With the advancement in battery technology, the dominant battery chemistry lithium-ion is more prominent than ever across a spectrum of industries. Nowadays, most superyachts will be carrying a range of lithium-ion battery-powered equipment on board as part of their arsenal of on-board toys, from electric scooters and Seabobs, to electric tenders. However, these toys carry with them certain safety implications that are not being fully realised by the superyacht industry.
For new build projects, such implications are easily managed – if a full list of toys the yacht intends to store in a certain space is communicated at the design and build stage, any associated risks can be counterbalanced from a hardware or operational perspective, just as it would for a space containing petrol. More issues arise, however, when the existing fleet incorporates toys powered by different energy sources on board, such as lithium-ion batteries.
“A yacht is designed with spaces for specific purposes but, at some point, a new portfolio of toys might be purchased and stored on board, which bypasses the preliminary phase of design and risk assessment,” advises Valerio Dell’Anna, marine surveyor at Lloyd’s Register. “The risk is that anybody can replace their existing tender with an electric tender, with 50 kilowatts of lithium-ion batteries, on board a boat that is perhaps 10 years old.”
The risk that Dell’Anna is referring to relates to the risk surrounding this particular energy storage on board. “There have been some incidents of fires on yachts in the past two or three years related to lithium-ion batteries,” he continues. “It was not the batteries creating the issue, but the process by which the batteries are being charged. The industry is used to storing energies like petrol, and now it has to get used to a different type of energy storage, which in this case is batteries.”
“The industry is used to storing energies like petrol, and now it has to get used to a different type of energy storage, which in this case is batteries.”
As electric superyacht toys are an emerging trend, classification societies and flag states have started to produce guidance notes to advise on the safe storage of lithium-ion batteries on board, and prescriptive requirements are likely to be implemented soon. In the meantime, Lloyd’s Register recognises the importance of raising the awareness of the risks associated with the storage and charging of electric tenders and toys in the marine environment, especially on board the existing fleet.
Responsible for the port of Palma de Mallorca and other yachting hotspots in the region, with hundreds of visits on board per year, Dell’Anna observes a wide spectrum of storage and operational arrangements across the existing fleet. “We always try to talk to the chief engineer and the crew and enquire about the level of awareness they have about the topic, as well as highlight what due diligence they should be putting in place,” he explains. “Sometimes they will have sufficient protocols for charging, with a crewmember always on watch, but it often depends on the size of the boat.”
The message that Lloyd’s Register surveyors try to convey to the crew is that they should be considering lithium-ion batteries in the same way they would a jerrycan of petrol. “On its own it’s not dangerous, but it might become dangerous under certain circumstances,” Dell’Anna concludes. “All regulations work under the concept of safety balance in the yachting industry: something is allowed as long as you understand the risks and counter balance those risks with either design features or operational procedures. This is what the crew of an existing yacht should be considering when bringing any new equipment on board for entertainment rather than safety.”
If crew consider the risks associated with the storage and charging of lithium-ion batteries on board, and make the necessary adjustments to ensure its part of the overall safety balance of the vessel, there is no reason why electric tenders and toys can’t be enjoyed in a safe environment. And if there is any uncertainty, the yacht’s flag state or classification society can be consulted on the necessary measures.
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