Your Boat’s Spring Cleaning

By: Ask Lauren, Environmental, The Oceans

The wait is almost over…it’s just about time to pull off those winter boat covers and set sail into the warmer season! Whether you’re just getting started in the ASA 101 course or you regularly cruise in your own vessel, learning to properly care for a sailboat is an important and necessary skill to have.

The way you maintain your boat and the various products you use can have a lasting effect on the water you sail on. Let’s add a little “green” to this year’s nautical spring cleaning. For more information, check out this comprehensive Green Boating Guide from our friends at Sailors for the Sea- it’s free to download from their website!

(Not a boat owner? Many of these tips apply to cleaning at home, too! Remember: in one way or another, all waterways connect to our lakes, rivers, and oceans.)

Uncovering the Boat

It is common to use shrinkwrap to protect boats from winter weather, but according to Sailors for the Sea, shrinkwrap for a 35’ sailboat is equivalent to 4,000 single-use plastic water bottles. YIKES! The good news is that if you remove other materials like zippers and nails and keep the plastic clean and dry, you should be able to recycle it. Check with your marina for best practices to ensure your wrap will get recycled. Next year opt for a reusable canvas cover instead.

Clear the Clutter

A boat’s storage space is usually just big enough to store the essentials: gear, maps, food, water, crew, and that’s about it. This minimalist design is done on purpose; there is no need to sail around with more weight and clutter than you need. Unnecessary weight onboard equals reduced speed underway and lower fuel efficiency, which costs money and increases the boat’s carbon footprint.

Caring for the bottom of your boat will also reduce drag and make your boat more efficient. See page 19 of the Green Boating Guide for some tips on eco-friendly options to prevent biofouling.

Cleaner (and Cheaper!) Cleaning Products

Heavy chemical cleaners get the job done, but at what cost to the surrounding water and sea life? The Boat U.S. Foundation conducted a test of a variety of cleaning products with different eco-friendly labels, such as “biodegradable,” “non-toxic,” and “ecological,” to see if they stack up with their conventional counterparts. The results were shocking: it turns out there is no regulation for the use of these terms, and some of the “green” labeled products were actually more harmful than traditional products! Conversely, some of the conventional products that did not host any environmental claims were “far less toxic than suspected.”

How can we do the right thing by the environment if we can’t trust labels? The solution is both simple and cost-effective: try making your own cleaners. Many only involve two ingredients or less. See the chart below for some DIY substitutes to traditional products:

green boat cleaning products

List courtesy of Sailors for the Sea

Take Care of Your Engine

Sailors usually try to use the engine as little as possible (that’s what those big sheets of canvas are for!), but most boats still have an engine powered by fossil fuels. Proper care not only extends the life of your engine but can also prevent leaks and inefficiencies. To prep for the warm season, be sure to change your engine’s oil and filter and remove antifreeze from your cooling system and water lines. Both the oil and antifreeze can be recycled; ask your marina for the nearest repository.

With a little extra love and care, you can make your boat sparkle this summer without harming the environment. To learn more about Sailors for the Sea and ways you can be a greener sailor, click here!