green boating

Green Boating: 6 Sustainable Best Practices for Boaters

Written by Natalie Faron
April 16, 2024

Last Updated on April 16, 2024 by Boatsetter Team

Before we can talk about green boating, we have to talk about something else—pollution. We know. It is a daunting word. It’s difficult to navigate our current world without interacting with some form of pollution. Increases in human population and land-use changes have threatened the state of the environment for the past 100 years. Not to mention, coastal communities, in particular, rely heavily on clean water and healthy aquatic animals to support their economies.

Boating, both as a form of recreational activity and for commercial purposes, plays its own unique role in contributing potentially harmful effects to our marine ecosystems. There’s no denying that boats have a substantial impact on water quality and aquatic life.

The good news is that there is a course of action we can take to help prevent and decrease the impacts that our watercrafts have on our waterways. As eco-friendly, green boaters, it’s our responsibility to implement and apply sustainable boating best practices each and every time we find ourselves on, in, or near the waters we love.

We’ve compiled a list of six green boating tips that all boaters can easily follow while on the water:

  1. Take steps to limit the amount of oil or fuel that spills into the water.
  2. Always use eco-friendly boat cleaning products that are non-toxic and biodegradable.
  3. Clean, drain, dry your boat after use to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.
  4. Be conscious of both wildlife and aquatic habits, and navigate appropriately.
  5. Properly stow all loose items, including trash, and never throw debris overboard.
  6. Keep an eye on the sky, and always check weather forecasts before heading out.

Before we dive into the details on how to implement these best practices, let’s define what sustainability and ‘green boating’ really means.

sustainable boating

What is ‘Green’ or ‘Sustainable Boating’?

Accordingly to the EPA, sustainability refers to creating and maintaining conditions where humans and nature can co-exist to support present and future generations.

In other words, sustainable boating, often referred to as clean or green boating, supports boating as a recreational activity and helps maintain our waterways for future generations to come.

The harsh reality is, unless we, as recreational boaters, commit to being part of the solution, then we are liable to be seen as part of the problem.

Learn more about Boatsetter’s #MindYourWake sustainability initiatives.

6 Simple Ways to Practice Green Boating

1. Prevent oil and fuel spills whenever possible

Issue: A single gallon of fuel can contaminate 750,000 gallons of water (FDEP 2020). Multiple small spills can have a serious effect on water quality and marine life. Under federal law, it is illegal to discharge any oil or fuel in United States waters and any spills must be reported to the U.S. Coast Guard.

What Steps Can You Take:

  • If possible, fuel boat on dry, highland, away from the water.
  • Keep your hand on the nozzle. Do not use the handle stop.
  • Use a vent collection device to capture escaping fuel.
  • Do not hose off spilled fuel into the water.
  • If your tank overfills, use rags for cleanup. Do not use soaps or detergents on spills!
  • Notify marina management or local authorities immediately if a fuel spill occurs.
  • Remember that proper engine maintenance keeps your boat running smoothly and decreases the level of pollution caused by your engine.

Additional Resources:

mixing fuel and oil for boats

2. Use nontoxic, eco-friendly boat cleaning products

Issue: Many cleaning products used to wash boats contain ingredients that are toxic to fish and harmful to the environment.

What Steps Can You Take:

  • Rinse your boat with freshwater after each use.
  • Use cleaners that are nontoxic, biodegradable, packaged in recyclable containers, and do not contain phosphates, chlorine, ammonia, artificial fragrances, or petroleum products.
  • Wax your boat regularly to prevent dirt and grime buildup, which reduces the need for harsh chemicals.
  • Clean your boat on land, where debris and chemicals can be captured and properly disposed of.

Additional Resources:

3. Follow ‘clean, drain, dry’ protocols to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS)

Issue: Aquatic plants and animals can become attached to boat hulls and trailers and accidentally introduced to new waterways. Invasive species adversely affect native fish and wildlife populations by outcompeting them for food and sunlight. Once established, invasive species can be difficult and expensive to control and eradicate.

