Eco-Friendly Boating Guide

There is nothing better than a day out on the water, the wind in your hair carrying away the stresses of everyday life. However, casting off the dock lines does not mean that we can shrug off our responsibilities as boaters, especially when it comes to the environment.

Being an eco-conscious boater can seem overwhelming in the beginning, but it doesn’t have to be. You don’t need to spend a lot of money or have fancy equipment to start making a difference. Simply being mindful of the world around you and implementing a few small changes in your daily routine can have a wide-reaching impact.

Just like collective drops of water come together to make an ocean – if we all do our small part, we can preserve our planet for the future generations of boaters to enjoy.

Eco-Friendly Sustainable Boating Practices Protects Marine Wildlife
Eco-Friendly Sustainable Boating Practices Protects Marine Wildlife

Eco-Conscious Habits At The Dock

Whether going out for the day or planning an extended trip it is always a good idea to have a pre-departure checklist. When it comes to incorporating some eco-conscious habits into your pre-departure routine, it is mostly common sense.

Environmentally-Safe Boat Fueling Procedures

Check fuel tanks and lines for cracks and chafe: Extended exposure to UV will degrade plastic fuel cans and rubber hoses, not to mention that gasoline is corrosive. Look for cracks in plastic fuel tanks and jerry cans and check hoses for chafe, especially if they run through a bulkhead. Making regular inspections of your fuel system will prevent leaks, saving you money and a toxic mess.

Do not overfill tanks and jerry cans: Perhaps one of the most common ways that fuel spills happen is from overfilling. As fuel heats up it expands, causing plastic tanks to bloat and fuel to escape any weak point or opening. Look for the SAFE FILL LEVEL mark found on approved jerry cans and tanks and never fill a fuel tank up to the brim.

Have a strategy to contain accidental fuel spills: Accidents happen, even to the most conscientious boater. Keep a supply of oil/fuel absorbent rags on board and have them at the ready when re-fueling. Make sure any crew who are assisting you are familiar with your spill plan. If possible avoid fueling during heavy weather when the boat moving could increase the possibility of an accident. Always make sure to dispose of rags saturated with fuel properly. Never throw oily rags overboard.

Tips For Running Clean and Efficient Boat Engines

Did you know that keeping your engine in tip-top shape is good for the environment? Whether you run on gasoline or diesel, have an inboard or outboard, 2-stroke or 4-stroke engine spending a little time under the hood is the best way to make sure you are running as clean and efficient as possible.

Do regular engine maintenance:
Keeping your engine running smoothly not only ensures a worry-free trip it also will keep your engine fuel-efficient, which reduces burning unnecessary fossil fuel. This is also a great time to check for oil and fuel leaks and to clean up any spills.

Properly dispose of used oil and old filters:
After routine engine maintenance take your used oil and filters ashore for proper disposal. If you’re in an area that doesn’t have dedicated waste oil collection try asking a local gas station or car dealer if they accept used oil. In more remote areas be prepared to carry dirty oil onboard until you reach a facility in a larger port.

Do not pump your bilge in marine sensitive areas:
Seeing a slick of fuel or oil floating by is never nice. Try to keep your bilge dry and free from chemicals and pollutants. If you must pump your bilge avoid contaminating waterways with dirty bilge water by pumping out at designated pump out stations.

Safe Boat Launching Techniques

Many boaters enjoy the ease and convenience of trailer-sized vessels. Taking a few extra minutes at the dock means you can help make a difference to our environment.

Use a boat ramp:
Not only is it easier to use a purpose-built boat ramp to launch and retrieve your vessel it will avoid damaging both the shoreline and the marine environment.

Wash down before you drive away:
It is important to do a thorough shore-side wash down of your vessel, before leaving the boat ramp. Cleaning marine debris and growth from your boat will ensure that you don’t inadvertently introduce potentially invasive species to the next location you launch at. Don’t forget to rinse bilges, flush outboard engines and clean your bottom tackle of any dried mud or debris.

