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One of Lake Lucerne’s oldest boats now running on electricity

A small ship (the eMS Rütli) is shown sailing on Lake Lucerne.
The eMS Rütli during its first electric-powered voyage. Keystone/Urs Flueeler

The oldest active motorised boat on Lake Lucerne is now powered by an electric motor. The Lake Lucerne Navigation Company has converted the "MS Rütli", launched in 1929, into the "eMS Rütli".

On Thursday afternoon, the Lake Lucerne Navigation Company unveiled and launched the ship, which was converted at its own shipyard, Shiptec. The electric “Rütli” will make its first scheduled voyage on Saturday with the start of the summer timetable.

According to the captain, the ship can be steered more precisely with the electric drive than with the old drive. Another difference is that a chugging noise can no longer be heard.

Ship for cruises

The ship is not only the oldest still active motor vessel of the shipping company, but with a length of 22 metres and a weight of 28 tonnes, it is also the smallest. It is mainly used for cruises in the bay of Lake Lucerne or for events.

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The Lake Lucerne Navigation Company’s managing director, Stefan Schulthess, said that the boat is suitable for electric propulsion because it is light and mainly makes shorter and slower journeys. According to him, electric propulsion is currently out of the question for large ships because of the batteries needed.

The “eMS Rütli” has a 245-horsepower motor and can travel at a maximum speed of 20 kilometers per hour. The batteries weigh two tonnes and are charged overnight. A special charging device is not required.

The electric power in the full batteries should last for a whole day. At reduced speed, the boat could travel from Lucerne to Flüelen (canton Uri) and back, said Schulthess. A longer journey at normal speed, for example to Brunnen (canton Schwyz), would also be possible, but the batteries would have to be recharged there.

More than CHF1 million invested

The costs for the conversion totalled CHF1.2 million ($1.3 million). This is a lot of money just for a new engine, said Schulthess. However, the old diesel engine would have had to be replaced soon anyway.

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The Lake Lucerne Navigation Company has set itself the goal of reducing diesel consumption in its fleet. By 2026, the proportion of fossil fuels used by scheduled boats is to be reduced by 20% compared to 2019.

The “Rütli” is not the first of the company’s ships to be travelling with a new type of propulsion system. The shipyard Shiptec already equipped the motor ships “Diamant” and “Bürgenstock” with modern propulsion systems, the company announced. In winter 2025-26, the “Saphir” will also be converted to hydrogen propulsion.

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A few ships with electric motors are already in operation in Switzerland, for example on Lake Lugano, Lake Greifensee and the River Limmat, according to the statement.

The “MS Rütli” was built in Germany almost a hundred years ago. The Lake Lucerne Navigation Company received it as a contractual penalty after the shipyard had delivered the “Stadt Luzern” steamboat it had built with defects.

Although the “Rütli” is the oldest motorised ship still in the Lake Lucerne Navigation Company fleet, it was not its first motorised ship: in 1910, a motorised ship was put into service as a shuttle between Lucerne and Tribschen. At that time, there was a zeppelin station just outside Lucerne.

Adapted from German by DeepL/kc/amva

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