Sailors in the United States have become increasingly interested in environmental responsibility. Most modern marinas have up-to-date pumpout stations with fuel-spill kits and recycling containers close at hand. We’ve come to expect these services at home, so when we touch down in a remote charter location, their absence is evident. Luckily, you don’t have to abandon your environmental consciousness when chartering farther afield. Here are 10 simple steps to keep you “green” on charter.
1. Choose a company committed to protecting the environment
Look for a company that is committed to sustainability in both its waterways and its boats. Many popular charter destinations are off the beaten track, in places where things like pumpout stations and recycling aren’t available, so look for companies that value a sustainable base infrastructure, offer boats with solar and hybrid systems, and take the time to educate clients on ways they can reduce their impact.
2. Pay attention in the briefing
It’s easy to get distracted at the charter base—a long flight, swaying palm trees, a tiki bar calling your name—but don’t underestimate the importance of the boat and chart briefings. Running aground and having systems problems can have a big impact on the environment. Knowing your boat’s systems as well as the area in which you’ll be chartering can go a long way to helping you avoid trouble.
3. Minimize packaging onboard
Whether you choose a pre-provisioning plan or provision your boat yourself, consider the packaging involved. The waste disposal infrastructure in remote areas is likely limited, so remove as much excess packaging as possible before departing and dispose of it at the base. If you purchase drinking water, bring reusable water bottles and fill them from 5-gallon jugs rather than purchasing individual bottles. Throw nothing overboard—according to MARPOL, the recently revised International law, it is illegal to discharge food waste over 1 inch within 3 miles of shore, including apple cores and banana peels.
4. Use biodegradable soap and detergent
When showering or doing dishes at home, the soapy water runs down the drain to the local wastewater treatment plant. On a boat, it goes straight into the sea. When possible, look for biodegradable, non-toxic and phosphate-free dish soaps, shampoo and cleaners. If traveling to remote areas, bring it from home. Using the transom shower is a good reminder that it all goes into the sea.
5. Use your Y-valve
Gaining a solid understanding of your boat’s head and holding tank is a vital part of any briefing. Hopefully the area where you are sailing has pumpout facilities, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t. If your holding tank is equipped with a Y-valve, give it a workout. When entering harbors, close the Y-valve to prevent the head from discharging overboard. When on longer, deeper-water passages, open it to drain. You don’t want to return a boat with a full holding tank, but a little effort can keep sheltered waters a lot cleaner.
6. Use moorings instead of anchoring when possible
When anchoring on rocky or coral bottoms, it’s tough to ensure a good set, and trying multiple times can result in a torn-up ocean floor. When on vacation, who needs the stress? Well-maintained moorings provide peace of mind and at the same time reduce the chance of damaging marine life on the sea floor. If you prefer secluded coves without moorings, or if you arrive too late to get a mooring, anchor where you can see the bottom to avoid grass beds and reefs. Swim on your anchor to ensure a good set.
7. Eat local and be aware of fish and shellfish restrictions
One of the highlights of any trip is experiencing the local cuisine. Eating local ensures fresher ingredients and reduces the amount of energy required to get the food to your plate. When eating local seafood, thought, reference the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program app, where you can learn which fish are environmentally sound to consume in various areas. While Conch fritters may sound like a great treat, the Watch Program says that the slow-moving conch is also a slow-reproducing species that should be conserved. Spiny lobster, on the other hand, is rated a “Best Choice” when in season.
8. Look for low-impact excursions and activities
Many charter destinations offer a host of activities from kite surfing to snorkeling to day hikes. Be wary, though, of companies offering “eco-tours” and ask what exactly makes them “eco.” ATV rides over sensitive erosion-prone areas and snorkeling to hand feed fish are two examples of activities that may be billed as “eco,” but are anything but.
9. Dive and snorkel with care
Exploring the underwater world is a treat, but diving and snorkeling requires care. Avoid touching or kicking coral at all costs. (Remember, when your head goes up, your feet go down.) Fragile coral can be destroyed if stepped on, and many species of coral and urchins can sting. Observe fish and marine mammals from a distance.
10. Support local conservation efforts
If your trip has opened your eyes to a new destination and given you an appreciation for its natural resources and beauty, consider supporting a local organization working to protect the area. By supporting organizations that promote conservation, you can directly impact the future of your favorite charter destinations.
Photos courtesy of Susan Shingledecker