Underway: Respecting Marine Wildlife and the Environment

Being an eco-conscious boater is not just about avoiding fuel spills and disposing of hazardous waste properly. It is also about respecting the surrounding environment, and all the creatures that live in it, while underway.

Obey No Wake zones:
The wave produced by a vessel traveling at high speed is not only disruptive to other boaters in the area it can cause shoreline erosion and disturb aquatic plants and animals. In areas heavily used by boaters, this can quickly lead to the destruction of sensitive marine areas such as coastal breeding zones and coral gardens. Take your time when navigating in confined channels, near beaches and mangroves and when departing the dock or traveling through an anchorage.

Trim up your outboard in shallow water:
Kicking up sediment not only affects water clarity it can also damage marine plants, vegetation, and animals. It is estimated that over 50,000 acres of south Florida’s seagrass beds have been scarred by boat propellers. Seagrass not only provides food for turtles and manatees it is also where many fish breed and small fish hide from predators. Seagrass damaged by boat propellers more prone to suffering storm damage, further reducing these critical areas.

Be careful when anchoring:
When you are ready to throw the anchor look for patches of sand. Avoid placing your anchor directly on coral beds and marine plants. Make sure your anchor chain isn’t draped or dragging over coral, your gear and the environment will thank you. If you’re not sure where to anchor check charts for designated anchoring zones, and never throw the pick in marked marine preserves or protected areas.

Use environmentally sensitive cleaning products:
Everything that goes down the drain eventually goes into the waterways, polluting the environment and causing to harm animals. Choosing to use plant-based, biodegradable detergents, soaps and cleaning supplies onboard is an easy way to go green. Look for products that are free of parabens, phosphates, phthalates, harsh chemicals, dyes and fragrances. Or go old school and clean with vinegar and baking soda; it gets rid of salt and stains without damaging surfaces or the environment.

Don’t disturb wildlife: It is always a treat to spot whales breaching in the distance or have a turtle quietly surface near the boat. Those are the moments that memories are made of. However, it is important not to chase wildlife with your vessel to get a closer look, this not only can cause the animal stress but increases the chances of injuring the animal by unintentionally hitting it with your propeller.

Sustainable Fishing Methods And Eco-Friendly Angling

Although sport fishing doesn’t have the harsh environmental impact that commercial fishing can it doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. Making eco-conscious decisions when you are out fishing will ensure that there will be plenty of fish left for future fisherman to catch.

Adhere to bags limits and catch size: With many of the world’s fish stocks already in decline it is important that all fishermen respect local guidelines when it comes to minimum catch sizes and bag limits. Some species, like trout, can only be fished in certain locations or during certain seasons. If you are new to the area check with local fishing authorities before heading out.

Catch and release: Having the catch of the day on the dinner table is satisfying, but most people fish for the thrill of feeling the rod bend as they are reeling in the big one. Making your day out fishing a catch and release day will give everyone with a rod a thrill and make sure that there are fish left to catch another day.

Low-impact tackle: Many companies are addressing the environmental impact of lost fishing gear by making green tackle alternatives. Lead-free sinkers, bio-gradable fishing line and gear bags made from up-cycled hip waders are all innovations that make it easy to go green while out on the big blue.

Use native species when fishing with live baits: Usually introduced accidentally non-native species can quickly wreak havoc on local fish stocks and affect water quality. Making sure you use locally sourced, native species when fishing with live baits is one way you can help combat this global problem.

Don’t throw used line or nets overboard: Lines break, nets tear and gear fatigues, but a responsible boater knows that it is never ok to throw broken fishing equipment overboard. Fish, turtles, sea lions and birds can get entangled in pieces of nets and discarded fishing line. Animals caught in fishing gear can be permanently disfigured and often suffer a slow and painful death.

Daily Routines To Help The Environment

Everyday the average waster per person in American is between 4-5 pounds of trash. That’s a lot of unnecessary plastic that can easily be eliminated. Making a few small changes in your daily routine can drastically reduce the amount of garbage that you have to deal with onboard and at the dock, helping reduce the destruction of our valuable ecosystems.

