In honor of Safe Boating Week, May 16-22nd, we are providing some tips on how to make sure your boat is not harmful to the environment making it safe for marine life as well as swimmers and other water users.
Occasionally, you come across a boat that has been lovingly maintained for decades, and looks as great as it did the first day it hit the water. Sometimes, old boats are restored to their former glory. More often than not, though, boats outlive their usefulness, eventually becoming more expensive to fix and maintain than is really practical.
While you might try to keep your boat afloat for as long as possible, it’s likely that at some point it’s going to become an environmental hazard. As the owner, you have a responsibility to prevent your boat from harming the environment, and to either fix problems that could cause damage or responsibly dispose of the vessel.
Ways that Your Boat Is Harmful to the Environment
Considering that a single ounce of oil can contaminate 120,000 gallons of water — and a pint of oil can cover an entire acre of water surface, clearly oil is one of the biggest environmental hazards associated with boating. Not only is oil harmful to humans, it can have serious effects on the plant and animal life in the water.
Almost all boats leave some oil in the water, but responsible owners take steps toward reducing their own impact by using absorbent materials to collect any spills, leaks, or drips during fueling or under the engine and bilge. However, if your boat is leaking more oil than can be reasonably collected by an absorbent product, then you are contributing to pollution and need to either repair your boat or take it out of the water.
More than oil products can harm the environment, though. Antifreeze and other fluids put toxic chemicals in the water. Acidic and alkali substances, like battery acid, are also toxic to the environment, and again, if you have a leak, the part needs to be replaced or repaired. Less obvious contaminants come from your boat as well. For example, the engine could also be releasing tiny metal shavings into the water as it operates, especially if it is an older engine.
One of the more surprising environmental contaminants on older boats is the paint. Old paint releases metals and other substances into the water, especially if it is peeling or flaking. For example, in the past, zinc and tributyltin (TBT), an antifouling agent, has been used in paint for boats and outboard motors to prevent corrosion. Depending on the water conditions, these substances, which are toxic to plants and animals, can leech in to the water.
At this point, you might be thinking, “How much damage could my little boat do? There’s no way that a tiny bit of TBT from my engine could do that much damage. However, consider the fact that thousands of boats travel the same waters every day, and potentially release tiny amounts of harmful chemicals and metals into the water. Taken together, the potential environmental impact is significant — especially when irresponsible boat owners do not properly dispose of their decrepit vessels.
What to Do When Your Boat Is a Hazard
When your boat is more of a sieve than anything else is, it’s time to get rid of it. Ideally, you should plan to donate an unwanted boat long before it becomes unseaworthy. While most charities that accept boats will take it even if it’s no longer usable, you will make a bigger impact if the boat can be sold to someone who has the resources to repair it — and you’ll receive a more substantial tax deduction.
Never try to sink or abandon a boat to dispose of it. Again, you can donate even the most decrepit vessel, and doing so will help you avoid the fines and other consequences that come with improper disposal. Abandoning or sinking a boat can create a significant environmental hazard; even if you try to remove the most harmful chemicals, the paint, metal, and other substances on the boat will eventually corrode and release toxic substances into the water. Not to mention, a sunken boat becomes a navigational hazard, which could lead to boating accidents and even more toxic substances in the water.
Proper boat maintenance, and using environmentally-friendly products and tools while operating and taking care of a boat keeps it running well for as long as possible and prevents harm to the environment. However, when your boat inevitably outlives its usefulness, have a backup plan to address the problem before it does irreparable harm.