This Crazy Boat Just Completed The First Solar-Powered Sail Around The World

Avoiding pirates and battling bad weather, the MS Tûranor PlanetSolar became the first ship to use nothing but the sun to power a circumnavigation.

The toughest part of sailing a boat 37,286 miles around the world using only solar power turns out not to be, say, that the sun won’t shine, or that the machinery breaks down. It’s a more common problem associated with shipping these days: pirates.

Raphaël Domjan, a Swiss national, who has just returned to Monaco after a 19-month journey aboard the MS Tûranor PlanetSolar says by far the hairiest bit was crossing the Gulf of Aden, a notorious place for kidnapping and hijacking.

"It was one month with soldiers onboard, and a lot of stress," he says. "We were at 5 knots with the solar energy, and we were between Yemen and Somalia. In Yemen, with the soldiers and guns we had, we could have gone to jail. And in Somalia, we could be hostages, and eat rice for one year."

It’s more normal for ships crossing the stretch to go at 15 to 20 knots, to make it as quickly as possible. And Domjan says most boats that do it are a lot larger than the Tûranor, which is 115 feet long and 75 feet wide.

To get the best sunlight, the four-strong crew followed the equator as closely as possible. Leaving the Mediterranean, they went across the Atlantic to Miami, and then down through the Panama Canal, across the Pacific and the Indian Ocean, and eventually through the Suez Canal.

Domjan says the solar power worked almost perfectly, powering the boat and everything onboard except for a gas-powered cooker. He says the crew never feared it would run out of power, because even on dark days the panels could generate some power. "We had one whole week of bad weather, and we were able to manage," he says. Batteries provided three days of back-up power, if needed.

Domjan says the point of the expedition was to prove that solar power is "for today and not tomorrow," and that it’s possible to be "optimistic" about the future of energy, despite gloom about its cost, and the worsening threat of climate change.

"We know that climate change is a challenge for our civilization, but there are also opportunities, and we have to be optimistic," he says.

An important part of the voyage, as with other renewable energy expeditions, was to stop in different locations to show off the boat, and make the case for solar. In all, the boat stopped 28 times, including in Tangier, the Galápagos, Brisbane, and Abu Dhabi.

Domjan says the boat could have gone nonstop, but probably would have taken a different route round the world’s three main capes to do so.

Aside from becoming a world record holder, Domjan says he wants the world to know that solar power can be used in many different boats if inventors put their mind to designing them.

"We can use solar boats for diving boats and tourism. Not everywhere but in many places," he says.

"It’s very nice because you have no noise and no vibration. To see the wildlife and the dolphins, it’s much better than on a normal motor boat." You just need to avoid those pirates.

Add New Comment


  • Will Gubb

    Fantastic..Ive been waiting for this
    I knew it was possible
    I would love to build an alternative energy powered boat and have some ideas here.
    please contact me if you want to share info or get involved.
    Well Done Raphaël!




    With the advent of higher fuel prices and escalating bunker
    fuel prices which have raise freight cost globally, the time is right for the
    development of a vessel that runs on renewable electricity.


    The theory/concept


    The idea is to harness the slamming motion of a boat as it
    is propelled through the water.

    As the speed increases over a medium sea boats tend to take
    off and land heavily on the next swell resulting in a hard slam which slows the
    boat down and also damages equipment and makes for an uncomfortable ride.

    Indeed it is impossible to go very fast (over 30 kts) over a
    bumpy sea as the boat becomes unstable and the passengers are subjected to
    possible injury.


    So if the slamming effect were harnessed by shock absorbers
    that could take air and compress it into cylinders the slamming effect will be
    reduced and the compressed air can be used later to run turbines that generate
    an electrical charge which is used to recharge the batteries the electric motor
    which propels the boat.


    It is envisaged that after an initial charge of the boats
    batteries from the shore power cable - when it goes to sea that as it rides
    over the swells, it generates electricity which top up the charge in the

    If the correct load of batteries is used this would make it
    possible for a boat to run for many hours or days depending on the
    configuration of the battery bank, the size and shape of the hull/s and the
    type of electric motor and propellers used to propel the vessel.


    The aim is to develop a boat which after an initial charge
    is able to run perpetually as it captures the kinetic energy from the sea
    state. A back up generator can be included to generate charge from fuel.



    Practical examples.