Say NO to disposable paper plates: Paper plates may seem like a quick and easy way to clean up after a meal, however, they aren’t as green as you may think. Most brands of paper plates are cover with a thin layer of plastic to repel liquids and keep their shape. This means that they are not biodegradable. Opting for stainless steel, wooden or melamine plates will save money and the environment.

Avoid single-use plastic: It is estimated that 8 million tons of plastic trash are dumped into our oceans every year, including a whopping 500,000 plastic straws polluting our waters every single day in the USA alone. Making an effort to refuse single-use plastics is an easy way to make every day eco-conscious. Skip the straws, say no to plastic water bottles and bring your own reusable bags to the grocery store. Making a difference is simple.

Swap out Disposable for Reusable: Making eco-conscious changes doesn’t have to be difficult. Simply replacing paper towels with washable dishcloths, trading plastic wrap for beeswax food wraps or sturdy Tupperware containers and bringing a reusable mug when you get coffee to go are just a few of the ways you can switch from disposable to reusable.

Clean up a Beach: There is nothing more beautiful than a pristine beach and nothing more depressing than a shoreline littered with garbage. Next time you are ashore, take a few minutes to pick up and properly dispose of refuse that has washed up. Another great way to give back to the beautiful places we get to visit is to organize a beach clean-up day in your favorite anchorage. After all, when the ocean is our playground it’s up to us to keep it clean.

Green Alternatives To Reduce Your Environmental Impact

Whether you are looking to buy new equipment, upgrade your power grid or just make some simple changes to reduce your carbon footprint here are a few green alternatives that will make life on board comfortable, fun and eco-conscious.

Purchase pre-owned: Everything from anchors to outboards, expensive electronic gadgets are available lightly used and at a fraction of the price of buying new. Ask your local marina if they hold a “Treasures of the Bilge” swap meet and check out online resources like eBay and Craigslist. You can save a useful item from going to the dump, and some hard-earned cash too.

Reduce your energy use: Reducing your energy consumption is an important step towards becoming an eco-conscious boater. Try simple things like using energy-efficient LED bulbs for navigation and cabin lights, installing foot or hand-operated water pumps to cut down on water consumption and switch out electric appliances like coffee makers for manual ones.

Harness the power of nature: Over the past decade there has been great advancement in the renewable energy industry. Solar panels are now small, efficient and affordable, some are even flexible and removable. Boaters can also invest in solar-powered gadgets to keep them charged up and having fun. Flashlights, Bluetooth speakers, phone chargers, even solar-powered ovens are now competitively priced and widely available.

Composting toilets: Composting toilets are a great alternative to the traditional saltwater-flush boat toilet, especially on casually used vessels. There is no thru-hull plumbing or separate holding tank needed to install a composting toilet and no need to visit a USCG approved pump out station to empty one. These compact toilets turn solid waste into inert compost. Becoming increasingly popular with boaters composting toilets is easy to use, affordable to install and green.

Unplug and Unwind: These days it seems like we spend endless hours tethered to our devices, slowly becoming screen zombies. From navigation to communication to recreation we all rely on electronic devices, but how much is too much? Try making a resolution to unplug for at least an hour each day. Not only will you be cutting down on energy consumption, you just might find it recharges your batteries too.

Becoming an eco-friendly boater does not require you to make radical changes to your onboard routine. Making small, eco-conscious decisions will make your time out on the water more sustainable and enjoyable. By being mindful of the world around you and minimizing your impact on the marine environment you can make a difference. It feels good knowing that future generations of boaters will be able to enjoy relaxing days out on the water because of you.

Written by: Heather Francis

Heather Francis is from Nova Scotia, Canada. She has worked and lived on boats throughout the world since 2002. In 2008 she and her Aussie partner, Steve, bought Kate, their Newport 41, in California and have been sailing her fulltime since. They are currently in the Philippines looking for wind and you can follow their adventures at