How to be a Responsibly Green Boater

green boating

As a leisure activity, boating is incredibly popular. Recreational use of man-powered boats, powerboats, and sailboats is attractive to individuals who enjoy the great outdoors. However, to be a responsibly green boater, it is necessary to follow sound boating practices.

It is a regrettably true statement that boating can and often does cause terrible damage both to wildlife and to entire ecosystems. Factors such as chemical cleaning agents, carbon emissions, and even needlessly ignorant littering can cause significant damage to the environment; however, there is a better way.

The responsible boater is a new breed of sailing enthusiast who considers carefully the ecological impact of their actions, and actively works on finding eco-friendly ways to continue to enjoy their hobby.

Use Green Accessories

It may seem obvious, but using green accessories and cutting down on disposable waste as much as possible is one excellent way of being a responsibly green boater. In order to ensure that waterways stay cleaner for longer, there are many eco-friendly tips to follow when it comes to green boating accessories, including:

  • Use natural hemp ropes rather than ones made from synthetic fibers.
  • Use canvas containers rather than plastic bags for transporting food.
  • Where possible, use organic and natural products rather than artificial ones.

Clean Green

Always exercise extreme caution with regards to the cleaning agents used inside, and particularly on the exterior surfaces of sailing vessels. Harsh chemicals can easily and dramatically negatively impact delicate marine life and aquatic environments.

There are various eco-friendly boat cleaners available on the market. Always look for the EPA “Safer Choice” label, formerly known as “Design for the Environment.”

All cleaning agents used should at least always be biodegradable so that they do not harm marine animal and plant life. Creating simple, home-made and gentle boat-cleaning products is easy and cost effective, too.

  • Brass cleaner. Mix together equal parts of salt, white vinegar, and water.
  • Fuel oil stain remover. Simply pour a little baking soda onto the stain, and remove after 20 minutes.
  • Chrome cleaner. Apple cider vinegar on a clean cloth is perfect for getting a good shine on chrome fixtures.
  • Hard water stain remover. Add one tablespoon of toothpaste to one tablespoon of baking soda.
  • Hull cleaner. Add 1.5 cups of baking soda to a gallon of warm water.

Know When to Discard and When to Recycle

Trash discarded in the water looks terrible, and can damage the surrounding environment. It is also particularly dangerous to birds and animal life who can ingest or get caught in pieces of old garbage. This has been widely reported in the press for years, and makes for horrifying reading.

Discarded trash also has a knock-on effect on local tourism and even on people’s jobs and livelihoods. It is important therefore, to always dispose of litter responsibly, and to always consider the environmental impact of every action.

The Federal Refuse Act (1899 33 USC 407) prohibits the deposit or discharge of any refuse matter of any kind whatsoever into U.S. waters. It should be kept in mind that this covers everything from garbage to liquid pollutants.

Boats can also be built with a variety of – sometimes dangerous – materials. According to Discover Boating, it is important to note that certain environmentally toxic substances should always be disposed of at a qualified facility. These include –

  • Oil
  • Sewage
  • Antifreeze

It is good practice to always bring portable toilets back ashore so the contents can be disposed of correctly. Also, always use marinas which offer pump-out services, and follow the letter of the law by installing and using a marine sanitation device.

It should also be noted that according to environmental boating law, it is against federal and state law to discharge untreated sewage anywhere within the three-mile territorial limit – including coastal waters, lakes, rivers and so on, within three miles of the shore. It is also against the law to release treated sewage into designated “No Discharge Zones.” This can result in a fine of as much as $2,000.

Recyclable items include

  • Dead batteries that can be recharged and reused.
  • Monofilament fishing line that can be melted down and made into various other plastic items.
  • Old used boats that can be donated to charity rather than just scrapped, or worse still, abandoned offshore. Donating a boat to charity can benefit local communities as well as also being tax deductible.
  • Food containers can often be reused more than once.

