As boaters, we know that times have changed for us on the environmental front and that our hobby or vocation faces greater scrutiny everyday. Most boaters pursue this calling in part because of the unique access a boat can provide to many pristine and unspoiled regions of the coast. Being selfish, I want to protect my access to these wild places that others may never be able to appreciate.
One important question to ask is, “What is clean boating?” As a longtime advocate for conservation and protection of our natural resources, I can tell you what it’s not. Clean boating isn’t some high-minded conspiracy; it’s a practical way for us to operate our watercraft responsibly. Clean boating isn’t some recent regulatory scheme; it’s an outlook we adopt that considers the effects of our actions as they relate to the greater good. Clean boating doesn’t need to be expensive; many best practices both limit environmental impacts and save money.
As a harbormaster in Alaska, I have seen the concepts of clean boating touch many parts of the waterfront community. While I’ll share some ideas about this issue, clean boating is really an approach and mindset boaters take as they enjoy the things they do. There are a myriad of things that could be considered by green boaters. Solutions developed to address an environmental impact in one region may not be appropriate in your marina, it’s important for boaters to share their experiences and pass this knowledge on to others.
Both boaters and marina operators can take positive steps to limit the effects boating has on the environment. A few clean boating topics that might be of interest focus on saving fuel, practicing good marine stewardship and keeping marinas clean.
Saving Fuel Saves Money and Reduces Engine Emissions
The immediate driver for saving fuel is its cost, gasoline and diesel fuel prices are at near record highs. Taking steps to lower boat fuel consumption directly lowers operating costs, but it also helps lower our impact on the environment. A gallon of burned diesel fuel generates around 22 pounds of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Saving fuel is a matter of balance and careful vessel maintenance. A few fuel saving and emission reduction hints:
- Practice good seamanship – Learning to be a better coastal navigator allows you to plan trips that account for prevailing winds and tides. Running with the current saves fuel. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Plotting a route reduces the distance traveled to the intended destination. This is information that is needed for filing a float plan.
- Consider purchasing a four-stroke outboard engine – Four-stroke outboards use the same combustion process used in automotive engines and are the cleanest outboards to operate. Unlike two-stoke engines, four-strokes never have an intake and exhaust port open at the same time, allowing unburned fuel to be expelled in the exhaust. The first four-strokes offered to boaters were low powered and it took a few years for technology to develop higher horsepower versions that didn’t weigh too much.
- Use a biodegradable two-cycle outboard oil if you are running a 2-stroke engine – Conventional two-cycle outboard engines, by design, release significant amounts of fuel and lubricating oil into the environment. There are many, many two-stroke outboards in use that have many years of useful life left in them, while it isn’t practical to arbitrarily replace a functional motor, using a biodegradable two-cycle oil helps mitigate their impacts.
- Maintain your boat – Good vessel maintenance saves fuel by ensuring engine efficiency and smooth movement through the water. Fouled spark plugs, clogged fuel nozzles, dirty filters and poor timing lower engine efficiency and raise fuel consumption. Keep the bottom clean and propellers free of nicks or dings. Grass or barnacles reduces a hull’s performance and requires more power to push a boat through the water. Consider installation of trim tabs, they can reduce hull drag and help get a boat on plane sooner.
- Slow down and lose some weight – Slow down and find the right combination of speed and throttle. Each vessel has a sweet spot where it is most efficient for the fuel being used. Most boats burn 50 percent more fuel at a wide open throttle setting compared to a mid-range point. Boats seem to accumulate weight through gear and equipment added throughout the season. A heavier boat requires greater power and fuel consumption to move it at any speed.
- Use shore power while in the slip – Typically power from the local electrical grid is generated at lower costs than can be achieved by an onboard generator. Many communities are served by hydroelectric generation systems that produce lower emissions.
Marine and Environmental Protection
Marine debris is a threat to the aquatic environment everywhere and boaters can incidentally contribute to the problem. Boat operations generate tons of potential pollutants and toxic wastes every year. Boaters and marina operators can do a number of things to protect pristine areas and wildlife habitat through responsible or best practices in their operation and maintenance of boats and harbors.
