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“Firefly” — Solar-Powered Boat Putting Progress into a Modern Perspective


Sometimes ‘progress’ drives a good product to the brink of extinction before it brings it back. For example, between the late 1800s through the early 1920s electric boats in England were experiencing a heyday, with charging stations abundantly situated up and down the Thames river. Then, the fossil-fuel-powered internal combustion engine emerged, heralding speed boats to come. Electric marine vessels lost their allure, to say nothing of their marketing value, almost overnight.

Then, an interesting thing happened, the ’70s. It was a time when we realized oil was not a renewable resource, that conservation, moreover, meant more than a big brown bear admonishing people not to litter. A spark of interest in sustainable energies was born. Although, it took approximately another decade for electric boats to regain their lost popularity, leading at last to an awakening interest in solar-powered boats.

Today, those seventies growing pangs have erupted into ‘green’ fever. So, too, ‘progress,’ especially in terms of boating, which is no longer defined as getting where you need to go in the fastest, loudest way possible. As the Electric Boat Association, an organization that promotes electric boating throughout the United Kingdom, and has done so since 1982, puts it: “no noise, pollution, or fuss.”

So, after a near-century and a near-360 turnabout in terms of interpreting the concept of progress, solar-powered boats are getting their day (fittingly enough) in the sun, besides quietly gaining attention and making news. For example, the first ever Atlantic crossing for a motorized marine vessel using no fossil fuels happened in 2007. The vessel was the solar-run catamaran, Sun21. Several years later, the largest boat to ever run on solar power, the Turanor, PlanetSolar, successfully circumnavigated the globe before returning to its home port in Monaco. And the bar keeps getting raised.

However, while the above-mentioned voyages are great examples of solar power proving seaworthy, one wonders about the regular guy, who just wants a sustainable-powered boat to tool around in, one that works and doesn’t break the bank. Mr. Regular Guy doesn’t necessarily dream of circumnavigating the planet. He just wants to hang out at his local marina.

Well, meet Dan Baker, of British Columbia, just a regular guy. In 2010, Baker had an auspicious idea, to design and create a solar-powered marine vehicle of his own. So, he did. Initially, it took two trolling motors and a car charger to get Baker’s baby on a roll. Today, however, when Mr. Baker takes his boat out on Lake Fraser, in British Columbia, he’s sneaking through the water, barely disturbing the fish, with his own totally quiet, completely solar-powered pontoon.

The boat, which is suitable for six, produces no greenhouse emissions. 900 beautiful LED lights across the top give it its name: “The Firefly.” Two electronically commutated motors placed at the boat’s rear corners give the Firefly her maneuverability and acceleration capabilities. The real heart of the Firefly, however, her ‘green’ appeal, comes from the fact that her fuel, which comes entirely from the sun, is generated from her own homemade solar panel. The panel uses 6 X 6 cells and provides about 140W of electric power, enough to get Ms. Firefly buzzing to the tune of about 4 mph. Because the energy generated from Firefly’s solar panel gets stored in a lead-acid battery, she can continue buzzing for approximately 6 miles.

So successful has this prototype proven to be, one wonders if Mr. Baker has plans to market it. Clearly, he has business sense, along with Macgyver-like skills, as he assembled the Firefly for less than $3,000. While there’s no word yet on when a boat like this could hit a New Jersey marina where this blogger can try it out, I nonetheless remain hopeful.

Image Credit: Dan Baker


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