A Second Motor for Sabino

Mystic Seaport Museum is exploring the possibility of adding electric propulsion to the steamboat SABINO.
SABINO Steamboat
SABINO steaming on the Mystic River. The plan calls for augmenting coal-fired steam with an electric motor.

Mystic Seaport Museum is exploring the possibility of adding electric propulsion to its steamboat Sabino with the installation of an electric motor and battery bank. The boat’s boiler and its original steam engine would remain in the vessel and operational. The addition of electric power would enable the vessel to operate under steam or electricity and vastly expand its capacity to provide public cruises on the Mystic River.

“In order to keep Sabino running on the Mystic River, we have determined that the highest and best solution for the vessel, both as a National Historic Landmark and as a beloved presence on the Mystic River, is to add an alternative means of propulsion to augment its historic steam power plant,” says Steve White, president of Mystic Seaport Museum.

The plan calls for state-of-the-art, batteries, motors, and controls to be installed in parallel with the existing boiler and steam plant. The Museum will retain the ability to run Sabino under steam, but add the capability to run on electric power.

The 1908-built excursion vessel Sabino has been a fixture at Mystic Seaport Museum and on the Mystic River since its arrival in 1973. Built in Maine as a passenger ferry on the Damariscotta and Kennebec Rivers, the boat served in that capacity for nearly two decades and later as a ferry in Casco Bay. It is powered by the same duplex reciprocating steam engine that was original equipment in 1908. In fact, the engine was manufactured downriver from Mystic in nearby Noank. With its nearly silent steam propulsion, a cruise down the Mystic River on Sabino is a connection to the past when small steamboats filled the nation’s coasts and harbors. The boat was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1992.

In partnership with a team of marine engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard, the Museum determined that an electric system could be installed in such a way as to fully maintain the historic operational integrity of the vessel’s original steam power plant. Sabino would continue to operate the steam plant for demonstrations and special events, but operate under electric power for daily passenger cruises. The electric motor would quietly drive the vessel’s original shaft. Batteries would be recharged overnight and between trips. Importantly, this system would provide a smoke- and soot-free operation, greatly reducing the vessel’s environmental impact in terms of carbon emissions. Other benefits include a return to a seven-day per week schedule, and reduced crewing, maintenance, and coaling expenses.

The historic status of Sabino is paramount to the Museum. The historic fabric of the boat will not be altered and the installation of the electric system would be entirely reversible.

“The expectation is the addition of electric propulsion will enable us to increase the boat’s daily passenger capacity and provide more people with the opportunity to get out on the water and enjoy a cruise on the Mystic River on a National Landmark,” says White.