As boaters we all love spending time on the water, but we have a duty to be environmentally conscious of marine wildlife at all times in order to protect and preserve our waterways for the future.

There are lots of ways we can either completely avoid or minimise harm to marine wildlife and ecosystems = here’s some of our top tips for protecting marine wildlife this summer.

The Impact of Oils and Fuels on Marine Wildlife

Did you know only 5% of oil and fuel pollution in our waters is from catastrophic spills, most is from everyday boat refuelling, engine emissions and oil leaks. The legal limit for oil and fuel in water discharge is roughly one drop of oil in two litres of water (15mg/l), if it's any more then wildlife and habitats suffer - 1 litre of oil can pollute one million litres of water. 

Make sure you check your bilge is free from oil before pumping and install an in-line bilge filter to remove oil when pumping out water. Use an absorbent sock to control oil and fuel in the bilge and make sure you use a large enough funnel if you have to refuel onboard. Maintain fuel lines, connections and seals to avoid any leaks and always transfer waste oil and fuel in proper containers. 

Remember that oily or fuel-soaked materials are considered hazardous waste, so you must dispose of them in the appropriate facilities. Avoid overfilling the tank and always allow room for the fuel to expand. Never use detergent to deal with spills, it may help to disperse the fuel or oil, but it can do even more damage. When onshore try not to use oil and fuel within ten metres of the water and always try to use a fuel collar to catch drips or blowback when refuelling. To find out more about your nearest disposal centre visit here 

Eco-friendly Boat Cleaning

Most boat cleaning detergents contain phosphates which can cause algal blooms and oxygen depletion which can suffocate aquatic life. Products used on boat hulls and decks can also contain chemicals and solvents which can affect the way wildlife feeds, breathes and breeds. 

Choosing environmentally-friendly products for cleaning your boat is really important for protecting marine wildlife - avoid chlorine, bleach products and phosphates in particular. Try to use non-toxic solutions wherever possible, traditional water and elbow grease are the best, and use a detergent-free washball if you have a washing machine onboard. 

Waxing the hull of your boat keeps you fuel efficient and reduces the need for cleaning products. When cleaning the hull, only scrub off the fouling, not the underlying paint, be careful not to let waste material enter the water or run into water drains. It’s good practice to regularly bring your boat ashore to clean and remove fouling from both the boat and your equipment to help prevent the spread of aquatic Invasive Non-Native Species (INNS) in our coastal waters. Find environmentally friendly cleaning products here

Renew your anti-fouling

Anti-fouling paints work largely by releasing biocides into the water; most paints, used brushes, rollers and trays are now classified as hazardous waste. These toxins can build up in the food chain and can cause a wide range of environmental problems. It’s really important to prevent anti-fouling from unnecessarily entering the water, try to catch scrapings and drips by skirting the hull and using a tarpaulin. Don’t leave a coloured patch under your boat! 

Check your drains and avoid applying and removing antifoul near rainwater drains where paint and scrapings can enter the local environment. Only scrub off the fouling and not the paint and be careful not to let the debris enter the water. Try to encourage your marina, club or boatyard to collect and properly dispose of wash down residues. Choose the lowest levels of biocides when selecting your antifoul, you can contact your paint supplier for extra information on the best type of antifoul for your boat and use. Look into environmentally friendly, non-toxic, foul release technologies here

Watch your waste at sea

Marine litter is a wide range of materials including plastic, metal, wood, rubber, glass and paper, it tends to be dominated by plastic which accounts for 80% of items found on beaches in the North-East Atlantic. It’s estimated that more than a million birds and thousands of marine mammals and turtles die every year from ingestion or entanglement from plastics alone. You must be aware of not throwing anything over the side of your boat, including food, and try to prevent loose items from blowing overboard. 

Avoid any products that contain microplastics, especially polyethylene and avoid single use plastics, use refillable, reusable bottles instead. Use starch-based rubbish bags which can be composted and take all packaging home to recycle - most marinas, clubs and harbours will have recycling facilities for you to use. Find your local recycling facilities here

Use resources at sea sustainability

Global warming will see our sea level rise and more extreme weather conditions which will have a significant effect on the recreational boating community. Increased risk of flooding may see a loss of waterside facilities, damage to existing facilities and an increase in insurance prices. We have to take responsibility to cut our emissions - consider alternatives such as electric, biodiesel engines and water lubricated stern glands. 

Look at changing to low-energy electrics and the use of solar or wind energy where you can. Ask for environmental policies of businesses and manufacturers and the ability to recycle kit or craft. Keep your hull clean, engine running efficiently and trim the engine to minimise fuel consumption, maybe set off earlier so you can get the most out of your sail! For tips on reducing your carbon footprint click here

Discharge sewage responsibly when onboard

Untreated sewage from boats can spread gastroenteritis, contaminate shellfish beds,  mussels ropes and use up vital oxygen in the water. Human waste contains chemicals that can increase levels of algae and reduce water clarity and the chemicals used to breakdown and deodorise waste are toxic to marine life. 

Try to only use sea toilets in the open sea where waste can be quickly diluted and dispersed and always use pump out facilities where available. If you have to empty your tanks, try to do so more than 3 miles offshore, take care not to do this in areas of poor tidal flushing like marinas or where there’s shellfish beds. If you can, use shoreside facilities where possible and plan ahead on where to empty your chemical toilets - you could consider fitting a holding tank which is law in some European countries. For a directory of pump-out facilities click here

Cut noise and exhaust fumes when boating

Not only do noise and exhaust fumes interfere with our enjoyment on a peaceful day on the water and contribute to poor air quality, but this noise can have detrimental effects on the wildlife that lives and breeds in our waters. You should regularly service your engine to lower fuel costs and emissions, using CE marked outboard engines manufactured after 2005 or electric engines can increase your fuel efficiency, reduce noise and decrease emissions. 

Fitting sound insulation around the engine can also cut noise by 85%, vibration absorbers can also reduce structural noise and you could consider an electric powered craft! You can also try switching to biodegradable hydraulic and lubricating oils - to find out more click here

Appreciate but don’t disturb marine wildlife

Our oceans support an estimated 10 million species, but less than 3% have been identified. Our waters are home to the world’s second largest fish, the basking shark and the UK hosts almost 6 million migratory waterbirds. Wildlife numbers are falling due to climate change and pressure from development and disturbance. When we are on the water we need to be mindful of who we are sharing it with, think about your speed, be steady, predictable, quiet and cautious around marine wildlife. 

If you spot something in the distance, it pops up port side or you’re in shallower depths, be respectful and always think about what might be above, alongside or underneath your boat. If you pass seals hauled out on rocks or colonies of roosting birds on a cliff edge, don’t overstay your welcome and be respectful of their habitat. Disturbance can be caused by noise, proximity, wake and erratic movement, a lot of marine species are protected and there’s legislation which makes it a deliberate offence. Look into local advice and marine codes of where you’re boating, and learn about any local protections you need to be aware of. For The Green Wildlife Guide for boaters click here

We hope these top tips on protecting marine wildlife have been useful and help you to take more care when on the water. If we all do our bit we can work towards making a more environmentally sustainable boating community for us all.