Marine

Solar-powered boat ready to make 2,000 mile ocean voyage on its own

Solar-powered boat ready to ma...
The Seacharger is topped by two Renogy PV panels and has a 50 cell LiFePo4 battery bank in its thruster pod
The Seacharger is topped by two Renogy PV panels and has a 50 cell LiFePo4 battery bank in its thruster pod
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Damon McMillan inspects the fiberglass hull mold
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Damon McMillan inspects the fiberglass hull mold
The Seacharger project began in 2013 with the gluing together and shaping of over two dozen foam pieces to form a plug for a fiberglass hull mold
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The Seacharger project began in 2013 with the gluing together and shaping of over two dozen foam pieces to form a plug for a fiberglass hull mold
The Seacharger is 91 inches long and 22 inches wide
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The Seacharger is 91 inches long and 22 inches wide
The thruster pod is home to 50 LiFePo4 battery cells
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The thruster pod is home to 50 LiFePo4 battery cells
Breadboarding the Arduino-based autopilot system
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Breadboarding the Arduino-based autopilot system
The Seacharger project is very much a family affair
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The Seacharger project is very much a family affair
Damon McMillan taking a pre-PV version of the Seacharger for its first swim
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Damon McMillan taking a pre-PV version of the Seacharger for its first swim
The Seacharger is topped by two Renogy PV panels and has a 50 cell LiFePo4 battery bank in its thruster pod
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The Seacharger is topped by two Renogy PV panels and has a 50 cell LiFePo4 battery bank in its thruster pod
Each of the two Renogy PV panels is rated at 100 W
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Each of the two Renogy PV panels is rated at 100 W
The fiberglass covered foam hull cuts through the water
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The fiberglass covered foam hull cuts through the water
The Arduino, GPS and satellite modem are all kept watertight in the yellow housing between the PV panels
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The Arduino, GPS and satellite modem are all kept watertight in the yellow housing between the PV panels
The Seacharger keeping away from crashing waves
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The Seacharger keeping away from crashing waves
The Seacharger undergoing testing on a Californian lake prior to its ocean voyage
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The Seacharger undergoing testing on a Californian lake prior to its ocean voyage
View gallery - 13 images

Silicon Valley father of four Damon McMillan is hoping to launch the fruits of a two year garage project in time for Memorial Day. He's just put the finishing touches to his Seacharger boat and plans to set it off on a solo trip from the Californian coast down to Hawaii on May 30. The craft is designed to cut through the waves using only a motor powered by solar panels.

We've seen a few PV-topped seafaring rovers before, of course, but boats like the Wave Glider and the C-Enduro used the waves or the wind as well as the sun to help keep them moving along. The Seacharger is designed to be the first to successfully cross an ocean on its own using solar power only.

McMillan started the Seacharger project toward the end of 2013 by gluing together and shaping over two dozen foam pieces to form a plug for a fiberglass hull mold. The hull itself is fashioned from foam covered in fiberglass, and the craft is 91 inches long and 22 inches wide (2.3 x 0.55 m). Work then began on the propulsion system.

The propeller is rotated by a brushless electric motor (the kind used for remote-controlled hobby aircraft) connected to a belt drive reduction mechanism to ensure a slow, steady spin. The hull is topped by two Renogy PV panels rated at 100-watts that each juice up a 50 cell LiFePo4 battery bank housed within a thruster pod (fashioned from a PVC pipe) suspended below the craft by carbon fiber struts.

The Seacharger is 91 inches long and 22 inches wide
The Seacharger is 91 inches long and 22 inches wide

The Seacharger is also home to an Arduino-based autopilot, GPS and satellite modem circuitry housed in a watertight enclosure positioned between the solar panels. It weighs in at 50 lb (22.7 kg) and has a cruising speed of 3 knots. McMillan reckons it can manage 3 days of travel without needing sunlight before the batteries drain, but will happily boat along indefinitely when baking in the sun's rays.

The completed boat was tested on autopilot for the first time just last month and, weather permitting (there are high winds off the Californian coast at the time of writing), it will begin its 2,000 mile (3,200 km) journey on Monday. You can track its progress via the source link below.

Fingers crossed it will fare better than the student-created Scout, which was lost on the high seas on its way to Spain in November 2013.

Source: Seacharger

View gallery - 13 images
7 comments
Len Simpson
A broadside wave might lift that overhang into a flip
habakak
I thought a boat is something to carry a pay load on water. Like people or stuff. This isn't a boat. It might as well be a tree trunk with solar panels, motor and GPS.
Rustin Lee Haase
Law enforcement take note: This technology could be very useful for smuggling. Also, I hope that isn't aluminum I see around the PV cells. Sea wather and Aluminum are NOT friends. :-)
FrankFoley
Why these boats just drag thin-film solar behind them? You could just have a normal boat with a huge battery pack and a hundred meters of floating solar out the back.
Mirmillion
I don' think this fellow has any idea about what he and his little boat will face between CA and Hawaii. I was hoping to see sturdy outriggers and a canopy, at the very least. I'm afraid that his fin-mounted motor (which he also appears to be using for righting force) and rudder will be gone in short order and he will be another coast guard rescue, if he is lucky. At 22 inches of beam and no ability to get a paddle in the water this boat will be upside down. He'll also be pushed under by oncoming waves (direct or diagonal) and would be even if he had another foot of free-board. Very poorly conceived effort. I would recommend that he say home and confine this craft to lakes and calm sunny bay waters.
Arahant
Mirmillion: not sure exactly what made you think this was a boat that people ride on.... it autonomous.
DavidC
Looks like a great project, but just to be 100% clear it's not "autonomous" it's more like a remotely controlled (RC) boat. I've read the builders control the boat daily via smartphone, changing course, speed, avoiding obstacles they manually see on AIS websites, resetting failing systems (the thruster system seems to need periodic manual resetting).
I truly hope they make it, but even if they do the record for "autonomous" ocean crossing will remain unbroken. They should however get the "longest RC boat trip ever" record though.