25th Feb 2019 by Rightboat

Save Our Seas! How to Be an Environmentally Responsible Boat Owner

Being out on a boat is the perfect way to be at one with nature, and the beauty and serenity of bobbing on open ocean, lake or waterway can’t be matched. But are we inadvertently causing damage to the marine ecosystems? While 80% of ocean pollution comes from land, boats themselves – whether they’re a RIB or superyacht - can be a burden on the environment. As responsible boat owners and ocean lovers we should be at the forefront of the efforts to protect our seas and planet. So what can we do to minimize our impact on the environment and help preserve the beauty of the oceans for generations to come?

Reduce the Amount of Fuel and Oil ending up in the Water

An estimated 30% of all fuel and oil used in two-stroke engines finds its way into the water. Fuel is highly toxic to wildlife and plants, as well as blocking life-giving sunlight in the water. Fish, shellfish, seabirds and aquatic plants need a balanced supply of nutrients, oxygen and clean water to thrive. When even small amounts of toxic substances enter their ecosystems, this delicate balance can be disrupted.

While a sobering thought, good news is on the horizon. Manufacturers are responding to the issue and developing a range of four-stroke marine engines, lean-burn two stroke engines and fuel injection systems. There are electric motors with zero emissions charged by solar or wind energy, or hybrid engines run on a combination of solar, diesel and electric boats.

In the meantime, however, there are many ways we can minimize the amount of fuel entering the water from our own boats.

Manage Spills

A huge amount of fuel and oil pollution comes from carelessness and accidents, so with a little more caution and some better planning, many of these can be easily avoided. Start by filling portable fuel tanks on shore and not on board. The very nature of a rocking boat is the recipe for spills. The same can be said for over-filling fuel tanks. Both rough seas and expansion from heat can cause fuel tanks –portable and built-in - to leak, so make sure you leave enough room.

Even small amounts of oil can cause contamination over a large area of water. Keep a supply of rags to hand and mop up even the smallest of spills when on board.

Reduce Fuel Usage

Take pro-active steps to reduce your fuel usage and you can be reducing your carbon footprint and saving money at the same time. Start by making sure your motor boat’s engine is serviced regularly and is running cleanly and efficiently. Check the propeller regularly too. A dirty propeller covered in barnacles, or a chipped and inefficient one will increase your water resistance and ultimately cause you to use more fuel.

Try and avoid accelerating, and reduce your speed to keep emissions as low as possible. If you have a sail boat, plan a day on the sea with plenty of time to navigate home by wind power. If your boat has a planing hull, lift it to plane smoothly and evenly across the water. And when the engine doesn’t need to be on, cut it. An idling engine uses unnecessary fuel and means you’re missing out on those beautiful sounds of nature too.

Keep on Top of Maintenance Schedules

Seemingly small tweaks to your yacht’s maintenance can make it more environmentally-friendly, so have a look at our list of ways to get your boat ready for summer and see how you can make each step greener. Apply a coat of wax to a fiberglass hull for example, and reduce the need for detergents when you wash your boat. Detergents are toxic to aquatic ecosystems, with some chemicals damaging fish tissues and others creating nutrient imbalances leading to algal blooms. A whole new range of non-toxic cleaning products are out on the market now, so do your research before buying and make sure that your boat is well-stocked in green and non-toxic products. Organisations helping in the fight to save our seas such as Sailors For The Sea are a good starting point in finding the safest ones.  

In addition to cleaning products, the anti-fouling that you put on your boat could also make it more environmentally-friendly. While most paints are harmful to aquatic life, there is a new range of coatings which have been formulated to have a less toxic effect. They do this by creating a slick surface which inhibits growth, rather than toxic ingredients which kill growth. Silicon, Teflon and other contact leaching paints are now widely available.  

Don’t Discharge Black Water

It is one of the least glamorous parts of boating, but black water is an important topic which needs strict and proper treatment so as to avoid being an environmental hazard. Blackwater, or sewage discharge, contains pollutants including nutrients, metals, toxins, viruses, and pathogens which, if discharged incorrectly from your boat, can negatively affect aquatic ecosystems and cause risk to human health. Did you know that a single overboard discharge in a bay can cause pollution across one square mile? Thankfully, the solutions are simple.

It is both dangerous to the marine environment and in many cases illegal to discharge black water into the sea. Make sure any on-board toilets and their holding tanks are properly emptied at marina pump-out services. If your boat doesn’t have a built-in toilet, you may want to consider a portable one. There are increasing technologies which offer increased purification and neutralisation of waste. Using hydrogen peroxide they process the sewage water twice to ensure it is safe to be discharged legally.

Save Our Seas: What Else Can You Do to Preserve the Oceans?

1. Minimize Your Use of Plastics

Single use plastics are a hot topic at the moment, with the need to radically reduce our global dependency on them imperative. Every single day 8 million pieces of plastic pollution find their way into our oceans, with 60 to 90% of all ocean debris made up of plastic. So what, as boat owners can we do to help? Ensure none of your rubbish ends up in the sea and is taken back to shore and recycled properly. Avoid single-use plastics, especially those which are easily avoidable such as plastic bags, straws, water bottles, and packaged fruit and vegetables.

2. Buy and Eat Sustainable Seafood

According to sources 90% of global fish stocks are fully or over-exploited. Combine this with the effects of pollution and habitat loss and it is clear we need to make responsible, well-informed choices when eating fish and seafood. The Marine Conservation Society’s Good Fish Guide is a good way to know which species are sustainable. Always ask in restaurants and markets if fish is sourced sustainably. It helps you make better choices and also lets suppliers know that those choices are important to their consumers.

3. Use Non-Toxic Sunscreens

Yes, even the sunscreen that we use to protect ourselves from harmful UV rays can have a detrimental effect on the ocean. In 2015, it was estimated that around 14,000 tons of sunscreen are ending up in the world’s coral reefs. Opt for sunscreens which do not contain oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are UV-filtering chemicals found in most brands. Oxybenzone can be fatal to baby corals and cause bleaching, so use reef-safe brands such as ThinkSport or Badger and swim safe in the knowledge that both you and the corals are protected.

4. Support Eco-Friendly Charities, Organsiations and Businesses

While mega yachts aren’t generally considered eco-friendly, there are many in the industry working hard to offset the environmental impact we have on the oceans. From yachting event organisers who are promoting sustainable policies such as eliminating single-use plastic, to marinas who offer pump-out stations for black water, the tide is certainly turning on environmental awareness in the marine industry. You may even want to join organisations such as the International Seakeepers Society and become part of a global team who use support marine science and conservation by using their yachts as platforms for marine research, educational outreach, and to deploy oceanographic instruments.


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