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How Green is Your Boat?

My boat used to be green—that is, until I painted it blue. But I’m talking about the environmental green, the one that helps to keep the oceans and beaches clean for everyone, including fish.

From one end of the boat to the other we can all be greener. For example, the slightly rusty, oily hunk of metal under the companionway stairs or cockpit sole that discharges particulates, oil and smoke into the air around our boats; the pile of trash that you toss in the dumpster; or the stuff that slides over the side in the middle of the night.

Don’t say you never, ever, toss trash. I once did a Bermuda race where you could tell what the boats in front of you had for dinner, they tossed so much trash over the side. I’ve been sailing two thousand miles out in the ocean and seen Styrofoam cups, bottles, and other debris floating in the breeze. It isn’t nice and it certainly isn’t doing anything for the reputation of sailors.

So how do you become greener? First, a look at bottom paints, then at the iron monster that lives under the stairs and finally, at products for painting and cleaning.

Bottom Paint

Living in the Caribbean, bottom paint is essential. However, before choosing the best one for your next refit, look closely—paint technology has changed. In the old days, the paint with the highest amount of copper was the best one to use. Copper content might be in the high eighty percentile. But it put a huge load of copper into the ocean when the boat was first launched, then the amount of copper in the paint gradually declined until there was none left. At that point your choices were to haul, sand off the old paint barrier and reapply the same old stuff.

Then along came ablative paints. As long as your boat was underway the paint eroded off the hull exposing a new layer of copper. The copper load stayed high unless the boat lay at a mooring. The trouble is that many boats stay at a mooring for a long time, so ablative paints became the right (read greenest) choice for skippers who spent a lot of time underway.

The most modern paints are known as self polishing co-polymer paints (SPCP) and a have a low copper load, around 30 to 40%. (Interlux Micron 66 is one example—www.yachtpaint.com). They also react chemically with seawater to maintain a constant copper loading around the hull. Such paints may also have Irgarol (a zinc derivative) to stop slime formation. It has been found that if slime is prevented from forming, the cling-ons have nothing to cling onto and the paint works better. In addition, such paints may have other additives intended to cut down on the copper load and fix other short term paint problems.

So for the boat owner who wants the most efficient, greenest bottom paint, SPCP paints make the most sense and they are available in the Caribbean. An additional benefit is that SPCP paints polish themselves out of existence and as they do so the bottom of your boat’s hull gets smoother. So you get a triple benefit in that there is no sanding in the boatyard before you can repaint, plus you save fuel as the hull bottom progressively polishes itself smooth.

Engines

Like bottom paints, an entire book could be written about going green in the engine compartment. The first job is to make sure that the engine is clean – that is, air and fuel filters, injectors or spark plugs, fresh oil should all be changed regularly. If the filters are kept clean the engine will run far better with fewer emissions.

Next you might want to keep the bilges clean. Not only will this eliminate odors, but it will also prevent bilge gunk slopping around and it will allow you to find lost tools without having to detox after you’ve reached into the bilge.

The easiest way of keeping the bilge clean is to use one of two products. BioSok absorbs the oily muck in your bilge and when the sock is empty, dispose of it. The other product lets you put a “fish” in your bilge. The fish is named after the size of the product from Clean Water Solutions. For the largest cleaning job there’s a whale, for the smallest a sardine. Inside the sponge-like fish-shaped product is a hungry microbe that literally eats the oil in the bilge. Simply toss the whale into the bilge and let it munch away. A few weeks later all the oil has been turned into water that can be pumped over the side and there’s nothing left of your fish. For information on these products, available at Island Marine Outfitters, go to www.cleanwatersolutionsinc.com.

Painting and Cleaning

If you are any kind of practical sailor you will have done your share of painting and cleaning. For bad paint jobs you’ve probably used paint thinner, mineral spirits or acetone, all of which are pretty harsh solvents that are listed as causing cancer or other defects.

But now you can dispose of those products and use Bio-Solv, a 100% biodegradable solvent that replaces other solvents. According to MAS Products, the people that sell it, the product is safe, non-carcinogenic, and does not appear on any reportable lists, yet it works. I’ve used it and found that it removes paint (with a little rubbing), cleans brushes and gets off epoxy. MAS products are carried by Island Water World. (www.islandwaterworld.com.)

Another product for indoor cleaning that is reputed to be much less toxic than ordinary household cleaners is Simple Green. This family of cleaners has been around for more than thirty years and can be used on boats in the marine environment without creating any kind of pollutants. The company has heavy duty degreasers, carpet cleaners, stone cleaners and many other products. www.simplegreen.com.

Seventh Generation and Method also make “green” cleaners. Seventh Generation has a wide range of cleaners for everyone from baby care to organic paper products. www.seventhgeneration.com. Similarly Method makes cleaners that are far less toxic and much “greener” than conventional cleaners. www.methodhome.com

By protecting your immediate environment and bringing your awareness to others, you can help all of us to protect the sailing environment that we enjoy so much. It will take some effort, maybe a few extra dollars, but the legacy that you are leaving to your family and to other sailors can be priceless.

Roger Marshall has written 14 boating-related books including his latest, Fiberglass Repair Illustrated.

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