An Electrifying Tour of Niagara Falls Scintillates the US Ferry Sector


  • Passengers head for a tour of the American Falls and Horseshoe Falls onboard Maid of the Mist’s Nikola Tesla.
  • Maid of the Mist is providing valuable insights to other US ferry operators that are considering using batteries in their fleets.
  • Cutting CO2 and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from public and private transportation systems has become a primary goal in the ferry sector.

It would be hard to imagine a more spectacular backdrop than Niagara Falls to showcase two of the first all-electric passenger vessels in the US. Operated by privately held tour boat operator Maid of the Mist, the 600-passenger, zero-emission catamarans, James V Glynn and Nikola Tesla, are now in their second year of operation, providing valuable operational experience and lessons for other US ferry and tour boat operators considering using all-electric propulsion.

A Remarkable Change

A recent tour of James V Glynn, organized by electric propulsion systems integrator ABB Marine & Ports showcased the same. The tour of the vessel, battery room and propulsion compartment drew New York City Department of Transportation’s Staten Island Ferry, North Carolina DOT, Washington State’s Kitsap Transit and Delaware River & Bay Authority — representing some of the largest publicly funded ferry owners in the US. Not on the tour, but much discussed by attendees, was the largest ferry operator in the US, Washington State Ferries, which has issued a request for information (RFI) for the design and construction of five hybrid-electric Olympic-class passenger vehicle ferries. Many US ferry operators are increasingly turning to electrification as part of their decarbonization journey. Momentum is building behind this electric evolution, but it is not without its challenges.

Leading the Change

Carrying some 1.6M passengers to tours of Niagara Falls, Maid of the Mist is an iconic, global brand, with roots going back to 1846. As a first mover of all-electric propulsion in the US, Maid of the Mist marine operations manager Chris McKay told attendees on the tour the company had to “take some arrows going over the hill” in its first year of operation. The boats’ open deck design — free from any view-obstructing columns — in combination with their silent, vibration-free propulsion, provides passengers with an immersive experience, allowing them to connect with the natural and majestic beauty of the America Falls on the US side and the Horseshoe Falls on the Canada side of Niagara Falls. Participants on the demonstration tour were treated to a 20-minute trip covering about half a nautical mile of the Lower Niagara River to viewing points of both the American and Canadian falls. 

Unparalleled Navigation Capability

Once the tour was completed at the Horseshoe Falls, the boat elegantly spun on its axis — almost like a ballerina performing a pirouette — using its two azimuth Veth VL-200 L-drives, demonstrating the vessel’s excellent maneuverability. Additionally, each hull is fitted with a bow thruster that allows the vessel to move laterally and is used simultaneously with the azimuth thruster for increased maneuverability. This combination makes for a smooth landing for passengers, allowing the crew to ‘walk’ the vessel to the dock. At the dock, the 158 kWh li-ion battery banks in each hull, supplied by Spears Power Systems, can be fast charged in about seven minutes using a 400-amp dockside charging system. The environmental benefit of the zero-emission tour boats comes from harnessing the power of Niagara Falls. Ready access to renewable hydroelectric power was a factor in building the all-electric vessels. Speaking at a roundtable discussion sponsored by ABB in New York City in December 2019 before James V Glynn and Nikola Tesla went into service, Mr Glynn detailed the process behind investing in all-electric propulsion — a big step for a small, privately owned vessel owner.

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Source: Worldports


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