    Prototype 1

    There are many electric boats that have been developed, but
    few use shock absorbing systems that both give a smooth ride while generating

    The type of boat that could be developed could look like a
    racing boat and use the stabilising pontoons as shock absorbers that are
    connected to electrical regeneration systems that create a charge. The
    technology used in regenerative braking systems in hybrid cars could be
    modified and adapted to a marine environment.

    The possibility of using piezo kinetic electrical current
    also exists.

    The main hull would carry the batteries and the motor and
    the passengers (1 or 2)

    While the outrigged hulls operate freely and independently
    from the main hull and hold it out of the water Except for the stern section of
    the main hull.


    Below are some examples of boats, that design concepts can
    be taken from.



    You will notice that all these designs have outrigger
    pontoons that are connected to the main hull with arms.

    It is envisaged that these arms can be connected to a drive
    system which through gearing can turn an spindle with great force.

    If a component like the regenerative braking system of a car
    is developed the force from the pontoons could generate a charge which is used
    to directly feed back to the batteries via inverters and condensers to create a
    stable high amperage charge with direct current.


    Prototype 1 e-boat


    You will also notice that the main hull is in the water and
    being used for buoyancy

    In the E boat the main hull will be lifted out of the water
    and the back part of the main hull will skim along the water so that the shaft
    and propeller of the direct drive DC motor is kept in the water. The back foil
    will allow the stern to stay in the water and a long shaft will ensure the continuous
    submersion of the prop.

    Hydrofoils on the hull will also assist in keeping the main
    hull stern section in contact with the water.

    Due to the fact that the forward part main hull is out of
    the water, and the load bearing is in the main hull being batteries, motor
    passengers and all other equipment/cargo, the weight of the hull will generate
    greater force on the pontoons which when pushed up by a wave at high speed will
    generate higher forces on the regen system due to the weight vector of the main
    hull as it smoothes out the wave effect.


    It is felt that with the right design combining power weight
    ratios, leverage of the pontoon arms, direct drive dc motor, or electric water
    jet engine, and optimum shock absorbing design, that the boat could potentially
    go over the water at faster and faster speeds which would generate more and
    more current, resulting in a boat that could do 60KTs, comfortably for
    passengers, over a rough sea, and charge itself while running.

    Indeed the rougher the sea the more charge the boat could
    generate. Length 24 ft, speed 60 kts, passengers 4, range 150 nm, (pleasure boat
    similar to rubber duck or racing boat.

    Could use existing hull/ hobie, cat hulls.


    Prototype 2

    45 ft catamaran

    Main hull completely out of water and suspended on two
    pontoons on s or l shaped crank handle type shock system

    So the whole boat is out of the water and the wave action
    only affects the 2 pontoons.

    The crank handle shaped pontoon arms are enough to keep the
    whole structure together and to generate a dampened force which drives the
    regen systems contained in the hull.

     Speed 80 kts

     Weight 10 tons

     displacement on flat-bottomed
    hulls which are banana shaped.

    Range 350 nm.

    Passengers 10.

    Carrying capacity 10 tons.


    The hulls have direct drive motor pods inside so the drive
    is under or part of the out rigged hulls. Air compression or/and mechanical
    regeneration similar to what is used in the motor industry.





    Prototype 3


     70 ft, speed 120 kts










    Proto 4  120 ft 160





    Prototype 5 electric ship


    This could replace sea transport as we know it

    300 ft

    200 kts

    Cargo 500 thousand tons.

    Fitted with 20 outriggers each side that stabilise and
    generate electricity based on the same principal as prototype 1 or two.

    Also sunlight is harnessed using thin film solar coatings.

    Flying thin film solar kites.

     And running onboard
    wind generators.


    A gas compression system replaces the ships bulb and allows
    compressed air generation by using a float bulb. The air is compressed stored
    in high pressure tanks and used to drive generators.


    This is the ultimate end aim of the research and development
    project and the payoff will be a patented technology that will not only reduce
    carbon emissions from thye fishing, and shipping industry but lead to reduced
    freight costs, and allow faster Transocean shipment of containers.


    It is envisaged that the donors of time and money , will
    sign a re -compensation agreement structured on a venture capital basis so that
    if the technology is patented and licensed, that they will benefit financially
    from the future commercialisation of the endeavour.


  • Steve

     He was wind powered.  Throw a kite up there and combine wind and solar and you've got yourself a vessel.