Always Keep the Engine in Good Order

There are various ways of ensuring that a boat engine is well maintained.

  • Ensure that the engine is the correct size to power the boat. One that is not big enough will not perform well, and could potentially leak toxic waste into the water. Add this to above average fuel consumption, and it’s a recipe for disaster.
  • It is good practice to regularly consult with an experienced boat mechanic should engine issues arise.
  • Always ensure the engine is the correct horsepower for the vessel. A variable-pitch propeller which can be adjusted to achieve maximum efficiency, no matter the speed is recommended for all boats.

Fuel and Oil

Motor oil and fuel are toxic to wildlife, people and plants. It is necessary to be very careful when handling these substances lest an accident results.

  • According to California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways, soaps should never be used on oil and fuel spills – this is completely illegal.
  • Fill tanks to 90 percent capacity (rather than 100 percent) to minimize the risk of spillage.
  • Always use oil absorbent pads in the bilges of boats with inboard engines.
  • It is good practice to get into the habit of regularly inspecting thru-hull fittings. If a boat begins to sink, it’s dangerous for passengers. In addition to this, a sinking boat is likely to leak chemicals, oil, and fuel into the water.

Maintaining and Repairing Your Vessel

All that degreasing, painting, and cleaning can cause damage to waters. Toxic substances can endanger marine and animal life, and paint and dust particles can actually block out the sunlight required by many plants and sea life to live.

  • As a rule, always endeavor to use only nonhazardous materials.
  • Use only nontoxic paints when working on the hull of a boat in order to keep waterways pollution free.
  • Remember that old batteries can leach out cadmium or even lead. These always need to be correctly disposed of.
  • Expired flares also contain highly toxic materials and need to be disposed of adequately too.

Stormwater Runoff

It is important to note that storm drains at marinas often harbor pollutants, and carry these straight into the surrounding water. Oil, grease, litter, detergents toxic metals, and bilge waste are just some of the hazardous substances found here.

  • Always remember to dispose of trash in onshore bins on your return from your boating trip.
  • Be careful when discarding worn motor parts so oil doesn’t transfer to storm drains.
  • Always follow the golden rule – use only nontoxic cleaning products.

General Vessel Operation

Neglectful and irresponsible handling of boats can irreparably damage the environment for many years to come. Thankfully, there are many steps that can be taken to minimize any negative effects.

  • Try not to boat in shallow waters where sediment as well as the underwater habitat can be disturbed. This can also destroy your engine, hull, and propeller if you run aground.
  • Anchor boats carefully to avoid damaging the natural habitat.
  • Go slow near shores to prevent wakes which can be damaging to the environment.

Report all Spillages

If a spillage does occur when filling oil or fuel tanks, it is imperative that the correct protocol is followed. It is important to report all spills that result in a sludge or sheen to the water, no matter the size. Note that if in doubt, the Environmental Protection Agency gives full instructions with regards to the reporting of spillages.

It is also a requirement to report another vessel seen leaking any type of pollutant. The National Response Center is staffed 24 hours round the clock by both marine science technicians and by officers of the U.S. Coast Guard. All boating security incidents, chemical and oil spills must be reported to their hotline – 1-800-424-8802.

Final Thoughts

To conclude, responsible boating is achievable with some prior thought and careful planning. There are many laws governing recreational boating, and every boater should make themselves aware of these to avoid any potential issues. Through acquainting yourself with best practices and local laws, it is possible to lead a responsible boating lifestyle.

Boating enthusiasts are perhaps the best caretakers of our oceans and waterways as they have an inherent passion and love for the water. Every green boater is – by their own actions – helping to protect the waters they sail on for future generations.

Boating, when done properly and with an emphasis on eco-friendly practices, can be incredibly fun and rewarding. Through following the tips above, it is hoped that the ecological impact of the hobby can be significantly diminished so our children and our grandchildren can enjoy clean and safe waterways for generations to come.

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