SUSTAINABLE SAILING: WHAT CAN WE DO TO BE ECO-FRIENDLY?
Updated: Oct 5, 2022
This article aims to give an idea of the best practices to make our cruising and boating more environmentally friendly.
Being a yachtsman is a unique and incredible way to enjoy the beauty and benefits of the marine environment. Mariners often wonder how to better respect the nature they love and admire so much. Even if pleasure boating is rarely blamed for global warming and maritime pollution, the question of a more Eco-responsible boating is more and more discussed within our community.
In this article, we will follow a captain and his crew and see how they try to solve challenges in a more Eco-friendly and sustainable way.
CHALLENGE #1: DRINKING WATER BOTTLES
John, our Catamaran Nautitech 44 skipper, begins his cruise in the Caribbean’s. John pushes a cart loaded with water packs. For his next one-week cruise to the Grenadines, he is carrying no less than 10 packs of plastic water bottles, 120 bottles in total! He is already wondering how to find recycling trash on his way down to the Grenadines.
John reaches his boat where Mike and his brother Steven, the two crew sailing with him are waiting. They are very surprised to see John with so many bottles. They had just finished filling up the boat water tanks.
"Why do we need so much water? We do have a full tank (600 liters) and a water maker?” They asked.
"We can't drink the water in the tanks, bacteria can proliferate. It is not safe!" says John, busy loading his bottles.
SOLUTION FOR A SUSTAINABLE CRUISE: MAKE FRESH TANK WATER DRINKABLE
You don't have to drink the water in the tanks as it is, you can use simple fresh water stabilization systems. Those systems work with UV LEDs and activated carbon filters, consuming less than 4 A in 12 V when they operate. You can eliminate plastic water bottles for only about $800. It is simple and makes your boat Eco-friendlier and more sustainable.
CHALLENGE #2: WASTEWATER DISCHARGE INTO THE SEA
John is busy preparing his boat for departure and is now cleaning the deck. He scrubs as much as he can to make his beautiful boat shine. Detergent foam soon surrounds him very quickly and goes straight in the water and spreads in the port. John is aware of this pollution, but he thinks that it is just a little bit more than showers or other water used on board. This small amount of extra foam will not change anything. John is also concerned with toilet water and the discharge issue especially when sailing in Europe.
SOLUTION TO WASTE WATER MANAGEMENT:
Use only Eco-friendly products when you wash your boat. Do not use those detergents with a lot of chemical products even if there are no regulations regarding the use of detergent or other cleaning products.
For the discharge water problem, use discharge tanks. In North America boats are equipped with tanks to collect toilet waters. Those tanks are then pumped out. Most ports are well equipped to do so. It is not the case in Europe.
PROBLEM: THE USE OF ANTI-FOULING TO KEEP YOUR HULL CLEANED
Let’s go back to John. He is a diver and practices underwater hunting. Of course, he hates to immerse himself in dirty water, whose pollution is the result of human activities. After cleaning the deck, John thinks about painting the bottom of his hull with proper anti-fouling paint. He looks at the paint jar and realizes how noxious this kind of paint is. There are so many warning labels and icons. It is scary and it looks like a weapon of mass destruction!
John does need to apply anti-fouling because algae proliferate in the Caribbean. As far as he knows, only biocide anti-fouling works here but it is very bad for the environment.
SOLUTION FOR A SUSTAINABLE CRUISE: USE ANTI-FOULING WITHOUT BIOCIDES
The issue of anti-fouling is becoming more important every year. The industry promotes their erodible products, which are heavily loaded with biocides. But these products are now facing more and more regulations and become prohibited in the merchant marine!
Fortunately, new credible alternative solutions exist and are becoming more popular. One of them is Copper coat, a copper-based anti-fouling, the same metal that was used to line the bottoms of frigates in the 18th century for its effective properties against proliferation.
