Member Feature | New Normal

New Normal

It often takes an extraordinary event to provide the impetus for the biggest advances in technology.

Arguably there has been no bigger event globally than the climate crisis, the enormity of which spurred Sail Electric and North Devon Marine Project founder Wayne Peters to plunge into the task of decarbonising sailing.

We visited British Marine member and The Green Blue advocate Wayne Peters to hear about his learnings to-date

Life often turns on a chance meeting or contact. For Sail Electric founder Wayne Peters, that moment occurred when he met ocean advocate Emily Penn. She was planning the eXXpedition (see round the world voyage with an all-women crew to study plastic pollution’s impacts on environmental health.

Wayne, a marine civil engineer by trade, had a strong background in renewables, energy modelling and remotely located and managed energy sources. He Lives off grid on a farm in North Devon, powered by solar, hydro and wind generation. This broad knowledge of emission-free power informed the batteries and solar panels installation on the eXXpedition team’s 72ft yacht.

“Eight months later and following a very emotional journey, I had rewired the whole boat and got them on their way, ready to set sail around the world,” Wayne recalls.

Wayne Peters

“They only made it to Tahiti before COVID hit, but the project was a huge success. This project inspired me to start a journey to broaden my knowledge of environmental impacts globally.

“I’ve surfed, sailed and kayaked my whole life; meeting Emily was a massive turning point for me. She had her blood tested for 35 known carcinogens banned by the UN and found 29 of them in her blood stream from spending the previous 10 years at sea. That really hit home. The latest research from 5 Gyres ( states there are now 175 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean.”

Motor installation of the Southerly 47

Driven to change

“These scientifically proven environmental impacts were my driving force to do more with my knowledge and experience. I decided to convert my Sadler 25 sailing yacht to electric propulsion using my professional expertise in Victron equipment; I fitted a Lynch motor for propulsion.

It was a successful installation that also taught me much about the ethos of sailing and how to make the most of available natural resources to improve the viability of a move away from fossil fuels, even in our challenging Bristol Channel home waters.

“Then we found our current boat – Nazca, a Contessa 34 offshore one design which we began to convert as the pandemic hit – transferring over the Sadler’s motor and cobbling together what we could lay our hands on in the workshop. This way we managed to convert the engine room to pure electric.

“The Lynch motor was a little underpowered in the Contessa, but it got me in and out of port. Later, while searching for a more powerful motor, I connected with Finnish electric propulsion specialist, Oceanvolt. We clicked regarding how I was approaching decarbonisation on yachts, and it was obvious that Oceanvolt offered the solutions we needed. Everything coalesced – Sail Electric became Oceanvolt’s UK refit partner, and we are now the agent for northern Europe.”

Conversions commence

Sail Electric’s activities have grown exponentially, with several active conversions currently in play on the Solent and the southwest. On our visit to the company’s Hamble Yacht Services Solent office, we saw an eclectic mix of an Open 40, Southerly 47 and Westerly Griffon, all currently in various stages of conversion work. The Open 40 is in final stages of being readied for a return to the racing circuit; the Southerly 47 is at the end of a comprehensive refit and about to race to the Azores and back, while the Griffon is in the middle of an assisted refit (where the owner does some of the work). It starkly illustrates how applicable electric conversion might be for the UK’s legacy yacht fleet, opening options to extend life rather than scrap hulls.

In the southwest alone, Wayne estimates that as many as 27,500 yachts are lying between Weymouth and Milford Haven, which would be suitable for emission-free adaptation.

Consultative approach

Sail Electric goes much further than focusing on the powertrain and energy installation. Drawing on thousands of miles sailed in Nazca, which now uses an Oceanvolt variable pitch Servoprop saildrive to optimise the power curve of electric propulsion and regenerate electricity, Wayne consults with customers on changing their way of boating: “The Contessa’s underpowered initial conversion made me a much better sailor.

Servoprop on Nazca

“Your preparation and choices are vital to improving sustainability, such as picking the optimal departure times to harness the ocean, tide and wind energy fully. Many sailors don’t realise the benefits of putting the mainsail up when motoring to gain energy from apparent wind. Learning energy management from the integrated monitoring on board is vital.

These are all important things to make the transition to decarbonised boating viable. Our customers are like sponges; they want to learn the best ways to go 100 percent electric. We act much more like a consultancy than an installer.”

