Cruise ships with sails? The winds of change may be blowing in that direction.
As the cruise industry continues to search for alternatives to reduce or eliminate CO2 emissions in the near future, one of the answers to cleaner cruising may lie in wind-powered technology.
At least one cruise company is exploring wind-powered sail assist technology as an option for its ships. Norwegian coastal cruise and expedition company Hurtigruten has recently unveiled early-concept plans for what they hope can become the world's most energy-efficient cruise ship.
Is it reality, or science-fiction? In truth, greener cruising could be closer than we think.
Hurtigruten's plan for its first zero-emission ship -- currently dubbed "Sea Zero" -- began in March 2022. After a year of research, the Norwegian cruise company has shared its progress.
Equipped with batteries that charge while the vessel is in port, the future ships will be largely electric, combining 60-megawatt hour battery solutions with wind-powered technology. The Sea Zero ships would feature retractable sails with solar panels, artificial intelligence maneuvering, contra-rotating propellers, and multiple retractable thrusters. Additional technologies include air lubrication, advanced hull coatings, and proactive hull cleaning to reduce drag and toxicity.
According to Hurtigruten, the three retractable, autonomous wing rigs will comprise 16,146 square feet of solar panels and a total wind surface of 8,073 square feet. When fully extended, the rigs would reach a maximum height of 164 ft.
Current models of Hurtigruten's zero-emission ship call for a vessel that's 443 feet long, with 270 cabins that can accommodate roughly 500 guests. The new ship is also expected to have significant cargo space and be able to transport cars -- a necessity on the line's coastal voyages, which still function as a sort of pseudo cruise-ferry service for locals. The plan also includes developing new technology to reduce the energy consumption of onboard hotel operations by 50%.
Hurtigruten's "Sea Zero" plan is still very much in the early concept stage. No ship has yet been ordered by the Norwegian cruise company, and renderings of the futuristic-looking vessel remain just that: a concept.
But Hurtigruten's project isn't that far-fetched. In fact, cargo and ferry operators are already exploring wind power as a way to move the maritime industry forward.
While Hurtigruten is the only cruise line to reveal plans for wind-powered sail assist technology at the moment, other marine transportation companies have developed and introduced similar systems.
Japanese shipping company Mitsui O.S.K Lines (MOL) introduced a hard sail wind power propulsion system in 2022. The sail, dubbed Wind Challenger, debuted on the company's coal carrier Shofu Maru, and helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 5% on a Japan-Australia voyage and by 8% on a Japan-North America West Coast voyage.
Similarly, Swedish shipping company Wallenius is working on Oceanbird, a new ship model with wing sails that could reduce emissions by 90%. And French company Zephyr & Borée built Canopée, a 400-foot-long cargo ship fitted with four articulated sails.
Ferry operators in Europe have also experimented with wind power. Viking Line (no relation to Viking Cruises) installed a "rotor-sail" aboard their Viking Grace ferry in 2021. Though it won't win any design awards, the tall cylinder enabled the line to reduce their emissions by 900 tons per year and saved 300 tons per year of Liquefied Natural Gas, or LNG -- the fuel on which Viking Grace is powered.
Passengers looking for a greener alternative to big-ship cruising might be surprised to learn that a handful of cruise lines already embrace sail technology -- and have for some time.
Cruise companies like Star Clippers and Sea Cloud only have sail-powered vessels in their fleets. They use their engines as little as possible and design their itineraries around known trade winds to maximize this energy source. Windstar Cruises also has three sailing yachts in its fleet -- Wind Star, Wind Surf and Wind Spirit -- further providing options for travelers who seek wind-powered cruising alternatives.