The awe-inspiring force of nature that draws millions of visitors to Niagara Falls in New York State each year will now power the boats carrying tourists to the foot of the falls. New Maid of the Mist vessels will deliver a silent and emission-free experience for passengers, driven by electricity generated from the Niagara River.
“We calculated some savings compared to fuel costs in the move to electric, but this was not the primary motivation,” says Maid of the Mist CEO Christopher Glynn. “More significantly, there is a great interest in sustainability today, including low or no emissions. Once we decided to make the shift to all-electric, I was confident that our team had made the right call.”
The latest generation Maid of the Mist vessels are welded aluminum catamarans with batteries powering twin electric propulsion motors capable of a total 400 kW output. “Our new boats are not bleeding edge, but leading edge,” says Glynn. “The technologies are well known, but this is the first time they have been employed in this context in the US”
Climbing the learning curve
The modern ferries represent the latest renewal of nearly 175 years of tradition. “Maid of the Mist has a truly great history,” says Glynn, himself a second-generation CEO. “The company has always evolved with the times and the technologies.”
The first Maid of the Mist, a side-wheel steamboat, ferried passengers between Canada and the United States back in 1846. In 1848, with the construction of a suspension bridge between the two countries, the Maid of the Mist began as a tourist sightseeing service. The second Maid of the Mist, a single-stack paddle wheel steamboat, began taking passengers to the Horseshoe Falls in 1854. The first steel-hulled Maid of the Mist vessels were launched in 1955, also marking a shift to diesel power.
When research on the latest replacement boats began in 2018, the idea of electric propulsion quickly rose to the top of the list. “Niagara Falls is a great power producer. In fact, we are located on the site of a former power plant,” says Glynn.
To familiarize himself with the available options, Glynn attended a conference on electric and hybrid marine propulsion technologies in Amsterdam in 2018. “Basically, I listened and learned. That conference opened my eyes to the attractiveness of electric propulsion.”
Next up was clearing the idea with his insurers. “We had to show them that enough advances had been made in the field to justify the decision. The fact that we were able to win their confidence is a reflection of the state of the technology, but also of our team’s ability to understand what was needed and when in the process.”
Glynn refers to developments in electric ferries as a prime source of inspiration, most notably the Ampere ferry in Norway, in service since 2015. “We share basically the same charging cycle with the Ampere, so this was a good case for us to learn from.”
“We are located in the oldest state park in United States. The state is our landlord, but we receive no public money. We do get strong moral support from the State of New York though,” Glynn points out. “It has been a symbiotic relationship, good for them, and good for us. This should be a bellwether project for New York in their push for improved sustainability. The community and the park will leverage any development that the new vessels represent, and Maid of the Mist will most likely gain from public engagement in sustainable operations.”
Glynn observes that propulsion systems are progressing to support the trend toward zero emissions, noting that ABB has been a good partner in the search for the best solutions. “We have come to know them, and they have been sincere and open in their dialog with us.”
Located in a climate with harsh winters, Maid of the Mist faces the challenge of what Glynn calls ‘six-month years’. “We needed to renovate our facility during the summer months to accommodate the new vessel. All the ABB people have embraced that challenge and helped us to make it happen.”
Renewal with respect
Not only the new Maid of the Mist propulsion systems, but also their appearance will be noticeably different. “Catamaran design is the way forward. Regulations for the number of passengers we want to carry no longer support monohull designs. The catamaran is simply more stable, and it presents a visual change to mark our shift to sustainable power.”
With all the focus on modernization, the gravity of operating one of the oldest and most popular tourist attractions in the US is not lost on Christopher Glynn. “Our family has renewed the fleet several times since taking over Maid of the Mist in the 1970s,” he notes. “With this latest move we would like to think that we are continuing the tradition of innovation to be carried forward by the next generations.”
For the immediate future, Glynn is confident in that Maid of the Mist has made the right choice with electric propulsion. “Now we are very excited to see how it performs. It will be quiet and clean, with an overall better passenger experience. I believe it will be very well received.”
The boats are expected to be placed into service in the spring of 2020, following regulatory approvals.