PROBLEM: DIRTY WATER DISCHARGE FROM THE BILGE PUMP
John continues to wash his boat. He now observes the water jet from his bilge pump. The water takes on an iridescent color around its point of impact. It reminds our skipper that he spilled a quarter of a liter of new oil when he poured oil into his engine. This oil sinks to the bottom, mixes with the water that stagnates there and ends up being pumped into the sea, a mini oil spill in short!
SOLUTION FOR A SUSTAINABLE CRUISE: KEEP THE HOLDS CLEAN AND HEALTHY
The traditional test in nautical mechanics is to be able to go down into a hold in white socks and come back up without them having changed color! Keeping the bilges clean means cleaning them with paper towels to avoid oil and gasoline pollution. Keeping them clean is a guarantee that there will be no unpleasant odors. Keeping your holds clean guarantees the operation of your safety equipment, such as bilge pumps, whose floats are very sensitive to debris of all kinds.
CHALLENGE : THE USE OF THE SAILBOAT'S ENGINE(S)
It is now time to depart. John is happy to go sailing. The two diesel engines started up and John is ready to leave but he need to motor for about two hours before he can safely sail. He does not like using his engines because of the noise, the pollution and the disturbances for the marine life.
SOLUTION FOR A SUSTAINABLE CRUISE: ADAPT HIS ROUTE TO REDUCE THE ENGINE USAGE
If you want to reduce pollution and be more Eco-friendly, you need to reduce the usage of your engines. Try to sail as early as possible when you leave your port. It may be slower, but you greatly appreciate the benefits of sailing! Be patient, sailing is about the journey not necessary the destination!
CHALLENGE : THE USE OF A 220 V DIESEL GENERATOR
After sailing for a while, the crew arrives in an idyllic Caribbean Island. It is quiet and beautiful. However, some people on board are suffering because of the heat. Why don’t we start the A/C?
John agrees and starts the 220 V generator to cool down the cabins for his crew... Well this is another pollution!
SOLUTION FOR A SUSTAINABLE CRUISE: PREFER 12 OR 24 V SYSTEMS ON BATTERIES CHARGED BY THE ENGINE ALTERNATOR OR EVEN BETTER BY OTHER RENEWABLE ENERGY SOURCES
Air conditioning, and 12 or 24 V systems, associated with powerful battery banks, recharge when the boat's engine is running. You should prefer this solution over a 220 V system driven by a diesel generator! Of course, the best and most common approach is to use renewable sources of energy like photovoltaic panels, hydro generation (Watt&Sea hydro generators) and advanced alternators.
CHALLENGE: THE IMPACT OF ANCHORING ON THE SEABED
The following morning, John is in a great mood and he starts telling good stories from breakfast.
He slept well, without stress, because he knew his anchor was holding very well. He dove the day before and checked the anchor. He has 40 meters of chain in only 5 meters of water.
When it was time to set sail, John and his crew, took up the slack on the anchor chain. The chain went up and, with it, an impressive quantity of seaweed invaded the davit and the anchor locker.
Finally, the anchor emerges, a real lump of seaweed, sand and agglomerated mud. All of that must be cleared away, with a gaff, before putting the anchor in its place.
As a result, the floor of the catamaran's bow looks rather dirty, as does the anchorage, where clumps of seaweed torn from the bottom are floating, a real dredging operation... Very bad for marine life and very bad for the environment.
SOLUTION FOR A SUSTAINABLE CRUISE: MOORING AND SAND BEDS
Destroying seaweeds with our anchors is real issue. Most people are unaware of consequences. It badly impacts marine life and it is a real treats in some popular anchorage areas. The solution is to prefer mooring. We know it is more costly but moorings are designed to minimize the impact of repeated anchoring on the often fragile bottom. We are all responsible to preserve wildlife everywhere we go.
Choose organized anchorages as much as possible, and when you anchor avoid anchorages that are not made of sand.
Not so easy to be Eco-friendly and sustainable on a sailboat. Most sailors try their best but there is still a lot to do. The industry is getting better but it is up to us to adopt better behavior, avoid plastic, avoid using non-sustainable products. We only have one planet. Nature must be respected and protected.