Are Sailboats Bad For The Environment?

Are Sailboats Bad For The Environment? | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

May 11, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Carbon dioxide among sailing boats are an example of a bad environmental impact
  • Sailboats are not the worst for the environment but still need proper attention
  • Renewable energy will help mitigate fossil fuel use
  • Leave marine life alone in their natural habitats to help their survival
  • Properly dispose of chemicals and trash to avoid polluting the water

Sailing is an excellent way to explore different waters and see many types of locations. But are sailboats bad for the environment?

Sailboats are bad for the environment in a few ways. These include carbon dioxide emissions, various environmental impacts, and disruption of marine wildlife. While sailing is not the worst for the environment it is important to be conscious of your activities on the water.

In my experience, there are ways to help reduce your environmental impact and on the water. By taking the time to research your actions it can make the biggest difference to become eco friendly on your boat.


Table of contents

How Sailboats are Bad on the Environment

There is a long list of things that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does to help contribute to cleaning the pollution of the environment and ocean. Sailing or boating in general is a small fraction of these pollutants but it is still important to be mindful of your actions.

Pollution from the Boat Engine

Boat engine use is required when approaching a dock or when you want to slowly cruise in a location without the sails. There are actually two kinds of pollution from the boat engine. These are known as carbon emissions and noise pollution.

Carbon dioxide is contributing to the carbon footprint in the world. The more greenhouse gas emissions we emit from vehicles or other forms of transportation, it is believed we are aiding in global warming and air quality.

The best way to help reduce your carbon footprint is to have a fuel efficient boat since most of these run off of fossil fuels. Some boats are being built with solar panels to help power the boat which would be excellent in reducing carbon emissions.

As far as noise, two stroke engines and four stroke engines for example can be quite loud when in use. These are harmful to marine life and other aquatic animals that are sensitive to these loud sounds.

Harmful Chemicals

Various chemicals are mixed in the water every day when boats are active. These mess with the water’s chemistry and can make it more acidic or alkaline and cause it to harm wildlife.

Algae also tends to grow more in areas that have a lot of boat traffic. In combination of sediment that boats help kick up and cause negative impacts and messes with water quality.

If you use anti fouling paint you might want want to reconsider. These are a hazard to marine life and it leaches into the water. Instead you should consider using a coating free alternative such as an ultrasonic anti-fouling or other coatings that are safe for ocean wildlife.

Harm to Aquatic Life

Every time you go sailing there is a risk that nearby wildlife are harmed in the activity. They are impacted in three different ways such as:

  • Physically
  • Chemically
  • Biologically


Physical damage means wildlife and any vegetation that is degraded by the use of anchors, running aground, and the behaviour of animals due to noise. This also includes pollution from trash or even fishing lines that are left in the water for animals to ingest or be entangled in.

Some marine wildlife like manatees are impacted directly by boats. They do not move fast in the water and have a difficult time getting away from danger if it is moving fast at them.


Any chemical that sprayed or applied to your boat can and will be leached into the water. This also includes sewage or other liquids dumped into the water and affects the life cycle assessment (LCA). Ocean life are subject to diseases and cancer due to chemicals in the water.

Marine Biology

In addition to chemical issues in the water marine organisms are subject to biology changes. This means it causes a difficult impact on the environment and even death on marine life that are trying to survive.

Tips to Becoming Eco-Friendly While Sailing

Being eco-friendly on the water has a huge positive impact on underwater ecosystems and other environmental impacts. You can also check out the latest environmentally friendly trends online or environmental issues and how to combat them.

Reducing Carbon Footprint

Using your sails is going to be the priority of sailing. If you are using them a majority of the time then you are not contributing to your carbon footprint and letting out carbon dioxide.

The other way to reduce your carbon footprint is to have better fuel economy. In order to have better fuel efficiency you might need to reduce weight or limit the number of people onboard your boat.

Becoming Energy Efficient

The best renewable energy in recreational boating is the wind so make sure you utilize it. You can also look into solar powered devices that help keep you boat battery charged. Try not to use a ton of electrical energy onboard to run your battery down and cause you to run your engine.

Choosing Eco-Friendly Anchors

Metal anchors have proven to last a long time. However, they leach nickel and various metals into the water that are harmful to marine life.

Try to aim for anchors that are more eco-friendly and do not leach metals into the water. You should also try to anchor in places that have sandy bottoms so that you do not disturb marine life.

Additional Tasks to Become Eco-Friendly on the Water

There are a handful of other steps you can take to become a better person for the environment while sailing.

Beaches That are Blue Flag

Blue flag beaches are ones that adhere to strict environmental practices. These include marinas and areas that follow sustainable actions to help the environment.

Catch and Release Fishing

Depending on where you are fishing, you might want to do research for what type of fish are being caught too much. There are also times of the year where you cannot catch certain types of fish in various areas. You should aim to catch and release and not over fish certain populations.

Use the Marina for Services

When you can, try to use the services offered by the marina you are at. If you have a holding tank, make sure to dump at the marina and use eco-friendly toilet cleaners.

Dumping your black tank in marine sensitive areas is not allowed. When you do clean the toilet and tank, use approved chemicals that are safe for water and recycled toilet paper so it breaks down easier.

Keep Distance from Marine Life

If you happen to see marine life, it is best to keep your distance. While up close pictures are great for social media or personal collection, you run the risk of hurting the marine life or damaging their home.

You can bring binoculars to help keep your distance and see marine life from far away. You should also maintain a steady speed on the water and not try to go as fast as you can to avoid disrupting marine life.

Are Sailboats Bad For The Environment?
Daniel Wade

Daniel Wade

I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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