SeaCharger at the Maritime Museum

The New Zealand Maritime Museum is currently exhibiting SeaCharger - the world’s first unmanned surface vessel to cross an ocean using only solar power.

In 2016 the eight-foot-long, foam and fibreglass craft travelled from Half Moon Bay, California to Mahukona, Hawaii in 41 days on its maiden voyage – a distance of approximately 7081km.

The vessel was relaunched on July 27 and is on track to arrive in Auckland the next month, but as she was nearing her final destination her steering was immobilised. This was in part, due to fouling – the growth of organism on the exterior of the craft.

The vessel  travels at a speed of about 1.3 m/s (2.5 knots) in calm water and designer Damon McMillian can communicate with it via a two-way satellite modem every two hours.

For a number of weeks, Seacharger drifted in the wind and ocean currents until assistance was provided by the ship SOFRAN TOURVILLE, en route from Honiara to Tauranga. From California, Seachargers location coordinates were sent by her owner to the Sofrana office in Auckland and then forwarded on to the ship’s crew at 10-minute intervals. 

“It sends a message containing its position, battery voltage and current, heading, pitch and roll angles, rudder angle, etc. It costs about $0.30 every time it sends a message. We can also send it commands to follow a different course, restart the thruster, or do one of many other functions,” says McMillian.

Eventually the tiny craft was located in the water and lifted on deck. It finally arrived in New Zealand in January.

Seacharger was a project born in a Californian garage by a group of talented hobbyists mechanical engineers McMillian and Troy Arbuckle, software developer JT Zemp and computer and electronics engineer Matt Stowell.

The passion project began in 2013 when the group set themselves the challenge to be the first to send an autonomous solar-powered boat across the Pacific Ocean.

In the past there have been attempts by two other companies to cross the Atlantic Ocean using an unmanned, solar-panelled vessel. In 2013 the first vessel, on route from Rhode Island, USA to Spain, went missing 1,000 miles into its journey. The second unsuccessful voyage was made in 2015 by Singapore-based company Solar Voyager.

McMillian used these learnings to design his vessel to be smaller and made up primarily of foam and fibreglass, with the motor nestled in underneath the solar panels.

SeaCharger has a battery that gets charged during the day and keeps it going at night, along with two navigational modes which can be changed via satellite at any time.

The vessel is on display at the Maritime Museum until the end of June.

  • Residents of the Auckland region can visit the Maritime Museum galleries for free if they provide proof of address on arrival
  • Children: 5-14 years old (4 years and under are free)
  • Family Pass = 2 adults & 2 children or 1 adult & 3 children

Our staff are passionate about making the Museum accessible for all people.
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