Be “Green” While Keeping Your Boat Clean

Be “Green” While Keeping Your Boat Clean
By Leah Lancione

     Boat owners assuredly love the water. They get a rush from the smell of the salty air, the wind whipping through their hair and the sight of clean water lapping up against the hull. Therefore, a true sailor is also part conservationist. They undoubtedly want to keep their environment as fresh and unpolluted as possible. To take part in protecting the natural resources of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, boat owners have to adopt “green” practices when it comes to cleaning their boats. 

     Most boaters understand that just as cleaning products can be toxic to humans if mishandled, there are just as many cleaning agents for boats that can be harmful to wildlife inhabitants of the sea. Instead of using products with harsh chemicals, opt for vinegar and baking soda or products that are labeled biodegradable.
     The Boat U.S. Foundation, a nonprofit organization, is dedicated to helping “boaters, anglers and other user groups understand how they can be better stewards of the natural resources they enjoy.” The organization’s website www.boatus.com/foundation/cleanwater recommends spraying off your boat with fresh water regularly to wash off dirt and salt that collects on the boat’s surface. A scrub brush (or nonabrasive sponge) will also help make the task successful. The site maintains that this routine practice will cut down on the need to use products with harsh chemicals to scour through excessive grime. By opting to do major cleaning jobs when the boat is out of the water, it will also keep unwanted additives from getting into the water.
     The Maryland Department of Natural Resources offers Clean Boating Resources at www.dnr.state.md.us/boating/cleanmarina/resources.asp and even lists “clean marinas” that have adopted pollution prevention practices. The DNR’s website also provides tips on minimizing environmental impacts from cleaning and maintaining marine vessels. This site also instructs boaters to use fresh water to clean first, but if a detergent is required, use those which are phosphate-free, biodegradable and nontoxic. Furthermore, refrain from using products that contain ammonia, sodium hypochlorite, chlorinated solvents (bleach), petroleum distillates and lye. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that ingredients containing phosphorus or nitrogen can contribute to nutrient-loading in water bodies, leading to adverse effects on water quality (www.epa.gov/epp/pubs/cleaning.htm). The EPA also insists that by using less hazardous products that “have positive environmental attributes, e.g., biodegradability, low toxicity, low volatile organic compound (VOC) content, reduced packaging, low life cycle energy use,” will help reduce water and air pollution.
     The website BoatSafe.com provides a list of all natural cleaning alternatives to toxic, chemical counterparts. For example, instead of using a scouring powder, use baking soda or a half of a lemon dipped in borax. And, baking soda and vinegar or lemon juice and borax made into a paste can be a substitute for a general cleaner. Chrome can be cleaned and polished with apple cider vinegar and then baby oil. For more examples, visit www.boatsafe.com/nauticalknowhow/vessel_cleaning.htm
     Another way to prevent pollution is to install a marine sanitation device (MSD) to keep untreated sewage from entering the water. If your boat has a marine toilet, a Coast Guard approved MSD is a requirement, but you knew that. The DNR has a webpage www.dnr.state.md.us/boating/pumpout/systemsguide/index.asp that informs boaters on how to install a sewage holding tank/MSD so that it complies with current laws, such as the Clean Water Act of 1972 (amended in 1987).
     Additionally, make it a priority to properly dispose of or recycle boat fuel , oil, antifreeze, batteries or any other potential pollutants. Speaking of recycling, it’s a good idea to keep a trash can and recycle bin on board so you and your “mates” can throw out trash before it ends up blowing away and littering the water and endangering wildlife.
     If you’re looking for proper tools to help you be the “green queen or king,” the website Green Boat Stuff.com provides a range of eco-friendly products, listing organic soaps, eco boat wash and wax, organic trash bins and all sorts of natural cleaners and degreasers.
Be a smart consumer and remember that when you’re purchasing “green” products, the EPA says to “be especially careful in interpreting vague or generic claims such as “environmentally friendly,” “eco-safe,” etc. Shoppers should ask vendors and manufacturers offering “green” cleaning products to clearly and specifically define their “green” claims.” For more information go to www.ftc.gov/opa/2010/10/greenguide.shtm
Once you have adopted “green” methods for cleaning your boat, take it a step further by reporting any pollution or debris you find drifting in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries by calling the Chesapeake Bay Hotline at 877 224-7229. Let’s keep our waters and boats clean!

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