For these reasons, a Sail Electric conversion may also include a recommendation for a rig upgrade to improve the efficiency of sail performance and ground tackle improvement to ensure the boat can safely sit out adverse tides or weather. The company also promotes good anchoring practices and Nazca uses a silicone-based foul release system in keeping with the ‘leave no trace’ policy under which she is operated.

Nazca's remote monitoring system

Environmental advocacy

“I work closely with The Green Blue, Wayne continues. “Kate Fortnam does a remarkable job there. We’ve undertaken some educational presentations together, the most recent being a well-received time with the Greenwich Yacht Club. Thanks to initiatives like The Green Blue and high-profile TV, such as David Attenborough’s documentaries, people are much more aware of changes to our planet and realise it’s not fake news. The pandemic also gave time for reflection and awareness.

It is so much more than putting electric motors in boats. I am satisfied when going to an event and talking about sailing, electric propulsion, batteries and a changing ocean if the audience goes away and thinks about the messages heard and perhaps even starts shopping differently at the supermarket. The common question is – ‘Can we make a better choice?’

“I live in a UNESCO biosphere reserve, but we’ve got some of the worst water quality in the UK. I also run a not-for-profit organisation called the North Devon Marine Project. It’s an interesting area to study as we have one of the largest tidal ranges in the world, a tourist shore on the English side of the Bristol Channel and the industrialised coast of Wales on the other. We have long-term plastic pollution monitoring in place as well as helping with initiatives like beach cleans. I’m also in the process of coding Nazca so we can take young people out to see this environment for themselves.

“So much damage is unseen beneath the waves. When you run a remote operated underwater vehicle with advanced videography, you can show people that sentient, incredible ecosystems are active worldwide and are severely or adversely affected by what humans do.”


In terms of future developments, Wayne is bringing hydrogen propulsion research into North Devon Marine Project’s activities: “We’re going to install a hydrogen fuel cell in the Contessa,” he explains. “Then run her into various UK rivers – hopefully even St Katharine Docks in London – to raise awareness. We’ll initially be storing the hydrogen in bottles at 350 bar. In that form, hydrogen has half of the energy density of diesel. We need to get that to something you’d like to see in a Toyota Mirae – 700 bar – using carbon fiber tanks.

“We also need to address the relative inefficiency of hydrogen. You need 55kWh of renewable energy to make 35kWh of usable hydrogen and then suffer further losses in the fuel cell energy conversion. But I’ve worked with hydrogen for three years now; it will come into play as the technology improves.

Motor installation on Nazca

I couldn’t have imagined doing what we created with our Contessa 10 years ago without the advent of lithium technologies, battery management systems, monitoring and solar panels.

“We have a  50Mw e solar array behind our workshop in North Devon, that will provide us with cheap energy to electrolyse hydrogen at home, bring it to the boat, use it and then refill it as proof of concept. It will take people like us to do that, so we get further support and attract investment in the cause to reach those economies of scale soon. Our work with North Devon Marine Project proves you can make progress without commercially gaining from it. Our commercial income from Sail Electric has funded the research and development.”

Power of collaboration

“You need expertise in installing and using lithium batteries and hydrogen on a boat. Working with the team of design and installation specialists I have here, our supplier partners and organisations like The Green Blue and Ross Wombwell at British Marine – we have a collective ambition. We can learn from each other’s experience, get feedback, and progress the necessary R&D.

“Members can help each other as we transition towards decarbonising sailing. From a consultancy point of view, I would like to train refit engineers and yards to move from diesel to electric. The marine industry needs the confidence to not only sell the dream have a better foundation of knowledge to guide our customers.”

About The Green Blue

The Green Blue is a environmental awareness programme created by British Marine and the Royal Yachting Association, established in 2005 at the Southampton International Boat Show. It offers excellent guidance on sustainable practices for boat users and marine industry companies.

Business resources include facilities and operational guidance, an Environmental Facilities Map and Business Directory for sustainable products and services, Green Boating guides, a Sustainable Events Toolkit and Boating Pledge toolkit – see to access all the available resources.

Decarbonisation HUB

Decarbonisation HUB

As the representative body for the UK’s marine sector, we are committed to helping British Marine members successfully navigate the transition to Net Zero by 2050. 


Find out more about how you can as a marine business start on the pathway to decarbonisation with the new British Marine Decarbonisation Hub. 

Find Out More

Article first published, BM Magazine, Spring 2023

If you have any interesting story to tell and would like to share it with fellow members, please email pr(at) with details.