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Greener, cleaner boating

It’s a widely held misconception that living on board a boat is always greener than living on the land. But there are lots of things live aboard boaters can do to make our way of life greener, and in our own way take small steps towards action on climate change.

Planning your route in advance will help you find good mooring spots

Inland canal boats generally have diesel engines, they often have solid fuel stove heating systems and their toilet systems can use a variety of chemicals which are often harmful to the environment. Yet the vast majority of boaters would agree that they love wildlife and the great outdoors. So what can we do to mitigate or reduce our impact on the environment we care about so much?

Living “off-grid,” most liveaboard boaters have to generate their own electricity which can result in more hours of running our noisy, polluting engines or generators then perhaps we or anybody else would like. Long hours of engine or genny running can also cause conflict with land-based neighbours. The solution is to either reduce the amount of things that need powering by electricity, or look at cleaner ways of generating it.

How much power?

Carry out a power-audit of what uses electricity on your boat. We changed the lighting on our boat from halogen to LED some years ago. This has reduced the energy drain on our batteries from 16 Amps (A) to just 1.6A, if we switch everything on at once. We also have a number of solar lights, including one for emergencies. Have a look at the other electrical devices on your boat, do you really need an electric toaster, kettle, microwave, washing machine, dishwasher, freezer, hair dryer, mega sound system and home cinema system? It's a boat, not a floating flat!

Work out what your priorities are, how much power each device uses and then decide if you really, really need it. My personal boat luxury is a washing machine, but when we are out cruising we rely on launderettes, especially ones that do service washes whilst you explore the local area. We don't have a television or sound system, having ditched both long ago. If we want to listen to the radio we have a wind-up one that also doubles as an emergency light. And we don't bother with electronic book readers but old-fashioned real books. As you cruise around the country, there are loads of places from marina laundry rooms to pubs and boat clubs where you can shake up your floating library and find something new to read.

Go solar

Although it's possible to reduce your electricity consumption, you will still need to generate it to keep your batteries topped up to run water pumps, lighting and to start your engine. Investing in solar power makes great sense for boaters as it's quiet in operation and, depending on your set up, can contribute significantly toward your entire electricity demand. The actual output of solar panels will vary depending upon the time of year, but even during the winter you will still get some contribution towards battery charging. If you want to find out more why not visit @CruisingtheCut's informative Vlogs on installing solar power and his assessment on winter solar output. Wind turbines are another option but can be very noisy. General boater consensus seems to be that solar power is preferable to wind power.

What else can we do?

What other steps can we take as boaters to look after our environment? Changing to “greener” toilet chemicals for pump-out and cassette toilets, or even changing over to composting toilets provided that you dispose of the waste correctly. Huge advances have been made in recent years in composting toilets that are suitable for boats, but they are not to everyone's taste and you'll still need to dispose of solids and liquids safely and without harming the environment.

Using greener cleaning products is another simple step we can all take as our grey water discharges directly into the canal or river. Phosphates in standard cleaning and washing products contribute to the rapid growth of duckweed & pennywort during the summer and all the problems these pests can cause for us boaters and wildlife.

We can also recycle our waste. Lots of rubbish disposal sites run by the Trust now offer recycling opportunities and the number is steadily increasing. Not fly-tipping inappropriate waste at rubbish points, such as used engine oil, old kitchen units, mattresses and more helps protect the environment and also saves the Trust money. You'd be shocked at how much it costs to deal with mis-use and fly-tipping at Trust rubbish points. It's money that could be spent on better things like dredging and vegetation management.

And finally, having raised the issue of used engine oil, we need to talk about the big diesel-powered lump located in most boats. Well-maintained engines run more efficiently, produce fewer emissions and are less likely to leak pollutants. If you have a leak or spill into your engine bay, please do not pump it out into the canal where it can harm wildlife. Use oil absorbent spill matts, nappies or even cat litter to mop it up and then dispose of it correctly, normally at a local authority waste site. And learn to keep your engine in tip top condition. There's plenty of courses out there if you are a mechanical novice.

Show the Love

There's plenty of advice out there on less polluting power and reducing your impact on the environment. Whatever you do and however you do it, please Show the Love this year and make your own boating contribution to protecting our precious canal and river network for now and for the future.

home made green heart badge for show the love day
#ShowTheLove is organised by The Climate Coalition, the UK's largest group of people dedicated to action on climate change and limiting its impact on the people, places and life we love at home in the UK and around the world.

Last Edited: 08 September 2023

photo of a location on the canals
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