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Annapolis harbor sports hybrid patrol boat

Saturday - 10/15/2011, 4:28pm  ET

The Capital of Annapolis

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - In the midst of the U.S. Powerboat Show, Annapolis' harbor is full of rumbling and bumbling motors, some with roars like tractors on a farm.

But on a cruise of the city's newly hybridized patrol boat, a handful of passengers were impressed with what they didn't hear.

No growl, purr or chug. Just a soft hum as the captain shifted gears.

"It was like a kayak," said Susan Wierman, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Air Management Association, which helped the city secure $300,000 in federal grant money to retrofit two harbormaster boats with battery-diesel-solar powered engines.

After four years of overcoming funding and technical challenges, the project is finally coming to fruition. The patrol boat just returned to Annapolis from the manufacturer and the pump-out boat is expected by January.

The patrol boat, the city's floating meter maid with occasional water rescue and inspector tasks, is now equipped with four solar panels on its roof that constantly charge the battery pack. Now on battery power alone, the boat can travel up to 5 knots.

Meanwhile, on the old diesel-burning engines, both boats needed about 20 oil changes per year, said Bob Clark contract manager for Metalcraft Marine, the manufacturer of both boats and lead in the retrofitting. The hybrids only require about seven, he said.

Harbormaster Flip Walters said the technology is so cutting-edge that only a dozen of these propulsion systems, designed by Steyr Motors, exist worldwide. The city expects the hybrids will cut down his fuel costs and carbon emissions by half.

Walters said the greater efficiency will provide the city with ample savings. From March to November every year, the city runs the boats 10 to 12 hours per day. While the average recreational boats are on about 85 hours in the course of a year, each of these work boats runs 1,500 hours per year.

"I'm doing 18 years of average work every year," Walters said.

The project didn't happen overnight. Walters, who was the major proponent of converting the boats, still needed an additional $100,000 to supplement the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant. With Annapolis in the middle of a budgetary crisis, he had to look elsewhere for money.

Of all places, the remaining funds came from the Canadian government. Metalcraft Marine, which is based in Kingston, Ontario, wanted to help the city realize its goal. Eager to get on the forefront of commercial hybrid boats, the company viewed the project as an opportunity to get some industry recognition, Clark said. So the business secured the remainder of funds from its own government.

The harbormaster admits it's unusual, but he's proud of the end result.

"The City of Annapolis received foreign aid from her majesty, the queen," Walters said with a chuckle. "I think that's pretty nifty."

The patrol boat is already being put to work. On a regular summer day, about 30 boats took anchor in Annapolis waters. Last Sunday during the U.S. Sailboat Show, the total reached closer to 200, officials said. Because the entrance to the channel is inadequately marked with buoys, many boaters have mistakenly dropped anchor in the middle of the channel, which is a navigational problem. The city's harbormaster workers have been on the lookout throughout the events, issuing nearly 100 warnings to boaters who are not in the designated anchorages, they said.

Though the efficiency and cost-savings are pluses, Wierman said the greatest benefit is to the environment. Her agency, which focuses on air quality, saw the Annapolis project as innovative and able to make a good dent in reducing emissions.

"It shortens people's lives to live in polluted environments," she said. "The more we can do to clean up an environment and make it a healthy place for us to enjoy our outdoor recreation, the better."

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