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Clean Boating: How to be More Environmentally-Friendly while on the Water

It’s every boater’s responsibility to be conscious of the environment and how they might impact it. Boaters have a unique obligation to leave the waterways they travel on as clean and pure as possible and we here at The Wharf Marina want to help you reduce your environmental impact while you’re out on the water.

Here are the most important eco-friendly habits to keep in mind every time you’re out on the water!

Eco-Friendly Tips and Practices While Out on the Water

Check for fuel and oil leaks

Fuel and oil can spill into the water when you refuel or conduct an oil change, or it can leak from your engine and other sources on your boat. The best way to prevent fuel and oil leaks is by keeping your engine well-tuned, checking fuel lines and tanks for any damage or cracks, not going over your fuel tank capacity, and using an absorbent pad or pillow in your oil bilge and under the engine to catch any drips.

You also want to use a spill-proof container when changing your oil and be sure to dispose properly of used pads, which are considered hazardous waste.

Reduce fuel consumption

Lessening your engine’s fuel usage is another way you can reduce your carbon footprint and keep your boat running efficiently for as long as possible. You can do this easily by conducting regular maintenance checks on your boat, especially on your engine, hull, and propeller, and carefully navigating your boat to reduce drag and friction, which can increase fuel consumption.

Discharge sewage properly

Sewage discharge from boats, also known as blackwater, can release toxic waste and chemicals into the water when not disposed of properly, negatively impacting both wildlife and human health. It is also illegal to dump raw sewage into navigable U.S. waters. Always dispose of your hazardous waste properly, such as in designated waste pump-out facilities.

Manage greywater

Greywater comes from the untreated water from onboard sinks, showers, dishwashers, washing machines, and wastewater from cleaning your boat with detergents and soaps. Greywater is a major pollutant and is sometimes considered sewage. It’s best to use shoreside showers, laundry, and cleaning facilities to avoid contaminating the water. You may use pump-out facilities to dispose of greywater as well.

Use eco-friendly cleaning products

In relation to greywater, the type of cleaning products you use to clean your boat matters. Cleaning detergents, bleach, and soaps can leak into the water and contaminate it. Be wary of the type of cleaners you use and be sure they’re made of non-toxic materials. When cleaning your boat, use designated washdown areas, avoid conducting maintenance and cleaning on the water as much as possible, and regularly rinse down your boat with fresh water to avoid the buildup of dirt and grime.

The use of antifouling paint on the boat’s hull or any part of the boat that gets submerged underwater can also lead to greywater and toxic leaks. Antifouling paint may contain copper, which can impede the growth of aquatic life, like mussels and clams, and some fish species. Use only non-toxic antifouling and bottom paints on your boat.

Never throw trash or debris in the water

This should be pretty self-explanatory, but don’t throw any type of trash overboard while you’re out on the water. Keep your garbage on board until you reach the proper onshore waste disposal facilities and don’t forget to sort your trash into recyclables and non-recyclables.

Switch to biodiesel and environmentally friendly equipment

It could be more sustainable to make the switch to biodiesel instead of your regular diesel. Biodiesel can be made from seed oils, like canola and sunflower, or from leftover vegetable oil, animal fat, and algae. It’s more renewable than regular diesel, non-toxic, clean-burning, and cuts down on carbon monoxide and greenhouse gas emissions. It’s also safer to store on your boat.

You may need to modify some parts of your boat when making the switch to biodiesel, such as replacing lines, gaskets, and seals with synthetics (as biodiesel can dissolve natural rubbers), but it’s relatively easy to switch to biodiesel alternatives.

Check your outboard engine and your battery as well if it’s environmentally friendly. You may also want to switch to more renewable energy sources for your boat, such as solar, wind, or hydroelectric.

Be wary of aquatic habitats and invasive species

Be careful of disturbing natural wildlife and aquatic habitats wherever and whenever possible. Learn proper anchoring techniques to avoid damaging coral and plants on the seafloor, admire marine wildlife from a distance (at least 300 feet away), reduce boat speed and put your engine into neutral when a marine animal approaches, and be careful of navigating shallow waters with seagrass beds so as not to damage them with your propeller or hull.

As much as possible, it’s best not to disturb any natural habitats or wildlife you may come across. Be extra vigilant when encountering any while boating.

Be aware of any invasive species hitching a ride on your boat as well. Invasive species are species of animals that have ‘invaded’ an ecosystem they don’t normally belong in. These animals pose a threat to these natural ecosystems because they can quickly take over and steal resources from native species, reduce native species populations, and introduce disease. They can also damage boat engines and steering equipment when left unchecked. Examples of some invasive species you might find on your boat are barnacles, mussels, seaweed, and crabs.

The best way to prevent any invasive species takeovers is by cleaning your boat thoroughly after every excursion or by preventing them from hitching a ride onto your boat in the first place. Be sure to check all the nooks and crannies, especially ones that have been submerged, and use non-toxic antifouling paint on your hull to keep barnacles and other pests from sticking to it.

Conduct regular maintenance

Of course, the best way to reduce or prevent any harmful environmental impacts while you’re boating is by conducting regular maintenance on your vessel. A little bit of maintenance can go a long way in extending your boat’s lifespan and making sure it’s clean enough to be out on the water.

Regular maintenance should always be a priority for any boater and you can prevent many issues and incidents simply by being consistent with your check-ups and tune-ups. Make sure your boat is properly stored and winterized as well when not in use.

As dedicated boaters, it’s important that we remain aware and vigilant of our impact on the environment all year round. If you’re unsure whether your boat is optimally eco-friendly or not, we here at The Wharf Marina would be happy to help you assess your vessel and suggest the best eco-friendly options available.

Also, come join us at our National Marina Day marina cleanup event. We will be hosting a marina cleanup for the boating community at the Wharf to celebrate our clean practices and keep the Washington Channel and marina clean of debris and pollution. The cleanup will take place Friday, June 9 at 5 pm!

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