Solar Powered Outrigger Canoe

Solar Outrigger Canoe

This outrigger canoe first appeared on Australian television in 2011 (ABC network). In 2015 the program was repeated and was shown on iView, a method that allows tv programs to be watched over the internet. Some images are taken from that program. This outrigger canoe uses solar panels that can be angled in two axes, allowing the solar panels to always point towards the sun. There is a lead acid battery for energy storage. Propulsion is via a simple off the shelf electric trolling motor.

At present these solar powered boats are a little bit of a gimmick, but in years to come as solar cells become cheaper, more efficient and lighter through thin film solar technology, boats like this are likely to become much more common. My guess is that initial take up may well be with hire boat companies, where families go out on the water for a little nice safe fun, and are not looking for high performance. It goes without saying that electric motors are very quiet. Speed is modest around walking pace.

The designer/builder, Michael Harbour, used some high tech methods to build the boat. He used software to design the hull, and then had a female mold cut out of foam blocks using robots. The steel gears that allow the solar cells to point in any direction were laser cut from steel plate from a file that the desinger drew up at home. The boat is made from fiberglass. The outrigger is needed to give stability due to the high location of the solar cells. The outrigger is made out of round tubing filled with foam. The crossbeams are aluminium bent in a jig and filled with foam

My guess is that in years to come boats like this will become quite popular. As solar cells become cheaper and lighter, my guess is that a simple flat panelled solar roof with greater solar cell area will be used. Probably on a light foam backing.

Some details of this boat

  • The outrigger is a plastic pipe and is foam filled to stop water ingression
  • The boat is made out of fiberglass
  • The mold for the hull was first made via polystyrene blocks cut with robot arms
  • The battery is a simple lead acid car battery, though a Lithium battery is being looked into
  • The first model had solar cells that pivot in one axis, the second model has solar cells that pivot in two axes
  • One boat has been sold already to a Singaporean customer
  • Anticipated future markets include the hire boat market
  • The current boat uses an electric trolling motor, for future boats a more efficient motor using rare earth magnets is being looked into