The world's largest solar-powered vessel docked in St. John's on Thursday during its journey to gather data about the sea and climate change.

The Swiss vessel M/S Turanor PlanetSolar has a total of half a square kilometre of solar panels on the top of the boat, makes little noise, and has zero emissions.

It is one of the strangest looking boats people here have seen, and it creates a bit of a spectacle wherever it goes.

Gérard d'Aboville, captain of the vessel, said it may have startled a few people when it docked at Rabat, Morocco, in May.

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Captain Gerard d'Aboville says people are always fascinated with the vessel when it pulls into a new harbour. (CBC)

"When we entered the harbour, people told us that some people had been calling the police station to say that an airplane was on the water and they didn't know what to do," d'Aboville said.

This isn't the first trip across the Atlantic for d'Aboville — in 1980, he rowed from Cape Cod, Mass., to Brittany, France.

According to d'Aboville, the solar energy collected is stored in the pontoons on either side of the boat, each containing five tonnes of lithium-ion batteries.

"As you can tell, it's a very special ship," d'Aboville said.

"Most of these panels can slide out, and you discover some others under so we can double the surface."

For scientist Anh Dao Le from the University of Geneva, the research trip is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

"It's amazing. It's very exciting — I'm learning a lot of new things," Le said.

Le is part of the team carrying out environmental research in the Gulf Stream. She said researchers have never had field conditions like this available to them before.

"We don't have our own emission and we don't have any deflect from the data. Everything we measure comes from nature — zero comes from boat itself."

'Feat of engineering'

Kevin Strowbridge, a naval engineering instructor at the Marine Institute in St. John's, said he's never seen a vessel comparabe to M/S Turanor PlanetSolar.

"This is an amazing vessel — it is an amazing feat of engineering. This is the future, right here," he said.

"This is an absolute groundbreaker right here — there's been nothing like this done in naval architecture."

But Strowbridge said incorporating the engineering used in making the vessel would be an enormous venture for commercial ships.

"Commercially, this would be quite challenging to implement. Most of our rural shipping — 90 per cent of our rural shipping — is carried on the ocean and those vessels are the workhorses of the industry, and implementing something like this would be quite a challenge," Strowbridge said.

The M/S Turanor PlanetSolar is equipped with a backup generator, but the sunshine has been generous for the vessel's trip so far.

It is scheduled to leave St. John's on Monday, and will be heading across the Atlantic to Europe.