A quiet revolution? Lorna Jane becomes first electric vessel to join UK fishing fleet 

A quiet revolution? Lorna Jane becomes first electric vessel to join UK fishing fleet 

From the deck of his silently running boat, Scottish fisherman Hans Unkles is watching dolphins leaping in the Sound of Jura. 
Hans Unkles behind the wheel of his electric fishing vessel, Lorna Jane

No noise, no fumes, no diesel; the 21-footer is the first in the UK fishing fleet to be entirely powered by electricity supplied mostly by solar panels during the summer. 

Hans launched the UK-registered Lorna Jane in June from his home village of Tayvallich in Scotland, where he designed and built it in his garden workshop, and since then has been sailing out each week to pull up lobsters. 

“The whole project was completely new,” said Hans (60), a professional boatbuilder who has been fishing the west coast of Scotland since he was 20 years old.  

“I was sticking my neck out and did not know the configurations I would need to power a relatively small boat.” 

The Lorna Jane electric fishing vessel
The Lorna Jane is powered by overhead solar panels

The technology should be usable for up to 12-metre vessels and Hans admitted it would not suit everyone – but it’s turned out to be perfect for catching lobsters. 

Hans can steam up to 70 miles at about five knots to pick up his catch and drop the pots, leaving them to soak for a couple of days, before returning home to recharge in the sun for two or three days and let his traps fill up again with lobsters. 

The vessel develops 30 horsepower from a 20kw electric motor. During the summer the batteries plug into overhead solar panels on a frame above the deck, and in the winter can recharge at an ordinary shore powerpoint on the pontoon at Tayvallich. 

Scotland is not famed for its sunny climate but in the summer has long hours of daylight, so only once between June and August did Hans have to resort to a petrol generator to recharge. 

The inspiration that eventually grew into the Lorna Jane was sparked 20 years ago when Hans fitted a wind turbine on his house to do more for the environment. 

“I liked the concept of producing your energy out of renewables and out of stuff that is already there. I’ve also got solar panels on the house and in the garden and an electric car,” he said. 

“I was just seeing the statistics that came from that and I was thinking: that’s got to be worth trying on a boat.” 

A view of the Lorna Jane's bow
Hans built the Lorna Jane in a workshop in his garden

The result is a mix of old and new: a converted 1971 fishing vessel with an elevated rack of solar panels above deck and batteries below, driving a motor with a steering propeller. 

The bill for constructing such a groundbreaking craft was the heaviest factor weighing in the cons column, said Hans, but for him they are outweighed by slashing diesel costs, maintenance spend and environmental impact. 

As well as the absence of an engine’s ceaseless rattle, Hans added: “There’s another massive boost: I do not go home smelling of diesel. It’s a much more pleasant place to be.” 

He worked closely with Alasdair Davis, a Glasgow-based Senior Surveyor of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), for the certificates to get the UK’s first electric fishing vessel on the water while ensuring it was safe and seaworthy. 

While Alasdair handled the process on the ground, a senior team supported from the MCA’s HQ in Southampton by drawing up a checklist after calculating how best to apply the codes to such a new a type of vessel. 

An example was adding ventilation pipes and humidity sensors to the batteries’ storage area under the deck, to protect the electrics from moisture. 

Alasdair applauded Hans for the quality of his work: “He picked high quality equipment to fit. He’s a boatbuilder so he made a good job of it – it's a very nice bit of kit. 

“It’s probably not for trawlers, obviously, as they require so much more power to carry heavy equipment and towing loads. But for creel fishing it’s a very good idea as you do not need a massive range.” 

Hans said the response of fellow fisherman seemed to be wait-and-see, but he has heard of someone local already planning to follow in his wake with something similar. 

Hans concedes his boat is unlikely to go into production in the near future but he sees it as important to be the first to try, in the hope of encouraging wider support for the principle of electric fishing vessels. 

He said: “My advice would be: go for it. It’s about investing in the future – on our current trajectory the future is very bleak. You have got to be prepared to invest the money. 

“I am not looking for any credit. I am looking for people to follow. That’s why I am promoting it – normally I would not want to attract any attention!” 


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