Lake and river operators look to water lubricated shaft bearings

2021-09-26T17:56:49+00:00 September 26th, 2021|Environment|

Thordon Bearings has seen an increase in the number of historic passenger vessels operating on European waterways fitted with its water lubricated propeller shaft bearings.

According to Andreas Gitterle, Managing Director of Neotecha GmbH, a member of Thordon’s distributor network, there has been a steady rise in the number of bearing retrofits to tourist ships operating on Lake Constance and other Alpine lakes over the past five years.

“A number of operators have already converted from oil-lubricated brass bushings to water lubricated propeller shaft bearings as a way of meeting stringent European environmental regulations.

“As these waters are of drinking-water quality there are significant restrictions on the vessels that can operate on these lakes. Vessels need to present zero risk of pollution and Thordon delivers this by eliminating oil and grease,” he said.

For example, Lake Constance, at the northern foot of the Alps, straddles the borders of Germany, Austria and Switzerland, has a ‘White Fleet’ of steamers, cruisers and car ferries operating across the 536 sq km waterway.

Of all the vessels operated by a consortium of Swiss, Austrian and German passenger shipping companies, perhaps the most famous is the 1928-built ‘Österreich’, which has been operating with four water lubricated environmentally sustainable COMPAC propeller shaft bearings since 2017.

The ‘art deco’ vessel, the first motorship to operate on the lake, had all four of her 135 mm brass bearings replaced with COMPAC at Linz-based Öswag Werft, with Neotecha providing design, machining, installation and commissioning support.

Other vessels to be retrofitted with water lubricated tail shaft bearings included the 1,100 pax capacity, Lake Thun-based ‘Stadt Thun’, and the 1976-built paddle steamer ‘Petersinsel’, both of which were fitted with Thordon’s SXL propeller shaft bearings in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

Subsequently, Thordon COMPAC retrofit installations were completed on the 800 pax ‘Bubenberg’, and the Lake Brienz-based ‘Jungfrau’.

The most recent vessels converted at Öswag Werf were the 1964-built ‘Berna’ and the 1978-built ‘Ville de Geneve II’, both of which were fitted with COMPAC bearings.

Gitterle said that on the back of Thordon’s success on lake-operating vessels, the European river cruise sector is now considering the fitting of water lubricated propeller shaft bearings.

“The environmental and commercial benefits associated with eliminating oil and grease from vessel operations is attracting significant interest. We are currently negotiating a contract to convert two Danube-operating cruisers to Thordon’s RiverTough propeller shaft bearings. If the order is secured, it would mark Thordon’s entry into the river cruise segment,” he said.

Thordon Bearings’ Regional Manager, EMEA & ANZ, George Morrison, said: “European operators are looking to water lubricated propeller shaft bearing technology as a way of preserving the pristine waters of Lake Constance, the Danube, and the Rhine.

“With COMPAC, SXL, or RiverTough bearings there is absolutely no risk of pollution as they do not use mineral or synthetic oil to lubricate the propeller shaft – only water. This also means a Thordon bearing is less costly to operate and maintain,“ he claimed.

In 2020, some 3,158 additional berths were added to the European river cruise sector, with growth set to continue on a similar upward path, once the area re-opens.