As boaters we all realize that recreational boating has an impact on our aquatic ecosystems. Our goal should be to minimize our impact on the environment that we love and want to enjoy for years to come. There are actions that we can take to help minimize our impact on the lake as we enjoy one of our favorite activities. All it takes is a little planning and preparation.
- Keep a supply of oil-absorbent material on board
Since most boats have automatic bilge pumps it is important that actions are taken to prevent engine oil and other engine fluids from entering the bilge area. By placing oil-absorbent pads or pillows (or socks) under the engine, oil and other engine fluids can be absorbed before they enter the bilge area. This action prevents these fluids from being pumped into the waterways.
These pads should be checked often and should be disposed as hazardous waste at a marina or local hazardous waste collection center once they are soiled.
- Boat Cleaning
By waxing a fiberglass boat hull at the beginning of the season, this will prevent surface dirt from becoming engrained in the surface of the boat. This reduces the need for harsh detergents or chemicals to keep the boat clean during the boating season. Scrubbing and rinsing the boat with just water during the season will minimize the need for soaps.
When cleaning a boat in the water, it should only be cleaned from the waterline up. The goal is to prevent scrubbing the hull paint to prevent large amounts of the bottom paint from entering the water.
Use non-toxic cleaners that do NOT contain phosphates and other chemicals that are harsh on the environment. There are many natural cleaners on the market that can be used to clean various surfaces on boats. Try to use biodegradable cleaners whenever possible.
A good list of natural cleaners can be found at the following web-site under the “use non-toxic cleaners” section:
This site contains recommendations for cleaning the following surfaces:
fiberglass stains, windows and mirrors, chrome, brass, copper fittings, stainless steel, aluminum, plastic surfaces, decks, interior woods and more.
It is also a good idea to save maintenance projects for the boatyard. If maintenance has to be done while the boat is in the water, tarps, vacuum sanders and tack cloths should be utilized to collect all drips and debris from entering the water. The debris should then be disposed of properly.
Filling up the fuel tanks should be done carefully and slowly. One recommendation is to only fill the fuel tank to 90% capacity. Do not try and “top off” your tank. This will reduce spills while filling the tank and will also decrease the possibility of spills when the fuel expands on a hot day. This will also help prevent spills out of the fuel vent when the boat is heeling as the fuel sloshes around in the tank.
Absorbent pads, funnels and absorbent nozzle collars can help the fueling process go smoothly and prevent fuel from entering the water.
- “Stash your trash” or “Stow it, don’t throw it”
Keep all trash from your boating outing and store it on board. Never throw trash into the water. Bring the trash to shore when you are done boating and dispose of as you would your household trash. Use recycling facilities to recycle plastic, glass, metal, paper and cardboard. Try and think about the “leave-no-trace” principle that hikers and campers use when boating.
- Holding tank or Porta Potti
Know where the nearest pump out station is and use it for a holding tank. Be careful not to spill any of the contents into the water. Empty a Porta Potti at an approved dump station. It is always a good idea to have your crew use onshore facilities before going aboard.
- Reduce grey water discharges
If you wash dishes or even your hands on a boat, use phosphate-free biodegradable soap to minimize the impact on the marine environment. This soap can be found as “Camp Soap” at places like Wal-Mart or Dick’s Sporting Goods.
By following the above recommendations, recreational boaters can minimize the impact on the marine environment. All it takes is to spend a little time thinking about how to reduce the impact on our environment and some planning ahead. There are many other ways to be an environmentally conscious boater that I did not cover here.
I would love to hear about any additional “green” steps that you take while you are boating. Please email me at
with your ideas. I look forward to hearing from you.
A good resource for ‘Green Seal Certified’ products is the following web-site:
Sea Dog (aka Steve Charlebois)