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Sea Change underway in San Francisco Bay

Photo courtesy SWITCH Maritime

USCG Approves First Hydrogen-Powered Ferry to Operate in U.S. Waters

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 1716
May 22, 2024

SWITCH Maritime has received a Certificate of Inspection from the U.S. Coast Guard for its zero-emission hydrogen-fueled ferry, the Sea Change, marking a significant milestone in the use of hydrogen fuel cells in the maritime industry.

The COI allows the vessel to begin commercial operations as a public ferry service in San Francisco and the first hydrogen-fueled vessel in the United States.

The US Coast Guard Sector San Francisco commander, Captain Taylor Q. Lam, presented the certificate during a ceremony held last Friday on the vessel’s bow.

The Sea Change uses hydrogen fuel cells to power all-electric motors, providing similar operational capabilities to diesel-powered vessels without the need for shoreside charging infrastructure.

Following a launch event in June, the vessel will be operated in a six-month pilot service by the San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority.

The COI marks the successful culmination of years of close collaboration with the US Coast Guard.

Celebrating the achievement, Pace Ralli, CEO of SWITCH, said the approval demonstrates the viability of carbon-neutral vessels “This is not the finish line, but just a starting point from which to build many more,” he said.

With the COI in hand, the Sea Change is now ready to commence commercial operation as a zero-emission public ferry service. The vessel can cover transit distances up to 300 nautical miles and reach speeds of up to 15 knots. This innovative technology provides similar operational capabilities to diesel-powered vessels, eliminating the need for shoreside charging infrastructure required by battery-only vessels.

The six-month pilot service is made possible thanks to a public-private sponsorship including United, the Golden State Warriors, the California Air Resources Board, Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District, and Blue & Gold Fleet.

Following the demonstration period, SWITCH plans to integrate the vessel into a more permanent ferry route and is actively working on new designs for larger and faster ferries for SF Bay, as well as other major ferry markets in the US and internationally.

The Sea Change was built and launched at the All American Marine shipyard in Bellingham, Washington. It features an integrated hydrogen power system from Zero Emission Industries, with 360kW of fuel cells from Cummins and 600kW of electric motor propulsion from BAE Systems. The project received partial funding from a $3 million grant administered by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, as part of the California Climate Investments initiative. The project also benefited from the first-ever loan guarantee under BAAQMD’s Climate Tech Finance program, which enabled SWITCH to secure a $5 million commercial financing from KeyBank.

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