Eco-friendly sailing: enjoy your favourite sport and respect nature
dolphin swimming next to the boat

Eco-friendly sailing: enjoy your favourite sport and respect nature

Read our guide and find out how to make simple changes to benefit and look after the environment when you take the boat out.

Most sailors and boaters are well aware of the benefits and pleasure we derive from the environment that surrounds us. Whether we are happily splashing about in clear, aqua-blue tropical waters or quietly watching wildlife in a calm cove, as a group we are fortunate to have access to some of nature’s most beautiful and exciting landscapes and seascapes.

With that privileged access comes a responsibility to ensure these places remain pristine, both for our own continued enjoyment and for the wildlife that call them home.

According to the UK’s Marine Special Areas of Conservation Project, sailing has a more significant impact on wildlife than other forms of water-based recreation because it is widespread and tends to take place year-round. From petrol in the water, to plastic bags killing off sea life, there are serious hazards that boating can bring to the natural world.

So how do we protect the spaces and the wildlife that we love from these threats?

Fortunately, there are some simple steps we can all take to play our part in protecting the only planet we have. And they can make a big difference.

 The International Sailing Federation (ISAF) has put together guidelines aimed at educating sailors and ensuring that our sport has no negative impact on the environment. Following their ‘Code of Environmentally Friendly Behaviour’ is good environmental practice for any sailor.

Reduce, reuse and recycle

We’ve all heard it before, but the old saw still holds true. The more you reuse, the less you use and the more you can recycle, the better off we’ll all be.

In practical terms, here are a few things you can do:

  • Cut down on packaging: Plastic wrappers everywhere? Don’t take the chance of that flimsy plastic winding up in the water. Buy whole foods that don’t require a wrapper, or, if there’s no alternative remove packaging before you get on board and recycle it or dispose of it properly.
  • Re-use whatever you can: Sailors are a resourceful bunch, so put your creativity to the test. Refill a plastic drinks bottle instead of binning it. Or, better yet, use a non-disposable drink container.
  • Recycle, recycle, recycle! Europe and the US have relatively high rates of recycling and often facilities are easy to find. So take advantage of them. And if the country you’re visiting has a lack of facilities available to sailors, ask your sailing club to start recycling.
  • Remember the golden rule: Never, ever throw any waste over the side! Rubbish kills marine wildlife, and plastic in particular is a top culprit. So keep it in the boat until you can dispose of it properly.

Loo, loo, Skip’ the loo

Raw sewage is full of bacteria and viruses. It’s bad for the environment, and it’s bad for people, too. Swimming in water contaminated with sewage can cause gastroenteritis, respiratory and ear, nose and throat infections. And filter-feeding shellfish that ingest sewage can cause food poisoning. So here are a few tips for keeping our waters clean, clear and healthy:

  • Use toilets on land whenever possible: When you can, avoid using the toilet onboard and head for shore. Land-based loos are likely to be connected to a sewage treatment facility, which ensure that sewage is properly treated and processed
  • Use a holding tank: Sewage should be kept in a holding tank, so if you don’t have one, get one installed. The vast majority of boats have the ability to empty holding tanks at a shore pump site. If yours doesn’t, or there are no facilities nearby, there are portable potties that allow you to carry the holding tank (by hand, trolley or car) to a proper disposal site. So invest in one.
  • If you must empty the tank, do it at least 3 miles from shore: Make every attempt not to discharge sewage into the water. But if you must flush, be sure to avoid discharging sewage close to shore and in environmentally sensitive habitats. Sewage discharge can have a negative impact on marine life, particularly in estuaries, inlets and bays, where it may contribute to a drop in oxygen availability through the process of eutrophication, which is an excessive growth of algae and other plant life.


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