Marsh outings inspired idea for electric canoes

Allen Cady loved to paddle through the marshes of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge to snap pictures of the birds and animals at sunset. But he often found himself paddling back in the dark -- until he affixed an electric motor to his canoe four years ago.

The innovation saved the Annapolis boat restorer time and energy and was so quiet that he still could get close to the wildlife he wanted to photograph.


This week, his Electra Ghost Canoes will be among the hundreds of boats on display at the 25th annual U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis. The show at the City Dock is the largest in-water boat show in the country, according to U.S. Boat Shows Inc., the organizer.

The event opens Thursday with a VIP and press day and continues through Oct. 10. General admission is $9 for adults and $4 for children.


Exhibits will range from rubber dinghies to a 72-foot schooner that will be available for cruises. This year's show includes new models of monohulls and a large exhibit of catamarans.

In addition to the display of boats and boating merchandise, there will be seminars on sailing, technology and trip planning.

New this year will be a regatta sponsored by DuPont Fibers and Sailing World magazine. The five races may be viewed from the dock, boats or the Naval Academy sea wall.

Mr. Cady, who operates from a shop on Bembe Beach Road, hopes the show will generate more interest in his electric canoes.

He will have two of the canoes on display: his 18-foot Whisper, which starts at $2,500; and his 13-foot, 6-inch Sweet Pea, which sells for $1,850.

Their two-horsepower motors will reach 6 mph and run for as long as 15 hours without recharging.

Mr. Cady has sold 41 of his electric canoes since he started three years ago. Last year, his top-grade canoe was featured in the Neiman-Marcus Christmas catalog.

Although electric outboard motors have been outfitted on fishing boats and rafts for a number of years, Mr. Cady said his design is different because the electric motor is mounted on the inside and is quieter. "It doesn't pollute the way a gas engine does," he said.


Although Mr. Cady continues to restore wooden vessels, he said he is spending more time on marketing his electric canoes.

"People are slowly becoming more environmentally conscious," he said.

Beth Kahr, director of the Marine Trades Association of Maryland, said she expects demand for boats that rely on electricity or solar power to increase. Already, some parks have banned gasoline-powered boats from their lakes.

"Boaters are far more environmentally conscious than they've ever been before," she said. "Electric power is a viable alternative to gas and diesel. It's cleaner and quieter all around."

Mr. Cady said his canoes are popular among naturalists because the motors don't disturb the animals.

Ironically, he has had to give up his wildlife photography hobby.


"Unfortunately, I'm so busy on my boats, I don't get the time to do it," he said.