certain for them.

To cut a long story short, the house finally sold in November 2019 and they secured a build slot for completion in August 2020. Then Covid hit and that knocked everything sideways, but they finally got Old Nick in December. They moved in lock, stock and two Border Terriers (Bill and Ted) and are currently moored at Droitwich Marina, to whom they owe a great deal for giving them a home when Covid struck again.

The delays had given them plenty of time to think and they decided, after much research, that instead of the conventional diesel-engined craft originally planned, they would go for a electric serial hybrid boat. Ortomarine are a forward-thinking, innovative company who already had experience in building all-electric (2), parallel (7) and serial hybrid (1) boats, so Paul and Kay were confident that this was the new way forward for them.

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Guided through the process by Rob and Caroline, they further decided that the boat would be as clean and green as possible so it would be gas-free, solid fuel/wood free and also have a composting toilet. It’s not currently possible, sadly, to be 100 percent diesel free on a liveaboard boat, so heating is supplied by an Eberspächer HS3 D4E diesel heater and supplementary power (when required) by a Vetus 6KVA, 1500RPM generator (GLX6,5SIC)

Old Nick has 12x solar panels, 24x LC2-800 Leoch Lead-carbon battery cells and the brand new Vetus E-Line 10kW electric motor. Old Nick is the first electric, serial hybrid, narrowboat, where the complete hybrid propulsion system is from one company – a “one stop solution” from Vetus, which is an extremely attractive proposition for boat-builder and owners alike. Indeed Vetus has supplied a whole list of other equipment including; stern gear, tanks, calorifier, pumps, prop, driveshaft, etc.

The Sumpners hope to live pretty much “free and green” for at least six months of the year, relying on solar power to top up the batteries for propulsion and to run their electric “white” goods. Old Nick can generate up to 2KW from the solar panels. They were incredibly pleased with the figures from their inaugural cruise. On an overcast winter’s day, they were out for about four hours solid cruising, with eight locks, and returned to base with the batteries on 85 percent – despite also boiling the 3kW kettle several times and using the microwave to heat lunch.

They plan to produce a great deal more figures that can be used by other boaters who wish to tread the same path. Whilst researching for Old Nick, they found a distinct lack of information and have fully documented all their technical choices and why they were made in their blog at They hope that Old Nick will be a reference design for future builds.

Old Nick is a 58ft semi-trad, reverse layout boat. The galley is equipped with an electric fan oven, an induction hob, a larder fridge and a washer/dryer. Kay was a little worried about how she would adapt to an induction hob but was a convert from the first session and actually finds it more controllable than gas. They cooked their first Christmas dinner aboard with ease.

They had opted for the ingenious and very flexible dinette, designed by Ortomarine’s Caroline Badger and are so pleased with it. Other than a dining space, it provides a workspace for Paul (CTO of marine electronics company Digital Yacht) a sewing and craft space for Kay and can also be converted into two small singles, a day bed, two linear settees, a small or large double bed and even provides additional seating in the saloon. They have storage underneath three of the seats, with a freezer under the fourth.

In the saloon, they have two recliner chairs for relaxing in the evening and at weekends and further storage is provided by a large footstool and within the media unit below their wall mounted flat screen 32ins smart TV.

The bathroom is walkthrough style, with a generous shower cubicle, a wash basin (storage under) with mirrored bathroom cabinet above and finally, the Compoost toilet.

They chose a fixed bed, accepting the minor nuisance of a slightly narrower gangway to the bow doors as a penance for not having to yank the bed out every night.

The mattress is memory-foam and the base is on gas struts, which open to reveal a very generous storage space. There is a wardrobe, with drawers underneath and additional storage below the dressing table and in the corner unit.

Old Nick is a very practical and stylish space for two people and has the flexibility to cope with guests. The decor throughout is light and airy – mainly white with pops of colour in every “room”.

The Sumpners firmly believe that everyone considering a new-build should think very carefully about going electric. They believe that the technology is available and that building with less reliance on diesel and other fossil fuels, needs to happen now.

And in common with all other boaters, Paul and Kay are very much looking forward to a time when they can cruise the system and really put the boat through its paces.