Unless you like boating in places that look like a toxic waste dump, green and clean boating is a mindset whose time has come. The good news is there are lots of Eco-friendly options for boaters these days and most do not cost much money. Some can even help you save a few bucks and lessen cleaning and maintenance time, all while practicing good marine stewardship.
Here are seven tips to get you started:
- Use non-toxic cleaning products and less of them. Traditional household cleaning products can damage fish tissues, create nutrient imbalances that lead to algae blooms, and so on. Instead, look for biodegradable, phosphate-free, EPA Design for Environment, environmentally-friendly alternatives. The top sea-safe lines are pretty cutting-edge and effective. And if you use them to scrub and rinse your boat after every trip, and then cover your boat between uses, you will lessen the need for repeated cleaning.
- Fuel getting in the water is another large concern. Always use an oil absorbent fuel bib or collar when filling up to catch spills. (And be sure to dispose of dirty those absorbents as hazardous waste.) Fill the fuel tank slowly and keep an ear out for the tone change that occurs as the tank starts to get full. The Coast Guard advises filling tanks to 90-percent capacity to allow for expansion due to heat. Always attend the fuel nozzle. Unlike car tanks that are pressurized, boat fuel tanks often do not activate automatic shut-off nozzles in time.
- Regularly check engine lines and hoses for small leaks that can lead to oil in the bilge. Replace oil pan gaskets and seals anytime the engine is removed to further lessen the potential for leakage. If you find oil or fuel in the bilge, do not pump it overboard. Use oil absorbent pads available at most marine stores that are specifically designed to absorb oil and repel water. Sock or pillow-style absorbers can be used in deep or hard-to-reach areas. An extremely oily bilge may require a bilge pump-out service.
- If you have an onboard water system, be aware that your waste water can be especially harmful. Soaps released with a boat’s “gray water” are more dangerous than those released at home because they are not treated by a residential sewer system. To lessen your gray water impact, use on-shore facilities (showers, sinks, laundry) whenever possible, or wait until you get home. Install a gray water tank. Install low-flow showerheads to conserve water. Use as little water as possible when cleaning dishes. Choose biodegradable, non-phosphate soaps, cleaners, and detergents.
- Just like your body, most boats can lose a few pounds. Lighter boats take less power to move, and uncluttered boats are easier to move around in. Additionally, boats tend to burn 50 percent more fuel at full throttle compared to midrange, so leave extra time for your cruise and enjoy the slower ride.
- Do not just grab the first on-sale can of bottom paint you see. The easiest on the environment are non-biocide paints that do not contain metals like copper or zinc or other active ingredients. Once the hull is painted, do regular maintenance to prevent marine growth and the resulting hull drag that increases fuel consumption. Be sure to use non-toxic, non-abrasive cleaning products and methods to lengthen the life of your paint.
- Always manage your trash. Garbage, fishing gear, and grocery bags are harmful to sea life and the marine environment. Even something as small as a cigarette butt tossed overboard can look like food to a fish, leading to suffocation or starvation. Trash is a hazard to the boat, too, and can clog engine intakes, wrap around props, and lead to costly repairs. Educate your boat guests and reduce the amount of waste on board by removing packaging at home. Properly store trash containers so there is no chance of it being blown overboard. Lessen your carbon footprint by opting for reusable containers instead of disposable Ziploc bags.
Boats generate tons of pollutants and toxic waste annually. It is time to exercise Leave No Trace principles and preserve our natural resources. “Pack it in, pack it out” is their motto. Ours should be “what happens on board, stays on board.”
Do you have more tips for green boating? If so, please share them so we can all learn how to keep our waters clean for the next generation of boaters.