Sustainable Sailing Tips for Protecting Aquatic Life and Biodiversity

Recent studies in the Mediterranean Sea show that recreational yachts impact the environment, causing a loss of biodiversity. The sailing community can commit to protecting aquatic life by following our ten tips for sustainable yachting. 

Before we dive into how to avoid harming marine environments, let’s look at three levels of impact created by yachting: 


1. High Impact on Biodiversity

  • Animal collisions
  • Noise disturbance from engines and loudspeakers
  • Anchoring on seagrass beds, kelp, or coral reefs
  • Toxic antifouling products released into the water
  • Transport of exotic species on the hull to new locations

2. Moderate Impact on Biodiversity

  • Fuel and oil leaks
  • Air pollution from engines
  • Discharge of greywater from cleaning activities

3. Light Impact on Biodiversity

  • Sediment resuspension
  • Discharge of black waters (sewerage)
  • Litter and plastic waste
  • Animal feeding

10 Tips for Protecting Sea-Life by Sustainable Sailing

  1. Avoid Cetacean Collisions

Slow down when entering Whale Migratory Corridors and Nursing Grounds. 

Orcas, whales, dolphins, and porpoises have been around for over 50 million years and follow ancient migratory corridors that often coincide with yachting courses. Collisions can happen that may injure the animal and damage or sink your boat. 

Recorded incidents of recreational yachts hitting whales exist, for example, the amazing story of Maralyn and Maurice Bailey, whose boat was struck and sunk by a sperm whale in the Pacific on course for the Galapagos in 1973. The intrepid English couple survived 117 days in their life-raft which became an ecological microsystem, encrusted by barnacles, seaweeds, and crustaceans - and accompanied by schools of fish, curious sharks, neighbourly cetaceans, and resting birds. The Baileys were so profoundly affected by the animals they encountered that they became vegan after their miraculous rescue by a Korean fishing vessel -  and never ate meat again. 

The best way to avoid a cetacean collision is to reduce speed while sailing through corridors or in areas where they’re known to breed and nurse. Keep your engine running and play music through your loudspeakers to warn them of your presence. However, large whales might not give way because millions of years of evolution have not prepared them for boats; they were always the dominant marine species. Follow this advice from the Australian government:

A vessel must not approach closer than 100 meters to a whale - or 50 meters to a dolphin. Approach the whale or dolphin only from the rear or by positioning the vessel ahead of the whale or dolphin, and always in a position more than 30 degrees to its observed direction of travel. (Australian Government)


2. Only Anchor on Sand or Rocks

Posidonia Seagrass Meadows are cradles of Biodiversity. 


Avoid dropping your anchor on Posidonia seagrass meadows, coral reefs, and kelp beds because they are havens for thousands of breeding species of fish, crustaceans, corals, and mammals. These ecosystems are repositories of biodiversity that replenish our fishing stocks and prevent sedimentation, protecting beaches and coastline ecosystems. 

When many yachts cluster together during peak sailing season, the damage accumulates faster, so seek out mooring areas that are secluded and quiet and always allow ample space between boats. Select a sandy bottom, or better still, wedge your anchor between rocks to avoid dragging, and never let your anchor rest on seagrasses, kelp forests, and corals. 



3. Use Eco-friendly Cleaning Products - Sparingly! 

Washing down your yacht regularly with clean water will reduce the need to use too many products, as will diluting according to instructions on the label. Use a diluted product like Ecoworks Marine eco-yacht wash to wash down the decks and hull, making sure that excess water does not enter the sea.

Similarly, dishwashing liquids, laundry soaps, toiletries, and sunscreens can also contain harmful chemical ingredients that cause fish feeding disturbances and reproductive changes.

Ecoworks Marine offers an affordable all-in-one Spring Cleaning Kit for boat interiors and exteriors, including a non-toxic and environmentally friendly degreaser, bilge cleaner, all-surface cleaner, and wood and varnish cleaners. 

Ingredients are phosphate-free, made from sustainable raw materials, certified eco-friendly, and aren’t tested on animals.  Ecoworks Marine products are also highly concentrated and will last longer if diluted correctly.



4. Watch your Propellers

When whirling propellers stir up sediment in shallow coastal areas, it covers living coral and seagrasses and prevents them from absorbing sunlight. Keep your engine at a low speed, avoid sailing too close to shore, and respect speed limits in areas where sediment is not attached to the seafloor by seagrasses or flora. 


