The modern leisure boating industry is very keen to treat the natural environment with respect. After all, a clean and natural seascape, full of healthy fish and litter-free beaches is a key part of an enjoyable boating experience - and in the last 10 years, we’ve seen plenty of useful steps toward that.
We’ve witnessed the banning of Halon as an extinguishing agent and the emergence of non-toxic biodegradable boat soaps and formaldehyde-free toilet fluids. We’ve seen the development of various devices to minimise fuel spillage, the outlawing of traditional two-strokes engines for leisure use in the UK and the radical improvement of battery technologies.
And yet powerboating is not like other forms of marine recreation. By its very nature, it employs controlled combustion and that means that to some degree, it is always likely to have an environmental footprint. But does that mean we have to accept our mantle as the black sheep of the boating family? Certainly not. There are now a great many ways to make your powerboat life just that bit greener.
Great green engines
Modern four-stroke outboard engines (and the latest direct injection two-strokes), provide unprecedented efficiency when used on a well-matched boat. At the most modest level (for instance, on a small inland fishing craft), this translates into a full day’s entertainment for around a fiver. And even on a small planing vessel (perhaps a five-metre open boat with a 50hp four-stroke), you can still expect a fuel flow rate on a fast cruise of well below the 20 litres per hour mark.
But of course, electric propulsion is where much of the progress is now happening. They are easy to lift, stow and carry, virtually silent in use and extremely cheap to run. In short, the cleanliness, reliability and low maintenance ownership experience of a modern electric engine is very appealing. But don’t be gulled into believing that they are the perfect green answer because they’re not. The electricity used to charge electric boats and engines does not emanate ethereally from the bum holes of vegetarian pixies. It is generated in precisely the same way as the stuff you use when you turn on a light bulb at home, so apply a responsible attitude with the throttle and make each charge last as long as possible, just as you would with a tank of fuel. (For more on electric outboards, check out our features Torqeedo Electric Outboards and Buying the right outboard engine: our top 10 tips)
Great green gadgets
Where there is demand, supply will inevitably follow - and so it is with eco-friendly boating accessories. Solar products have come on a great deal and now range from relatively traditional panels for topping up your batteries right through to self-sufficient accessories like internal and external lights, active vents and phone and radio chargers.
The really keen green skipper can also now equip his boat from stem to stern with low-voltage 12v appliances and LED lights to minimise battery drain. And if he wants more from his fuel, he can explore one of the many fuel additives now available both to petrol and diesel boaters.
As for the vicious toxin that we all once knew as antifoul, well even that can now be applied to a hull with a clear conscience. It is altogether friendlier than it once was and, given how vital a clean hull is to the efficient running of a boat, that is great news for us all.
For a more in depth look at antifouling your boat, see: How to choose antifouling paint.
And if antifoul paint is a bit old-hat for you, there is always the option of ultrasonic antifouling – a means by which algae and other living organisms can be powerfully discouraged from attaching themselves to your boat without causing harm to anything (except perhaps your short-term bank balance).
RYA / BMF Green Blue
In short, there are a huge number of ways for the gadget addict to do his bit - and a great place to start looking is the Green Blue. Created jointly by the British Marine Federation and the RYA, The Green Blue shows you not just the latest gadgets and initiatives but also provides you with the tools to get things right when ashore - from sewage disposal and recycling through to proper wash down protocol and spillage management.
However, one of the easiest ways to make your powerboat life greener right now is simply to use less fuel, so take a look at our Ten Top Tips and do your best to make them happen…
10 practical tips for saving fuel
(1) Make sure you choose an engine powerful enough to run your boat at the desired speeds in the middle of its rev range. This will prove far more efficient than forcing a smaller engine to work hard just to get by.
(2) Trim tabs can radically reduce drag, especially as you accelerate out of the hole, so if your boat is of a relevant size and type, buy some and learn to use them properly.
(3) Check your prop, because the wrong one (or else a damaged unit) can waste a great deal of energy, limiting both acceleration and top end by slipping when it should be finding grip.
(4) Keep your hull as clean and shiny as possible, as a rough, weedy or dirty hull can radically increase drag (by as much as 40 per cent).
(5) Make sure you understand that treating your throttle with a more delicate hand has a direct and substantial impact on the speed with which fuel is burned.
(6) Avoid running with a tank full of fuel unless your navigation plan actually requires it. On larger powerboats, it can easily be the equivalent of six or seven extra men on board.
(7) Work hard at getting the trim of your boat right when underway, not just from the helm but also by distributing the weight more evenly on board.
(8) When you have the option, use dockside shore power rather than a generator.
(9) For best efficiency, keep your engine well serviced and maintained, with clean filters and fluids.
(10) Get a modern data display and set it to show you the fuel-flow rate and cruising range. You can then work toward discovering the most efficient combinations of speed, trim and loading for yourself.
Caring for the environment and protecting your wallet require a very similar approach - and while there are a great many ingenious new products around to aid with that, now (as ever), the really big changes involve your own mindset as a skipper. If you keep your boat and engine in good condition and educate yourself to drive it with sensitivity and expertise, you will be as close to a champion of the green powerboating paradox as anyone could reasonably expect.
Also take a look at our feature Eight ways to keep your boat fuel use to a minimum.