ZF is a supplier of propulsion systems for ship designers, shipbuilders, shipping companies, and fleet operators. These include e- and hybrid drives and transmissions, propellers, power electronics, and control levers. ZF was founded in 1915 and is currently headquartered in Friedrichshafen, Germany. Globally, the company has approximately 165,000 employees.

ZF Marine is the company’s marine division that provides propulsion systems and complete systems and components for all types of vessels. ZF Marine’s portfolio can be divided into two product lines: a standard, lightweight, compact transmission line and workboat transmissions up to 12k kW. In addition to the transmissions, ZF Marine offers control systems used in many fishing boats. The company’s NiBrAl and bronze propellers, available in various sizes, are also well-received by the commercial fishing industry.

Recent ZF product announcements

ZF launched a series of products over the last three years. Of particular interest to the marine industry is the hybrid version of ZF’s azimuth thruster (AT), a new shift technology, a new marine hybrid module, a POD propulsion system for vessels measuring up to 130 feet, the iDrift control system, and a new electronic control system, Total Command.

Marine Hybrid module

In late 2022, ZF Marine announced a new marine hybrid module that simplifies the electrification of new and existing ship platforms. The key feature of the overall solution is a newly developed, unique supporting frame that eliminates the need for a separate base for the electric motor and an offset-adjustment coupling. This plug-and-play approach reduces installation space and considerably simplifies the module's installation and the electric motor's maintenance. 

In the new marine hybrid module, ZF combines its established ZF 3300 PTI transmission, which can cover a power range of up to 1,940 kW at 2,450 rpm, with an application-specific electric motor (in the options 150 kW, 200 kW, and 300 kW). Currently, the 3300 series is ZF Marine’s smallest variant. The company is currently developing additional, smaller variants.

A hybrid version of ZF Marine’s azimuth thruster (AT)

In the same year, ZF also unveiled the hybrid version of its ZF AT series thrusters, which is suitable for a wide range of professional vessel types with a performance range of approximately up to 2500 kW. The new hybrid AT thruster closes the performance gap in more sustainable propulsion for a wide array of vessels. 

The new hybrid ZF AT is available as an azimuth thruster. ZF uses an electric motor placed at the upper gearbox’s Power-Take-In (PTI), the performance of which is tailored to the individual vessel type and application. Said applications include professional vessels ranging from tugs and pushers to ferries, research vessels, and supply boats. It allows for full electric sailing and maneuvering, which is especially useful in ports or waterways with strict emission and noise regulations. It can also be used as an additional booster, for instance, when avoiding obstacles or increasing the top speed with the additional electric power.

Supershift and a POD propulsion system for vessels measuring up to 130 feet

The W340 is a relatively new workboat transmission that replaces two prior models in the company’s lineup. The W340 offers a new shift technology called Supershift, which offers quicker and softer engagement. This results in better controllability of the vessel, as well as better comfort and, most importantly, quicker response.

In addition to the W340, ZF Marine released the POD Propulsion 4600 system, providing speed and maximum maneuverability to vessels measuring from 80 to 130 feet. Designed for vessels with planing and semi-displacement hulls measuring up to 130 feet and compatible with all main OEM engines up to 1.700 hp at a maximum of 2.450 rpm, the new drive technology is suitable for various recreational and professional applications. This large piece of hardware accommodates up to 2,000 horsepower with an added PTI for hybrid capability. 


The company released TotalCommand in 2021, a new propulsion control family that includes advanced functionalities to complement ZF's transmission technology. These include improved clutch responsiveness, optimized control of proportional valves, and adaptive gear engagement. TotalCommand offers high-quality cruising and maneuverability performance for a wide range of recreational and professional vessels.

ZF iDrift control system

For the commercial fishing market, ZF released the iDrift control system. This fishing tool helps to control drift speed and direction in windy conditions or active currents while maintaining the bow’s heading. It provides two modes for control drift. The first mode is a free drift while maintaining the heading, while the second mode is a controlled drift with a braking feature. This benefits people kite fishing over a change in depth, for example, when fishing over a wreck. It gives them complete control over the drift with the speed of a knot or more. ZF Marine cleverly built the iDrift control system on an inboard system, which means there’s no vector thrust. 

Caudwell Marine and Gator Tail partnerships

In 2023, ZF partnered with British marine propulsion technology firm Caudwell Marine to develop a transmission system for its new V6 diesel outboard engine that will be launched this year. As part of the new partnership, ZF has developed a twin-clutch transmission system that integrates with Caudwell Marine’s purpose-built turbo-charged V6 diesel powerhead and Axis-Drive steering system with Duo Prop. This 300-horsepower diesel outboard has a ZF transmission that may very well find its way into commercial fishing applications. 

A second partnership, this time Gator Tail Outboards, resulted in a new air-cooled, heavy-duty outboard with a customized ZF transmission, the GT-Z. With the GT-Z, boaters can go up to 35 mph through waters of nearly any depth and condition. This includes shallow water, areas with dense vegetation, mud, and even over stumps and logs. Its air-cooled engine eliminates overheating in these harsh environments. Some fishermen use Gator Tail’s air-cooled mud outboards daily, so this is an exciting new application for them.

Service as a Priority

In addition to the above products, ZF has made a conscious effort to amp up its commitment to customer service. In the past year, the company launched an all-new ZF Marine Service App, available for download from the Apple Store and Google Play. ZF also recently announced the launch of a new extended warranty program designed to extend coverage across the company’s full portfolio of transmissions and control products. This new warranty program extends ZF’s standard warranty window up to six years, a generous coverage period unavailable anywhere else in the market. The extended warranty program is also fully customizable, depending on the product and length of warranty requested. It allows customers to select the option that best meets their needs and budget.

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Eric van Rees is a p He has provided content to geospatial companies all over the world, including Trimble, Hexagon, SOAR and TravelTime. His articles have been featured in various magazines and blogs.

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