Is sailing friendly to the Earth or not?

It is easy to assume that the waste from one sailing yacht is not substantial enough to harm the environment, however, the collective impact can cause significant damage. As sailing often takes place all year round and the community is spread all over the globe, the damage is often far worse than other water-based activities. There are many simple changes we can make to protect our oceans. When talking to people about Sailors for the Sea, we are often asked how sailing harms the environment. 

As sailboats use the wind to power themselves, what about them could be harmful to the environment? The simple answer is that modern sailboats make an impact on the environment. One easy example is the large diesel engine on the 305-foot boat that is needed to leave the dock. Since not having these engines to help the sailboats would be a big safety risk, it is very important to teach boaters ways to reduce the engines environmental impact.

What can we do?

The ISAF Code of Environmental Friendly Behaviour to Protect our Seas, Lakes and Waterways has been written to help ensure everyone is doing their bit to help the environment, whilst enjoying sailing. There are some simple steps you can follow. Try to buy foods with little to no packaging, meaning there are no plastic wrappers left on-board only to end up in the water. Where this isn’t possible, try to remove wrapping before you get on board and dispose of it safely ashore. Reuse waste if you can, or buy reusable storage containers and water bottles. If you cannot find a use for your empty cereal boxes and milk cartons, recycling facilities should be sought out, where possible. Getting your engine maintained regularly can help you to avoid suffering from an environmentally harmful leak in the future. Use a funnel when refuelling and transfer any waste oil in sealed containers to prevent any accidental spillages. Use cleaning products that do not contain bleach or chlorine, and ensure chemicals do not enter the water, especially in enclosed areas. Use toilets on-shore where possible as raw sewage is not good for the environment. Navigate carefully wherever you are so you can keep the environment as it is without disturbing it. Keep anchors away from reefs and avoid beaching, as this can damage the seabed and habitat.

Why do it?

Sailors, particularly ocean racers like those competing in the Sydney-Hobart, are perhaps the only sports figures whose playing field is far from land. What they observe in the oceans sometimes brings them to tears. There is a lot of plastic just washing asher and drifting on the surface, there are a lot of animals being killed by plastic…

Climate smart solutions

Electric and hybrid motors, and more fuel-efficient hulls, have become more and more interesting for all involved. Speed is today of less importance. There are a growing number of boaters who would rather do 10 knots than 40 knots. Different types of climate-smart solutions are getting a stronger foothold among boat owners. This information may come as a surprise to many boaters who enjoy the hobby for its contact with natural environments. Yet it is possible to continue boating without having such profound impacts on water and wildlife.

There is a boatbuilder that has taken environmental considerations into the design of their new boats. For example, one of the sailboats is made of modified wood that provides unique environmental benefits. Now the same boatbuilder has developed a wing system for sailboats. The system can be used for both single and double-hulled boats to provide greater comfort to the crew. The aim is to help people choose sailboats instead of motorboats to get a better sailing experience. It encourages people to sail more often. It is good for the environment and great for the sailors. Many feel that sailing is difficult, cumbersome, uncomfortable, a little dangerous and requires the efforts of many crew members. With the new wing system, you can sail yourself if you want. If you do lose control of the boat, set the throttle lever forward and steer the boat where you want.

Advantages of sailing

One of the main advantages of sailing is that (aside from an assistance motor for boats over 16ft), you can harness wind power and enjoy the thrill of traveling via sustainable, green energy. Sailboats are also designed to cause minimal disturbance to underwater marine life. However, powerboats which are regularly serviced and carefully captained can also be more eco-friendly than cruising or flying. Sailing is an activity which celebrates resourcefulness and practical thinking; skills which future generations will need to recycle and reuse items that are currently destined for landfill. The latest data from the EPA shows that while recycling rates have improved over time, there is still more waste generated per person. Sailing calls for traditional practical skills such as repairing sails, maintaining the assistance motor and practicing tying knots competently, to keep your vessel safe and seaworthy. Millennials do have one advantage here; the prevalence of online tutorials means that while these skills may currently be lacking, it’s always possible to learn them.

Tips for your eco friendly sailing trips

To ensure that your sailing holiday causes minimal impact to the environment, give wildlife a decent berth (50m is the suggested distance) and take binoculars to observe them without disturbance. You should also be vigilant as to potential leaks from your vessel; regular servicing should keep your assistance motor in good order, but cleaning products containing chlorine or bleach can also be harmful if they enter the water system. Sailors are also advised to keep anchors away from reefs and avoid beaching since this can damage the seabed and habitat.

As travelers continue to seek out experiences which are as Instagram worthy as they are environmentally friendly, sailing vacations can deliver both. From using natural energy to celebrating resourcefulness, they’re a great opportunity for future generations to see the world without damaging it. Destinations which recognize and encourage this could gain the benefits of tourism without the cost to their local environment; a true win for ecotourism.


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