The boating community has no trouble expressing its love for the environment. After all, it’s fresh air, clean water, abundant wildlife and the chance to catch dinner that really floats our boats. Still, boating can be an environmentally stressful pastime even as we strive to do no harm.
Simply powering-up and running an engine, for example, can leave behind a filmy residue on surface waters. Anti-fouling bottom paint and cleaning chemicals may harm zooplankton and other tiny organisms. Cruising through shallow water might mangle subaqueous weedbeds while promoting shoreline erosion. And flushing the head overboard, well...
(Lots of boats in a small harbor mean skippers need to work extra hard to leave as small an environmental wake as possible.)
While individual transgressions may seem insignificant, their potential cumulative effects are considerable. Fortunately, making just a few adjustments to your regular routine will help mitigate the damage. In fact, every small change, multiplied by millions of boat trips over several years, has an immensely positive effect in the long run.
Consider, for example, investing in a bilge sock or oil absorbent pads. These products soak up and bind the gas, oil and diesel fuel that collect in a boat’s bilge and get pumped overboard with the bilge water. One bilge sock, a $10 to $20 investment, collects up to 2.5 quarts of petroleum products during the course of a boating season. That’s enough to fill a fleet of oil tankers when multiplied by millions of boats. One small change, one big difference.
(A bilge sock can absorb up to 2.5 quarts of petroleum products during the boating season. Multiply that by 15.7 million registered boats in the USA and the potential exists to prevent a staggering 9 million gallons of gas, oil and diesel products from our entering our waters.)
If you go the sock route, make sure any absorbent product you leave in your bilge is secured where it can't interfere with bilge pumps or engine operation. Check them regularly to make sure they remain in place and haven't become saturated. Legal disposal methods for oil-soaked absorbents vary across the country, so check how to dispose of these products in your home county.
Other environmentally friendly ideas to consider include making a conscious decision to place sea grass protection in the forefront of that gray matter between your ears. Note the locations of eel grass beds in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. It’s particularly prone to prop damage on shallow flats to the point you can often trace the trail of boats that churn through at high speeds. Turtle grass is another waterweed that doesn’t fare well in prop encounters. You’ll find this one prevalent on southern flats, across the Everglades and down through the Florida Keys.
(It’s okay to push the throttle in open water or wide channels. Just be sure to pull it back near pinch points, shallow flats and sea grass beds where wakes and props can promote shoreline erosion, harm wildlife and damage sea grass.)
Choosing biodegradable cleansers is another step in the right direction – even if they cost a little more. Opt for those brands that produce low suds and use them in moderation. As much as possible, scrub on land where run-off can be effectively controlled because even “soft’ cleansers can reduce the slime on fish that protects them from bacterial infection. More water, less cleaner and a little extra elbow grease is the appropriate mixture.
On a larger scale, keep saving for that new four-stroke engine if you haven’t already made the upgrade. These are far more fuel efficient than older models and they run quieter, too. That helps address another frequently overlooked pollutant – excessive noise.
Written by: Tom Schlichter