The Refit Part 1

After the 400+ days trying to get Thames Solar Electric to do the right thing, at the end of 2022 we committed to stripping out the boat and refitting it ourselves. This presented a number of challenges;

  1. How to fund it
  2. Where to live while we’re doing it
  3. What to change
  4. Who would do the work.


The funding was secured from family, not something we’re happy about but it was the only way, as we spent all the money we had on our solar electric boat and electric car (fortunately the latter works fine!)

Where to live

The next problem was where to live whilst we refitted the boat (because there was definitely going to be a period where it wasn’t livable in). In an amazing stroke of luck a friend wanted to go travelling for 3 months, so we agreed to house-sit for her, which gave us a base whilst we stripped out and refitted.

What to change

This was a really important part of the project because whilst the Thames Solar Electric concept works, the execution was appalling. Just to give you a few examples of mistakes we needed to correct, here are the top 5.

  1. The vent hole for the Separett toilet fan was too low to the waterline which increased the risk of water ingress.
  2. The underfloor heating never worked, partly because the ton of loose pea shingle could never act as a heat mass (because physics).
  3. The 18mm plywood under the floor was untreated (not treated marine ply) and some was already rotting.
  4. The electrical wiring was either the wrong specification, overloaded or poorly supported and connected.
  5. The rainwater reclamation tank was a vertical tank (with an opening in the top) placed on its side, so it leaked if it was more than half full.

This is on top of a much larger list of defects of which there are some examples below.

What we realised was that this would have to be a complete strip out, down to the metal. Boats rust from the inside out, and until we took out all the plywood, insulation, pea shingle and ballast we wouldn’t know what the state of the hull was. We wanted to re-use as much of the original material and components as possible, but we also knew some wouldn’t survive removal and some weren’t fit for purpose. Eventually the changes we decided to make in our refit were;

  • A floor based on recycled plastic lumber and boards, better waterproofing and longer life than wood.
  • An up-rated heat exchange system with a summer bypass (you might have noticed summer’s are getting hotter for some reason)
  • A pellet stove instead of a wood burner for improved efficiency, reduced emissions and lower running cost
  • Radiators instead of under floor heat for ease of installation and maintenance
  • Two 400l tanks to replace the 1000l water reclamation tanks so they could be removed and replaced more easily
  • Victron inverter/charger/solar controllers (based on the failure rate of the inverters on ours and other Thames Solar Electric boats)
  • A bath (something we really missed)

On top of that were obviously a complete replacement of all electric cabling and plumbing and because the floor had to come up we’d be replacing all the interior walls.

Who would do the work

This has been the real challenge, because not a lot of people live on boats, so there aren’t a lot of people capable and happy to do work on a boat (whether that’s joinery, plumbing or electrics). Boat builders want to do a refit from new, not work on something another company has messed up, so it was down to us to build the team to do what we couldn’t do.

This is what’s added most risk to the project, and taken the longest time. However we’ve got a great local electrician (Jodie Finch, highly recommended for work anywhere in the South East and East Anglia), we’re hoping to be able to use Organic Energy to provide a pellet stove and installer, a local specialist in solar and off-grid power for the inverters and Lynch (the company which make the electric motor which drives the boat) are coming to re-commission the motor.

In Part 2 I’ll talk about the strip out, and all the fun stuff we found as we removed everything Thames Solar Electric had done!

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