SAAM’s electric tugs to operate in Vancouver

It is with great pride that Robert Allan Ltd. shares that SAAM Towage Canada has signed a construction contract with SANMAR Shipyards to add two new state-of-the-art battery electric tugs to their operations in Robert Allan Ltd.’s “homeport” of Vancouver, British Columbia (BC), Canada.

This exciting development aligns perfectly with the Port of Vancouver’s stated goal to become the world’s most sustainable port as well as the city’s own goal to become the greenest. These will be a major step in that direction and a further demonstration of the local BC marine industry’s leadership in accelerating progress towards decarbonization of towage and harbour operations worldwide.

The signing ceremony is the product of a highly collaborative effort between Robert Allan Ltd., SAAM, and SANMAR to design the perfect harbour tug for SAAM’s operations in the Port of Vancouver, and by extension, other environmentally progressive ports worldwide.

SAAM’s fleet of ship-docking tugs in Vancouver is very well-utilized and requires a battery electric tug to have a large battery capacity to meet their service needs. Time between missions can be short, again suggesting high battery capacity and relatively quick recharging periods. Space between the port’s “finger piers” is limited, thus requiring a tug of compact dimensions and exceptional manoeuvrability, yet also high bollard pull to meet the needs of handling ever-larger commercial vessels.

The ElectRA 2300-SX is the optimal solution to these needs. With a nominal battery capacity of 3,616 kWh, this compact, 23 metre length design delivers exceptional endurance compared to even larger peers. Zero-emission mission endurance is several hours for normal operations, or it can deliver its impressive bollard pull of 70 tonnes for up to a full hour.

This performance will be delivered with finesse. With its quiet battery electric propulsion system and SANMAR’s well-established attention to noise and vibration control measures, the ElectRA 2300-SX are expected to be remarkably comfortable for crews to work on. The electrical propulsion motors also deliver full torque at any vessel speed, thus giving these tugs unrivaled thrust responsiveness and fineness of control in their ship-handling role.

A customized skeg, specifically tuned to SAAM’s exacting preferences for manoeuvrability and controllability, is a major achievement of the design. After surveying SAAM’s local crews for the most desirable characteristics, Robert Allan Ltd. undertook a sea trials program on two tugs in their local fleet, then built and validated dynamic manoeuvring models using computational fluid dynamics (CFD). These models allowed the manoeuvrability and directional stability to be carefully evaluated for a pair of skeg options on the new design, with the result being a skeg option specific to SAAM Canada that is expected to provide optimal manoeuvring characteristics as per the local crews’ preferences.

These tugs will leave little trace other than jobs well done. Airborne emissions of CO2 and other products of combustion will be zero when operating on the batteries, which will be charged at dock from the local hydroelectric power grid. This charging capacity, it should be mentioned, is customizable on all ElectRA in accordance with customer needs. Reductions of CO2 emissions alone compared to a conventional diesel tug are expected to exceed 1,000 tonnes per annum (per tug), which is roughly equivalent to the emissions of 400-500 cars for the pair.

The tugs’ impact on the underwater environment will be as low as practicable. As a proud member of both Green Marine and the Port of Vancouver’s ECHO program, SAAM Canada is dedicated to the reduction of underwater radiated noise and recognizes the benefits of battery electric propulsion in this regard. SAAM will therefore be seeking an underwater radiated noise notation (ABS UWN) for the vessels, to be assigned after sea trials in local waters. The tugs are also designed for zero discharges.

Attention to fine details is not limited to the ElectRA 2300-SX’s environmental performance. As typical with all ElectRA, the deckhouse is stylishly designed and set aft, yielding a distinctive appearance that hints at its special calling while also being optimal for working under the bow flare of container ships, especially in combination with the folding mast option. Within the deckhouse are spacious and well-lit MLC-compliant accommodations for a crew of up to four persons, although SAAM will typically crew the tugs with just a pair of highly skilled mariners each, as is typical for their operations in Vancouver.

The deckhands aboard will find a flush working deck forward with a double-drum electric hawser winch. There is ample space to work and minimal clutter, in part due to the availability of an aft anchoring option. The Masters will revel at the excellent sightlines afforded from the steering position, including that of the large diameter cylindrical fender forward.

That fender extends well aft, thus providing excellent cushioning for bow, bow quarter, and side contact with an assisted vessel. The fendering system is also designed to be exceptionally soft, with both 20 and 25 tonnes per square metre (at full bollard pull) options available for selection.

Another option available on the design is an FFV1 fire-fighting notation (2,400 m3/hr) with both waterspray and foam. A pair of 940 ekW, IMO Tier III emissions compliant generators are aboard for powering this optional system and other ancillary functions.

Escort notation is also available on request, as are other optional notations.

Steel cutting of the first ElectRA 2300-SX for SAAM is already underway, and delivery is expected in 2023. Although many in the series may ultimately be delivered under their own power, the SAAM tugs’ delivery voyages from Turkey across the Atlantic, and then up the Pacific coast to Vancouver will be via heavy-lift ship. This will be seamlessly performed using the standard lifting lugs that are integrated into the deck in convenient, yet also inobtrusive locations.

The arrival of these state-of-the-art battery electric tugs is eagerly anticipated. Perhaps one of the most exciting features of all is that unlike with a conventional diesel tug, the ElectRA 2300-SX’s performance has the potential to significantly improve over its service life. By leveraging anticipated future improvements in battery density by occasionally refreshing battery cells, ElectRA series tugs may prove to be some of the longest tenured assets in future fleets!

Is there a battery electric tug in your future? Please visit or contact [email protected] for more information on the ElectRA 2300-SX, other options in the ElectRA series, or for any other vessel design enquiries.

ElectRA 2300-SX Facts & Figures:

  • Length, overall: 23.40 metres
  • Beam, moulded: 11.85 metres
  • Depth, least moulded: 4.94 metres
  • Maximum draft: 5.50 metres
  • Gross tonnage: 295 tons
  • Bollard pull: 70 tonnes
  • Battery capacity: 3,616 kWh nominal at beginning of life
  • Charging rate to suit

Example Class notations:

✠A1 Towing Vessel, ✠AMS, ✠ABCU, BP (70), QR, FFV1, ESS-LiBattery, UWILD, IHM, UWN(x)

Transport Canada and Australian Marine Safety certified Marine Engineer, over 25 years experience sailing professionally on commercial ships all over the world. Creator and editor of Father of three, based in Nanaimo, British Columbia.

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