Sabrina 5 canal barge

Sabrina 5 canal barge water source heat pump case study: docked at Gloucester Waterways Museum

Ground Source Review: Sabrina 5.

In this unique installation, a Kensa 6kW Shoebox is drawing heat from the water in the docks to warm the hold of the ‘Sabrina 5’ barge, which forms part of the National Historic Fleet and is an interactive exhibit at the Gloucester Waterways Museum.

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Ground Source Review: Sabrina 5 Canal Barge

The Canal & River Trust is a charity that looks after 2,000 miles of waterways, including canals, rivers, reservoirs and docks in England and Wales. It owns the Gloucester Waterways Museum, housed in the heart of what was once the bustling docks.

Back in 2016, the much loved museum was awarded a grant of over £1 million by the Heritage Lottery and other local trust funds. It embarked on an exciting project to adapt one of the vessels in its collection, the ‘Sabrina 5’ barge, to provide a unique new space for events and education.




‘Sabrina 5’ is one of six cargo vessels built in Bristol by Charles Hill and Sons in the mid-1940s. She was designed to move goods from Avonmouth up the River Severn, and the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal. She would have been towed together with other barges, behind a tug, laden with cargoes of copper, zinc, steel and aluminium, and food such as wheat, cheese, cocoa beans and tinned tomatoes.

The historic barge was carefully restored in 1988 and became one of the exhibits at the museum. She has recently undergone an exciting transformation in the dry dock at Gloucester-based T.Nielsen & Company. They converted her hold into a fully equipped space for education and exhibitions; private meeting or party hire, and she now welcomes visitors of all ages.

‘Sabrina 5’ is part of the National Historic Fleet, which also includes boats of such importance as the Cutty Sark and HMS Victory. Whilst Nielsen’s added the necessary insulation and electrical services for its new purpose, they were careful to keep the profile of the original barge as far as possible. They were able to keep the original floor boards and hatch boards, along with the beams which would have supported the covering over the cargo.



As the barge isn’t used every day, The Canal & River Trust was looking for a heating solution that could provide constant background heat, rather than space heating for occupation. The Trust considers green technologies wherever possible and the funders put it high on their list of priorities.

The Trust worked with Nielsen’s to investigate the suitability of a range of green energy solutions. They initially looked into Solar PV, but felt that there were too many risks associated with it. Heat pumps were a good solution, because the large mass of water in the dock provides an unlimited heat source. Ground source heat pumps work especially well with water sources, as water is an excellent conductor and makes for an extremely efficient heating system.

Kensa specified a 6kW Shoebox, one of the smallest and quietest ground source heat pumps on the market, attached to an open loop collector extracting the heat from the water. The space-saving heat pump system is comfortably housed in a cupboard in the hold. The fact that the heat pump is visually unintrusive was important to The Trust, as the boatyard and designers had worked hard to sympathetically convert the barge into a classroom-sized learning space.



Alex Ball, Project Development Manager at The Canal & River Boat Trust, said:

We’re very happy with the heat pump solution delivered by Kensa. It was important to make the space work well, because we want visitors to enjoy their time at our museum.

Our situation might be fairly unique because the barge is permanently moored at the museum quayside, but I think it is worth considering ground source heat pumps when the environment is right to help reduce the expense of heating and the use of fossil fuels.

She continues:

It is quite unique that children can learn about history and STEM subjects on board a boat, which is heated by water from the docks. I think it makes the experience more evocative and memorable.


Key Facts

  • 6kW Shoebox Twin
  • Space heating
  • 35m² classroom space
  • On historic barge
  • Water source

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