5 Ways to Green Your Boat

With environmental concern on the rise, green products and practices are high in demand. Consumers constantly look for items that are both clean and cost-efficient. When it comes to transportation, there is a plethora of information about cars. When it comes to boats, perhaps not so much is available.

Fortunately, a number of steps can be taken by boat owners to employ green practices. Conserving energy and using environmentally friendly products doesn’t have to break the bank, and making just one small change helps. For those looking to get started or make some general changes, here are 5 popular ways to green your boat.

1.       Take Small Steps to Make a Big Difference

Nevada resident Ken Beckstead has owned boats for more than 26 years and said smart boating practices go a long way in preventing secondary problems that people do not often consider. Something as simple as having a handheld fire extinguisher on board could help save the environment, which he learned from firsthand experience.

While helping another man launch a boat, Beckstead said one of the engines suddenly caught fire. Although the boat had a built-in fire extinguishing system, it did not function and the fire spread.

“The fire was so hot it actually was melting aluminum parts on the motors and he had to wait until a fire truck arrived to put the fire out,” he said. “This fire cost $300,000 in damage. It could have been prevented with a $20 extinguisher.”

However, the boat wasn’t the only item to sustain damage. The water from the fire truck hose that seeped into the lake contained burnt fiberglass, metals, gas, and oil – all extremely bad for the environment.

Beckstead said one quart of oil can contaminate up to a million gallons of water. Boat owners also need to be careful when refilling oil tanks and washing their watercrafts. Using a Gutter Critter, a device to filter runoff, or washing over a grassy area can minimize oil contaminated water from entering storm drains.

2.       Use Non-Biocide Paint Instead of Copper-Based Paint

Beckstead recommends avoiding copper and lead-based bottom paints and instead using green paints, something Orange County Coastkeeper Associate Director of Programs Ray Hiemstra also strongly advocates.

Most boaters use copper paints on boat bottoms as a biocide to reduce the growth of marine organisms, Hiemstra said. However, copper is extremely toxic to fish and other aquatic species, most notably reducing their ability to reproduce.

Hiemstra promotes non-biocide, green paints that work by creating a slippery surface that marine organisms have trouble attaching to. The slippery surface also gives boats better fuel economy and higher sailing speeds because of the low friction.

A study done by the Port of San Diego found slippery non-biocide bottom paint outperforms copper paints, primarily because of the longer life expectancy. Green paints last from 5 to 10 years, while copper paints last from 2 to 4.

Hiemstra said non-biocide paints work best on fiberglass and metal boats, but not on wooden boats. Because paint needs to be applied to a clean hull, the best time to apply it is on a new boat or one that needs to be stripped of old copper paint.

Non-biocide paint manufacturers currently are developing new copper sealer paints that can be applied over existing copper paints, eliminating the need to strip the boat beforehand.

“When these sealers come on the market it will substantially reduce the cost to apply non-biocide paints,” he said.

3.       Look at Alternative Energy Sources

Of all the topics in renewable energy, wind energy is one of the most popular. While most people may picture the standard, fan-style turbines, there also are vertical axis turbines available.

Eliot Jia, business development associate at Urban Green Energy, said vertical axis turbines are designed to work well at lower altitudes where winds change direction more frequently. They are quieter and have fewer vibrations, making them more suitable for areas with lots of people.

Jia said Urban Green Energy turbines can be found on Hornblower company boats and on a passenger ferry in Sweden. The turbines can lower electric bills and sometimes completely offset energy needs.

“Typically on boats the turbines are set up in a battery back-up configuration, so they are used to charge up batteries that can then be used to power on board electronics,” he said.

Although their turbines are larger and more suited for commercial boats, he said they do have a smaller turbine not yet commercially available in the United States. Such a turbine might be an option for personal boats in the future.

Boat owners also may consider renewable energy sources such as portable solar devices.

4.       Invest in LED Lighting

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, approximately 800 million fluorescent lamps are disposed of each year. Such lamps produce enough mercury to contaminate about 20 million acres of water and can cause ecological damage through water pollution.

Compared to fluorescent lighting, there is no greener lighting solution than LED, Grif Palmer, vice president of sales for LED source, said.

“The most common question we get is, ‘Is it time for LED replacement for me?’” he said. “In an overwhelming number of cases, the answer is yes.”

Palmer said not only are LEDs mercury and toxin free, they consume less energy than incandescent and fluorescent lights, produce a better quality of light, and last for at least 20 years before needing replacement. The popularity of LED usage is growing and new products are continually being developed.

Most boat owners use LEDs for dome lights, recessed lights, chart lights, spot lights, and more, he said. There is an LED lamp solution for 95 percent of the traditional lamps on the market today and typically the same lamp base can be used for most applications.

LED replacement for incandescent light bulbs is common for navigation and reading lights on boats, he said. Lamp retrofits often show immediate savings to the user.

“The energy and maintenance savings will pay for a great product,” he said.

5.       Use Green Cleaning Products

Dave Kozy, vice president and director of operations for RV, Home & Maritime Solutions, said today’s eco-friendly cleaning products are stronger and better so consumers no longer have to sacrifice quality for environmental safety.

He said he works with manufacturers to develop safe, Earth Smart products that can be used on a daily basis in a boat, home, or RV. The Earth Smart classification requires products to meet at least 10 of 12 environmentally-friendly standards.

One such product in the Nature-Zyme line is a holding tank substance that creates an odorless environment while breaking down waste and paper, Kozy said. This keeps the head clean and draining easy. Other green, boat-related products available include boat washes, multi-surface cleaners, awning cleaners, and metal cleaners.

Kozy said green products continue to grow in popularity as society becomes more educated and products improve in quality and through regulation. He suggests looking for products with the Earth Smart logo and other green certifications such as EcoLogo and LEED.

“It doesn’t matter how “green” you are as long as you start somewhere and commit to doing a little bit more,” he said. “Whether it’s trying another green product, recycling better, walking instead of driving, planting a tree and giving it a name, it all counts. It all helps, and you’ll feel better, too.”


About the Author: Alyssa Zandi is a contributing writer for Manitou Pontoon Boats.


Photo Credits:
1. Fire extinguisher from dolomite73.
2. Boater Stephen Auerbach converted to non-biocide paint in 2010.
3. LED image from Erkka P.
4. Urban Green Energy wind turbine in the USA.
5. Nature-Zyme products with the Earth Smart logo.

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