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Marine News from the Great Lakes

10 Great Tips for Sailing Green This Boating Season

Published: Friday, April 8, 2016

Going “green” isn’t just a trend; it’s a necessity for clean waterways, a healthy marine environment, better boating and a better life. Here are small steps you can take that can make a big difference in preserving our natural resources…

As a yacht owner, you already have a passion for the rivers, bays and oceans that ebb and flow through your life. So, of course you want to be as eco-friendly as possible whenever you set sail. The good news is, reducing your carbon footprint and lessening your impact on the environment can be as simple as:

  • Staying in tune. An engine that’s tuned up and running properly improves fuel economy and burns fuel more efficiently, causing fewer emissions into both the air and water.
  • Leaving bottled water and other plastics behind. Plastic is the number one source of marine debris. Birds, fish and marine mammals often mistake it for food or get tangled up in it. Worse, it doesn’t biodegrade. Ever! One recent study in the Virgin Islands found that crewed yachts were dumping about a million plastic water bottles into area landfills each year. That did not include bareboats, cruise ships or any other kinds of boats—just the crewed yachts. A smarter idea: Instead of bottled water, carry filtered water in 3- to 5-gallon containers and dispense it on board in cups that are 100% compostable and recyclable. Or, consider installing a water filtration system. It will take up a lot less stowage than cases of bottled water and save you money in the long run.
  • Going for “gray water” reduction. Gray water is the term for all wastewater on board a vessel (other than sewage). It comes from washing dishes and clothes, showering and—the big one—cleaning all parts of the boat, from the hull to the deck. Gray water carries detergents, soaps, bleaches, and organic particles into the lakes and oceans we sail. The problems with gray water are twofold. First, organic particles require bacteria to be broken down, and the bacteria require oxygen to do their work. The more gray water that gets flushed into a body of water, the more oxygen the bacteria use, making less oxygen available for native species. This causes them to die off, particularly in a heavily used area. The second problem is that while the phosphates and nitrates carried into the water by detergents and soaps are both important elements in a healthy aquatic ecosystem, they are only required in small amounts. An influx of these elements—say, in a crowded harbor during a regatta or race week—can disrupt a delicate ecological balance. So, the best ways to reduce gray water are to wash down your boat using only clean water and no soaps. Also, use shore side facilities for dishwashing, showering and laundry whenever possible.
  • Using environmentally-friendly cleaning products. We know that sometimes plain water just isn’t enough to wash a yacht. And when away from shore, it’s impossible to wash dishes, clothes and towels without soap. But keep in mind that the reason so many cleaners are so good at getting rid of stains, bacteria, algae and the like is because they are rife with toxic and petroleum-based ingredients—ingredients that can damage our oceans, environment, and even our own health. Fortunately, many companies have developed non-toxic, biodegradable dish and laundry detergents, as well as boat soaps, that not only have a minimal impact on the aquatic environment but have been shown to work just as well—if not better—than traditionally used chemical-based cleaners. There are even color-safe, oxygen-release gels and cleansers available that remove spots from boats without using bleach or other hazardous materials. To reduce the trace you leave on the sea, check out products from these brands: Seventh Generation, Clorox GreenWorks and Simple Green Naturals. Or, look for the EPA-Certified “Design for the Environment” DfE label, which identifies cleaning products that have minimal environmental impact and are safer for you and your family.
  • Switching to eco-friendly bottom paints. Most yacht owners use copper-based paints on boat bottoms—and with good reason. These work really well at killing barnacles, algae and other marine organisms. But eventually the paint washes off the hull, and copper is extremely toxic to fish and other aquatic species, most notably reducing their ability to reproduce. A better idea? Use non-biocide green paints that work by creating a slippery surface that marine organisms have trouble attaching to. According to a recent study conducted by the Port of San Diego, these paints last from 5 to 10 years, whereas copper paints last just 2 to 4. Bonus: The slippery surface of non-biocide green paints gives yachts better fuel economy and higher sailing speeds because of he low friction, thus providing an edge in racing.
  • Taking precautions to avoid fuel and oil spills. When filling up, avoid topping off your fuel tanks, as this can lead to gas spilling in the water. Also, use a “bilge pillow” to soak up leaks in your bilge, instead of using your bilge pump to pump it out.
  • Making the switch to LED lights. According to the EPA, some 800 million fluorescent light bulbs are disposed of each year, collectively producing enough mercury to contaminate about 20 million acres of water and causing major ecological damage through water pollution. Not only are LED (Light Emitting Diode) lights mercury- and toxin-free, they consume less energy than incandescent and fluorescent bulbs, produce a better quality of light and last for up to 50,000 hours (compared to fluorescents, which normally last up to 15,000 and incandescents, which typically last up to 2,000 hours) before needing to be replaced.
  • Using alternative fuels to power your yacht. Using biodiesel to power a boat’s engine is becoming more and more common. The U.S. Navy and the University of Rhode Island School of Oceanography are two prime examples of those filling their vessel’s tanks with a mixture of biodiesel (vegetable oil- or animal fat-based diesel) and traditional diesel fuel. The good news: Biodiesel can be added to any diesel engine without any modifications. Even better news: Burning it contributes a net of zero carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
  • Harnessing the power of the sun. Consider installing solar panels on your yacht to help charge your batteries or run your electronics while anchored or sitting on a sandbar, instead of cranking up your generator.
  • Watching your wake. Large wakes accelerate shoreline erosion, so take it slow. Throttle back in narrow waterways. And use moorings rather than anchoring in environmentally delicate areas such as coral reefs.

tags: Sailing

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