As they age, marinas often become attractive refuges for plants and wildlife. Floating docks, pilings, breakwaters and shorelines are colonized by shellfish and aquatic vegetation, making them a perfect home for fish, birds and marine mammals. These suggestions will lessen the impact boat operations may have on the local environment:
- Exercise leave no trace practices – Boaters can learn from the popular leave no trace (LNT) program that stresses minimal impacts to the environment through actions like proper waste disposal, respecting wildlife, preserving natural and historic resources, and consideration of others. Pack it in – pack it out is an axiom of the movement.
- Minimize the maintenance and storage of boats in the water – Most communities have upland facilities for the storage and care of boats. It is much easier to contain the wastes generated by bottom cleaning at an onshore station than in the water. There are risks of spills from stored boats and something like an oil spill is much easier to clean up on land.
- Marina design can protect the environment – Mooring facilities can be designed to work better with nature and its wildlife. Marinas can be improved by providing adequate upland comfort stations, using screened trash receptacles, and designing moorings that minimize shading of aquatic vegetation. Responsible marina operators provide sufficient pump-out facilities and properly equipped fuel docks.
- Operate within channels and watch wakes – It is important for boaters to operate within defined harbor channels. Running in shallow water or generating a large wake can erode soils on the bottom and along the shore. Erosion damages aquatic vegetation and puts more sediment into the water column. Excessive wakes can easily damage other boats.
- Ensure the use of proper sanitation practices – Use and maintain approved marine sanitation devices (MSDs) as recommended by the manufacturer and as required by law. Encourage passengers to use upland comfort stations prior to a trip and use marina pump-out facilities upon your return. Don’t discharge wastes into a mooring basin or marina. Most marinas already have compromised circulation and wastes introduced into the waters lower the amount of oxygen available to wildlife in the aquatic environment.
- Be aware of transporting invasive species – Thoroughly clean your boat before moving to another body of water. There are many invasive species of plants and animals that can easily hitchhike on your trailer or boat to a new habitat. Accidental introduction of a species like the Green crab could devastate native wildlife and local economies.
Alaska Clean Harbors Guidebook
A broad ranging group of Alaskan organizations have joined forces to develop a guidebook and certification program that will help keep state harbors clean. Most Alaskan communities use the term harbor synonymously for marina. The effort is patterned in part by programs developed in other states along the west coast. Harbors in Alaska were concerned that approaches developed in other regions would not be appropriate in our northern climate.
The Alaska Clean Harbors Program is focused on two broad areas of concern; harbor design, and harbor and boat operations. The guidebook provides harbormasters and boaters with information about current best management practices and checklists that can be used by a harbor manager to audit the performance of a facility. Ultimately the program will recognize facilities through a formal clean harbor designation.
Designation of Harbor site and Harbor design – The initial design of a harbor can make a huge difference in how friendly it is to the aquatic environment and how well it supports its users. It is much easier for a boater to do the right thing for the environment when adequate infrastructure has been put into place. Design topics can include circulation patterns, wildlife habitat protection, stabilization of shorelines, properly equipped fueling stations, and proper sanitation facilities.
Harbor and Boat Operations and Maintenance – Maintenance activities generate an amazing amount of hazardous wastes. In a harbor, boaters need to be provided with proper and adequate reception facilities to handle used oil, old anti-freeze, sewage, solid wastes, and oily bilge water. Installation of upland washdown stations make hull maintenance easier, contains toxic bottom paint coming off the hull, and filters dirty water before it can reenter the harbor.
There are many things that can fall into a conversation about clean boating. Topics that are not covered here but should be considered are: fueling, bilge care, engine care, bottom painting and more. Don’t let it be overwhelming. Clean boating is more of an attitude, than an imposition of a fixed set of rules. Being a responsible boater comes through learning and asking questions. Other boaters, boatyard operators and harbormasters are great sources of information, if you ask.
Boaters truly have a vested interest in preserving the marine environment. Taking responsibility now ensures the likelihood of boating access into the future. Simply defined, clean boating means that you have some concern for what you’re leaving in your wake.
Additional Online Resources
Alaska Coasts & Seas – Clean Boating published by the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program – University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Clean Boating for Alaskans [ISBN: 978-1-56612-150-7] published by the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program – University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Alaska Clean Harbors Certification Program – Nuka Research.