The allure of sailing has mesmerized mankind for centuries. Though sailing might look ecological on the surface, its environmental impacts are significant. In this article, we delve into the essential environmental effects of sailing and how we can enjoy this beloved sport thoughtfully. Let's preserve marine ecosystems not only for our future sailing endeavors, but also for the benefit of future generations.
Yachting and sailing are often seen as activities that connect people with the sea. Their charm and fun are undeniable. However, it is important to recognise that these activities can also have an impact on our oceans and ecosystems.
Let's look at a few key aspects:
The link between yachting and coastal ecosystems
When we talk about the impact of yachting on the natural environment, we mean the following two main areas:
Although wind is the main propulsion for sailing boats, internal combustion engines are also commonly used. Boat care involves the use of chemicals and coatings to maintain and protect the boats, but these can release hazardous elements into the water. Another problem is improper waste disposal, including the discharge of sewage, which can contaminate the marine environment. And every boater knows how easily diesel residues, cleaning products and other toxic substances can enter the water in marinas.
Yachting and sailing are an important part of tourism in many destinations. Loss of revenue from these activities could have serious economic consequences for local communities. On the other hand, consideration needs to be given to whether the convenience of tourists and sailors endangers local ecosystems.
In the case of ecological damage, the subsequent clean-up and rescue of animals requires the expenditure of considerable resources by both government and non-profit organisations. It is important to consider the consequences of these activities on the marine environment and to look for ways to make sailing and yachting more sustainable.
YACHTING.COM TIP: Check out our 11 tips for eco-friendly yachting!
Plastic bottles on the beach
Current state of the oceans
Our world's oceans, which cover more than 70% of the Earth's surface, bear the scars of humanity's unsustainable habits.
The surface of the oceans hides a plastic epidemic. Eight million tonnes of plastic waste are washed into the sea every year, creating an environmental crisis of colossal proportions. If we dive beneath the surface, we discover a world awash with microplastics, tiny invaders that penetrate every corner of the sea.
There are also chemical contaminants lurking beneath the surface. Oil spills, heavy metals, pesticides and industrial runoff form an insidious cocktail that poisons the waters. From coral reefs to kelp forests, from coastal mangroves to open ocean, no marine area remains untouched by this dangerous mix of human production.
YACHTING.COM TIP: If you want to read more about how plastics and microplastics along the food chain affect us too, take a look at our article — Sea of concern: the growing threat of ocean plastic.
Basic eco-problems of sailing boats
While the sails do harness the power of the wind, the risk to the marine environment is below the surface.
For example, the use of antifouling coatings on the hulls of sailboats can cause the release of toxic substances into the water. However, it is not just about paint, but also about improper waste disposal. Sewage dumping, which is a necessity for sailors, contaminates coastal waters and damages fragile ecosystems.
Tip 1: Sail, sail, sail
Sure, the fuel consumption of a sailboat may seem negligible compared to ocean-going ships and other means of transportation. But it's the first thing we can do as sailors towards more sustainable sailing. Moreover, managing to use every wind to our advantage is the right yachting challenge.
Tip 2: Choosing the right boat care
When choosing an environmentally friendly paint for your boat or yacht, give preference to paints that are "low-VOC" or "VOC-free" , as these release fewer harmful emissions. Look for eco-certifications such as "EcoLogo" or "Green Seal". Choose water-based paints that contain fewer toxic chemicals. Prefer non-biocidal anti-fouling paints and consider recyclable or biodegradable paints. And remember that proper application and maintenance play a key role in minimizing your vessel's environmental impact.
YACHTING.COM TIP: Holiday boaters should know how to clean and care for their boat, not just boat owners .
The sailboat is in the paint shop to be repainted.
What about large luxury yachts and their impact on the ecology?
When these floating palaces sail the oceans, their decks may provide comfort and convenience, but they often leave an indelible mark on the environment.
The roar of the internal combustion engines synonymous with luxury yachts requires a steady consumption of fossil fuels. The resulting emissions of greenhouse gases and pollutants contribute to environmental degradation and threaten ecosystems that are indispensable to our planet.
The opulence of these voyages often takes no particular account of the waste of resources, whether food or water, which then accumulates as waste.
Tip 3: Responsible waste management
For responsible disposal of waste during your voyage, use pumping stations designed for, among other things, sewage discharge to prevent contamination of coastal waters. Dispose of rubbish in a way that prevents it from entering the sea, recycle and minimise your vessel's ecological footprint.
Mobile waste tank for ships
Collateral damage: harm to marine life
When ships ply busy shipping lanes as part of their commercial activities, marine life often finds itself caught in the crossfire. Collisions and injuries between sailboats and yachts and marine animals can have tragic consequences. Collisions with larger vessels, including cargo ships and cruise ships, are particularly devastating to marine giants such as whales and dolphins.
But beneath the surface lurks an even greater, if less visible, danger - the invisible invasion of the microplastics. These tiny invaders, masquerading as food that marine organisms ingest, cause physiological damage to animals and introduce toxic chemicals into the food chain. The consequences are felt in marine ecosystems from the deep to the shallows.
Tip 4: Take care of marine animals
When boating, avoid collisions with marine animals by keeping a safe distance and reducing your speed in areas where they live. If an accidental encounter occurs, immediately turn off the engine, move out of the way and wait for the animal to move away. Prioritize their safety and well-being to minimize damage during your water adventures.
YACHTING.COM TIP: We described how to behave when encountering dolphins and cetaceans in a separate article.
Careful anchoring and lashing
In addition, the mooring itself, which is essential for the operation of sailboats and yachts, can disrupt fragile marine habitats such as coral reefs and seagrass meadows. These habitats serve as essential refuges for a variety of marine species.
Tip 5: Anchor considerately
To protect these marine habitats, it is important to anchor and moor your boat with care. Avoid anchoring directly on or near reefs and use anchorages that have been established for this purpose. When mooring, make sure you do not damage marine vegetation and do not make unnecessary manoeuvres that could endanger these fragile environments.
YACHTING.COM TIP: Check out our ultimate guide to mooring in all situations.
Sailing and yachting offer a unique connection to the sea, and at the same time carry a great responsibility to protect it. The two activities should go hand in hand and sailors should have them engraved deep under their skin. Sustainability, strict regulation and environmental education are the clues that will lead yachting to a cleaner and more vibrant maritime future.
As sailors, yachtsmen and women, and lovers of the sea, we have a responsibility to ensure that our passion for the ocean leaves a legacy of protection, not pollution. Find even more tips on how to sail sustainably in our article, Green sailing: 11 tips for eco-friendly yachting.