What Steps Can You Take:

  • Always check bilges, live wells, hulls, and trailers at boat ramps to minimize the spread of exotics.
  • Remove all visible vegetation from trailers, props, motors, bait wells, fishing tackle, dive gear, and other equipment
  • Do not chop vegetation with propellers.
  • Flush raw water-cooling systems and clean sea strainers before and after transporting boats to other states or countries.

Additional Resources:

clean drain dry - aquatic invasive species

4. Be conscious of both wildlife and aquatic habitats

Issue: Marine animals are susceptible to the impacts of boat propellers, wakes, and waste thrown overboard. Seagrass beds are important aquatic habitats that serve as food sources, refuges, and nursing grounds for a variety of marine life. Seagrasses also serve as carbon stocks and absorb excess CO2 from the atmosphere. They filter pollutants and absorb excessive nutrients in the water, while also helping to offset the effects of sea level rise by stabilizing sediments on the seafloor.

What Steps Can You Take:

  • Avoid known areas of seagrass beds and sandbars.
  • Read the water. A seagrass bed may appear as a large dark area under the water. Polarized glasses can help reduce the surface glare and allow you to see shallow areas and seagrass beds.
  • Do not anchor or moor your boat over an area of seagrass.
  • Do not use propellers to chop aquatic vegetation. Vegetation fragments can lower oxygen levels in the water, lead to excessive erosion, and limit the movement of animals living in these habitats.
  • If you run into a seagrass bed or sandbar, stop immediately and trim up your engine. Use a pole or paddle to move your boat from the seagrass bed or sandbar and, if necessary, walk your boat out of the area. Never try to motor your way out!
  • When in doubt about the depth, slow down and idle. If you are leaving a muddy trail behind your boat, you are probably cutting seagrass.
  • Follow navigational charts, channel markers, and posted signage to avoid sensitive areas.
  • Do not harass wildlife. Look, don’t touch!

Additional Resources:

boaters be conscious of marine habitats

Photos Courtesy: Keys Weekly/Jim McCarthy

5. Practice proper waste management—stow it, don’t throw it

Issue: Keeping waterways free of trash is important for environmental protection, public enjoyment, and the state’s tourism economy. Federal law prohibits vessel operators from discharging plastics into the water. Improper raw sewage disposal and runoff from chemical cleaners can both influence the magnitude of fish kills, harmful algae blooms, and human health issues.

What Steps Can You Take:

  • Properly stow all loose items.
  • Never throw debris overboard. This includes cigarette butts!
  • Encourage your marina and local marine retailers to provide recycling and trash containers. Recycle materials such as glass, aluminum, plastic, newspapers, batteries and oil.
  • Break apart the rings on any plastic beverage holder to prevent animals from becoming trapped in the rings.
  • Dispose of any unneeded bait away from marinas, enclosed rivers or basins.
  • Save, freeze and reuse fish waste as bait or chum for your next trip.
  • Carefully dispose of used fishing line, hooks, and other tackle in an appropriate container.
  • Whenever possible, use restrooms and showers provided on land.
  • Dispose of all waste, including those from pets, properly.
  • On small boats, use portable toilets and dispose of your waste when you return to land.
  • Use enzyme-based products in the holding tank instead of deodorizers and disinfectants that can harm aquatic life.

Additional Resources:

stow it don't throw it green boating tips

6. Plan ahead and monitor for severe weather conditions

Issue: High winds and water levels during storm events can cause the release of normally secure pollutants into the environment. Boats are more likely to sink during a storm event, releasing fuels and other chemicals directly into the environment.

What Steps Can You Take:

  • Discuss with your marina a severe weather preparedness plan.
  • Remove portable marine sanitation devices and containers of paint, fuel, oils, and cleaners from your boat.
  • If possible, remove your boat from the water.
  • Secure boats with extra safety lines and fenders.
  • If possible, use marina provided mooring balls instead of anchors, which can damage seagrass, corals, and other elements of the marine floor.

Additional Resources:

Own a Boat? Learn How to Offset the Cost of Ownership by Listing on Boatsetter

Read other stories within our #MindYourWake Series:

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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in March, 2022 and updated in April, 2024.


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