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Elco Motors

George Harvey

In our last issue, Green Energy Times ran a story, “Fossil Fuel-Free Water Sports,” in which we made a quick note of Elco, one of the oldest boat builders in the United States (

Elco was formed in 1892 as Electric Launch and Navigation Company. One of its earliest orders was for 55 electric launches, each 34 feet long, to provide transportation for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. Over a million people rode in those boats, and they led to growth of the company and its reputation.

Though Elco made electric boats, it also made some notable craft powered by fossil fuels. It supplied 550 80-foot submarine chasers for the First World War, and 399 PT boats for the Second World Warr. Perhaps the most famous boat in history was PT 109, captained by Lieutenant John F. Kennedy, later President of the United States.

Lately, various media, have run articles about electric boats that seem to make them out as a recent development. And they seem to tout the electric boat as something we might see in the not-so-distant future. Elco, however, was making noteworthy electric boats in significant numbers over 125 years ago. More to the point, Elco can set people up with electric boats today, at reasonable prices.

The information available in the news is not always accurate. A check of information on the world’s first electric tugboat finds several claimants to the title, all appearing in the last two to three years. Elco, however, outfitted a tugboat with electric motors for its only power source. It has been operating on the New York Shipping Canal since 2014.

Electric catamaran, photo courtesy of Elco.

And while there are a large number of articles about electric solutions for boating that are appearing on the horizon, solutions that will be in the grasp of ordinary boat owners soon, if they are just patient, Elco has been building motors for electric boats, for years, based on both outboard and inboard of its own.

Elco’s outboard motors have a range in size comparable to internal combustion engines of 5 hp to 50 hp. These are mounted similarly to gas-powered outboard motors, though they do also require batteries. The inboard motors are in sizes comparable to 6 hp to 100 hp. The above-mentioned tugboat has two motors, each of the 100 hp size.

Electric motors have many advantages over those powered by fossil fuels, such as reduced noise, freedom from emissions, and elimination of other pollution. And while reducing the cost of fuel, electric motors also reduce costs of maintenance. Perhaps the place this shows to greatest advantage is the amount of time a motor or engine can be used before it needs maintenance. The internal combustion motor, with its many moving parts, might need scheduled maintenance every 2,000 to 2,500 hours. An inboard Elco motor, by contrast, has only one moving part, and scheduled maintenance comes up every 50,000 hours. Assuming you use your boat for a full-time job, eight hours per day, fifty weeks per year, maintenance will be needed 25 years from now. If you use it less, it will need work less often.

Elco’s website is

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