5. Contain all Waste Water for Safe Disposal at Port

Manage your black and grey wastewater responsibly by disposing of it in a sustainable treatment plant in your club or marina. Grey water contains phosphates and nitrates from cleaning and cosmetic products that trigger algal blooms, killing sea-filtering organisms and smothering reef-building corals. Grey water also contains pathogenic viruses, deadly bacteria, organic food waste, oil, grease, hydrocarbons, and other harmful chemicals rendering it just as toxic as black water.

Ecoworks Marine has developed the FOG BUSTER, a sustainable grey water additive that employs bacteria and enzymes instead of harmful chemicals. This product will help reduce and eliminate the long-term problems caused by a buildup of grease, oil, and fat in your drain lines, waste pipes, and wastewater holding tanks as well as being far better for the environment than traditional products. 

Black water, or sewerage, dispersed at sea can create hypoxic (oxygen-poor) conditions and bacterial and viral contamination. When not on a long ocean-faring journey, contain your black water for deposit at a port or release it at least 3 miles from shore. 

Wastewater includes bilge water which contains hydrocarbon residues, grease, and grime, so use Ecowork’s bilge cleaner to reduce the long-term accumulation of bacteria and oils, and always dispose of it safely at a treatment facility in port.  


6. Avoid Single-Use Plastics and Never Litter

Plastic pollution, mostly microscopic fragments, make up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an ocean gyre of coastal pollution sucked into the centre of the sea and reaching for hundreds of miles in all directions, causing untold damage to sea and birdlife.  

The microplastics used in many products have severe physiological effects on sea life - causing disease, injury, and death. There are two more gyres in the ocean pulling in the garbage, one in the South Pacific and one in the North Atlantic, so to combat this problem, ban all single-use plastic onboard, and pledge to never drop litter at sea, in a port, or a marina. 

Ecoworks Marine products are packaged in recyclable reusable containers and can be refilled at a discount in dedicated chandleries in the UK and other locations. 


7. Follow Safe Antifouling Procedure

To avoid a high impact on biodiversity, be sure to paint your hull after long voyages to remove invasive species that may have inadvertently traveled along with you. Wandering species may compete with local flora, fauna, and micro-organisms and can wipe out indigenous populations, destroying the habitat entirely. Scrub your hull down well, blast it with a jet hose, and then dry and apply your antifouling paint where contamination will not reach the water table. 

Because chemical antifouling products can disrupt reproductive and feeding behaviors of marine animals, plants, and birds, we advise using an eco-friendly alternative such as these excellent products listed here

Remember that eco-friendly paints will reduce your impact, but you still need to ensure the run-off flows to a treatment facility and not into open water.  


8. Engine Maintenance and Refueling

Ensure that your engine is always well-maintained and runs at optimal speeds to lower your daily fuel consumption, reduce your carbon footprint, and prevent ocean acidification caused by excess carbon dioxide absorption. 

When the pH of the sea becomes too acidic, shellfish battle to build their carbonate shells and are left unprotected. It also causes the protective layers of coral and the exoskeletons of crustaceans to dissolve. Low pH levels slow reproduction and growth - and affect hunting behaviors in marine animals. 

While refueling, place cotton absorption pads under the pumps to soak up any leaks. Diesel or petrol should never enter the water because it is highly toxic to all marine life, but especially to the microscopic phytoplankton that form the base of the oceanic food web.  

Be vigilant when sailing and report any spillages to authorities over your radio channels.  

Bilge water can contain traces of oil and fuel, so we recommend placing filters on the pump points to remove these particles or disposing of the bilge water to a treatment facility onshore. 


9. Propulsion, Green Construction, and Alternative Energy Sources

Superyacht architects are developing innovative propulsion solutions, including hybrid and electric engines charged by solar panels or driven by kite sails, a recent innovation in sailing technology and one being utilised by our partner Silent Yachts. Although converting from a standard diesel boat engine is costly, the benefit of cleaner propulsion systems is cleaner oceans. 

You can convert your boat engine system to run on biodiesel, a renewable and clean-burning fuel produced from seed oils, vegetable oils, animal fats, and algae. Biodiesel fuel burns cleaner with reduced emissions.

Yachts are becoming more renewable and recyclable, utilising more sustainable building materials, such as flax derivatives combined with bio-resins and basalt, a volcanic fibre-based composite. 



10. Don’t Interact with Marine Wildlife 

Protecting sea life means never interacting with wildlife because it results in behavioral conditioning, interrupts natural feeding cycles, and may lead to an unfortunate injury caused by a feeding frenzy. Nature is better observed and left undisturbed for future generations to enjoy. 


Article by Melissa Godden for Ecoworks Marine.