Pair of RAL-designed electric tugs coming to Vancouver

(VANCOUVER, British Columbia) — SAAM Towage Canada has signed a construction contract with Sanmar Shipyards to add two new battery electric tugs to its operations in Vancouver.

This development aligns with the Port of Vancouver’s goal to become the world’s most sustainable port, as well as the city’s goal to become the greenest. This will be a major step in that direction and a further demonstration of the local marine industry’s leadership in accelerating progress toward decarbonization of towage and harbor operations worldwide.

The signing ceremony was the product of a collaborative effort between Robert Allan Ltd. (RAL), SAAM and Sanmar to design the perfect harbor tug for SAAM’s operations in the Port of Vancouver, and by extension, other environmentally progressive ports worldwide.

Robert Allan Ltd. rendering

SAAM’s fleet of ship-docking tugs in Vancouver is 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 maneuverability, yet also high bollard pull to meet the needs of handling ever-larger commercial vessels.

The ElectRA 2300-SX is the solution to these needs. With a nominal battery capacity of 3,616 kWh, this compact 76-foot design delivers exceptional endurance compared to even larger peers. Zero-emission endurance is several hours for normal operations, or it can deliver its bollard pull of 70 tonnes for up to a full hour.

A customized skeg, specifically tuned to SAAM’s exacting preferences for maneuverability 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 its local fleet, then built and validated dynamic maneuvering models using computational fluid dynamics (CFD). These models allowed the maneuverability 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 maneuvering characteristics as per the local crews’ preferences.

Airborne emissions of carbon dioxide (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 is customizable on all ElectRA tugs in accordance with customer needs. Reductions of CO2 emissions alone compared to a conventional diesel tug are expected to exceed 1,000 tonnes annually (per tug), which is roughly equivalent to the emissions of 400 to 500 cars for the pair.

The tugs’ impact on the underwater environment will be as low as practicable. As a 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.

As typical with all ElectRA tugs, 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 containerships, 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 people, although SAAM will typically crew the tugs with just a pair of highly skilled mariners each, as is typical for its 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 have 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. Another option available on the design is an FFV1 firefighting notation (2,400 cubic meters per hour) with both water spray and foam. A pair of 940 ekW, IMO Tier III generators are aboard for powering this optional system and other ancillary functions.

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 performed using the standard lifting lugs that are integrated into the deck.


Length, overall: 76.9 feet
Beam, molded: 38.10 feet
Depth, least molded: 16.2 feet
Maximum draft: 18 feet
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)

– Robert Allan Ltd.

By Rich Miller