If you’re a sailor, you likely already have a great appreciation for the world’s oceans, marine life, and awe-inspiring seascapes both over and under the water. Experiencing the ocean from a boat often instills a deep respect and amazement for its beauty and power. Yet, we can never overestimate the importance of our oceans as the earth’s largest ecosystem, and literally our life support system.  

The oceans of the world are our primary source of oxygen, producing more than 50% of the oxygen on earth – yes, even more than is produced by rainforests. The air we breathe, food and water, medicines, climate and much more all rely on healthy oceans. 

Beyond our very survival, the ocean is where we go to relax, heal, gain inspiration and connect with nature. Coastlines are also where people gather… for recreation, holidays and transportation. 

As sailors, most of us have witnessed the decline in the health of our oceans first-hand, from trash on the shorelines and ocean floors to polluted water and dying coral reefs. And we are also in a unique position to make a positive impact on the health of the oceans, lakes and waterways that are so crucial to our survival. 

You probably already know many of the eco-friendly basics that apply equally to your time on and off the water, like limiting single-use plastics and recycling. So, here are just a few more things to consider; 5 ways sailors can begin to incorporate sustainable sailing practices that can help save our oceans for future generations. 

  1. Tackle the onboard drinking water dilemma

Plastics are the biggest danger to the health of our oceans, and one of the worst culprits on boats is single-use plastic bottles for drinking water. Sailors can help by avoiding the purchase of water in plastic bottles as much as possible. If you must use bottled drinking water, purchase large refillable containers rather than small, single-use bottles, and have your mates bring along their stainless steel cups for drinking.

You may even want to consider purchasing an onboard watermaker that desalinates and filters ocean water making it safe for consumption.

  1. Don’t go afoul with your bottom paint

So, it’s time for a fresh coat of bottom paint? Consider an “eco-friendly” product that can help support sustainable sailing by keeping marine life alive and your boat clean at the same time. Traditional biocide antifouling paints use copper and other chemicals that can leach into the water causing harm to reefs and marine life. More sustainable options use either less harmful biocide chemicals, or no chemicals – instead producing a slick surface that helps keep your hull free from marine growth.  

  1. Reef in the toxic products

Soaps, shampoos, detergents and bleach can all cause harm to reefs and marine life, and unfortunately it can be very difficult to discern products that are truly better for the environment and even the experts are not always in agreement on what is best.  

Start by looking for products that claim to be biodegradable; free of phosphates, surfactants, bleach and “antibacterial” ingredients. Next, don’t use more of these products than you really need to get the job done. Half of the recommended amount is often enough. 

And don’t forget to use reef-friendly sunscreen. Many of the main ingredients found in sunscreen cause irreparable damage to our reefs, including oxybenzone, octinoxate, parabens and fragrances. Try using a UPF sun-shirt, and apply zinc oxide-based sunscreens to exposed areas. 

  1. Leave it as you found it

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Take only memories, leave only footprints.” For sailors it may be worth repeating, as we often spend our days playing among fragile ecosystems. Sometimes areas that few other people access.

Be extra-vigilant when it comes to coral reefs. Even a slight touch with your hand or swim fin can cause irreparable damage. 

Basically, don’t disturb anything or take anything natural home with you. Except for trash – clean up a beach while you’re out there, and dispose of it properly when you return home.

  1. Sustainable sailing goes local 

As sailors, many times we’re in a position to influence our communities. Get to know your local ecosystems and the unique environmental issues facing your area. Start your own sustainable sailing initiatives at a local level within your yacht club or community sailing center. Cast your vote for a better future by buying local, or from companies that are actively working for positive change. Join or start a beach cleanup in your area. 

Every small change we make as individuals can help lead to a brighter future for the bodies of water that we love. And for everyone and everything that depends on them. 

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