Being a green boater

If you are a boater, kayaker, or wakeboarder, chances are you love the water and being out in nature.

While recreational boating is a great way to experience nature, it can have numerous impacts on the environment - aquatic invasive species can be spread, cleaning agents can pollute, and where you anchor can damage habitat. Learn how you can take care of these places that fill your cup (literally and figuratively) while out on the water.

How does being a green boater benefit salmon?

Taking steps to minimize your impact while out on the water keeps habitats healthy and the water clean thereby reducing the collective pressures that salmon face.

Read on to learn about steps that you can take to prevent negative consequences to the environment and minimize your impact while boating.

Use Environmentally-friendly Cleaning Products and Wash on Land When Possible

Grey water, the water that goes down the drain while washing up, can have impacts to our nearshore environment, especially when it is discarded straight into the water - such as when you are boating or camping. If you are able to, the best option is to wash on land at a marina where dishwashing and showering facilities exist so that water with soaps and detergents will get processed by municipal treatment plants, or at minimum, pass through a septic system.

If you must wash where you will discard the water directly to the environment, here are some considerations:

Similar rules apply for washing and maintaining your boat. Cleaning and maintaining your boat on land is the best option to avoid polluting the ocean and harming marine life. Cleaning within marinas is not a good option. They are typically set up in bays where there is less water exchange, and that means the pollution and residues that enter the water will stay there longer and concentrate in that area.

When cleaning your boat:

How can you be sure a product is safe?

Greenwashing, weak or false environmental claims, can be hard to decipher when faced with a myriad of products on the store shelves. See our post about decoding eco-labels on cleaning products, or try creating your own safe cleaning products with food safe products you probably have in your pantry that are free of harmful chemicals.

Be responsible with your waste

Boating can generate a lot of waste, and it is every boater's responsibility to dispose of it appropriately. Not only is trash in the water unsightly, it can cause death and destruction. Ghost gear (nets and fishing line) entangle fish, birds, and marine mammals; broken down plastics become part of the food chain; and chemicals impact the health of habitats and animals.

It is not always easy to get rid of things while out on the water, so here are some helpful tips:

Paint safely and with non-toxic paints (or avoid painting altogether)

Many boats are coated with anti-fouling paint. The reasons these paints keep your hull from becoming covered with critters is because they contain highly toxic ingredients such as copper pesticides that prevent life from thriving. As you can imagine, residuals from these paints in the environment are terrible for aquatic life.

It is best to avoid painting, instead you can keep your hull clean by:

If you must paint your boat, minimize your impact by:

Pump out properly

This goes without saying, but sewage needs to be managed with the environment in mind. Sewage waste contains concentrated nutrients, chemicals, and pathogens - all of which have serious environmental, human health, and economic consequences.

Excess nutrients can cause algal blooms that rob the water of oxygen. Chemicals including pharmaceuticals, which are found in sewage, can affect behaviour and reproduction of aquatic species. And, bacteria and viruses from human waste can affect sensitive habitats and species, make beaches unsafe for recreation, and cause shellfish closures.

Not only that, it’s against the law to release sewage within 3 nautical miles of shore and sewage can never be discharged in rivers or lakes. Violations can be up to $1 million fine and/or up to 18 months of imprisonment.

Here is how you can avoid releasing sewage to the water:

  • Pump out at official sewage pump outs, become familiar with the locations around the Strait of Georgia and beyond, try using the interactive map by ahoyBC linked on the left.
  • If you don’t have a toilet onboard, use a temporary port-a-potty and haul it out at your next pump out station or washroom.
  • You could also install a marine sanitation device on board.

Fuel up Carefully

Fuel, oils, and all petroleum products used to power and maintain your boat are highly toxic to salmon, other fish, seabirds, shellfish, and, really, everything in the sea.

You can prevent accidental spills by taking care with the following tips:

Watch where you anchor

Avoid anchoring in sensitive habitats like eelgrass meadows, which are important nursery habitat for juvenile salmon and a myriad of sea life. Eelgrass is easily damaged by anchoring - it becomes fragmented and uprooted, reducing the amount of healthy available habitat that these critters and fish need. Anchor deeper than 7m and check out our Tool Kit article on the subject for more tips.

Avoid spreading invasive species

Whether you’re boating or paddling, we need to be careful that invasive species do not hitch a ride with us. Invasive plants and animals can change a landscape if given the opportunity. European green crabs, for example, damages habitats and competes with and preys upon native fauna.

Invasive species can easily be transferred from one body of water to another, so it is imperative to clean your boat and all your gear thoroughly and let it dry fully before using it elsewhere. The Invasive Species Council of British Columbia (ISCBC) provides great tips for preventing the spread of invasive aquatic species with their Clean Drain Dry educational campaign that we summarize below.

Recommendations for preventing the spread of invasive species:

If you invasive species, report them:

Plan your boat’s retirement

All good things come to an end, and for boats planning that end is essential to protecting the environment. Abandoned boats can become navigational hazards, leak contaminants, and move with the currents, scouring sensitive habitats and washing ashore as they go. Abandoned boats often sink, along with all the extra items on board creating more marine debris that is difficult to remove, and any fuel is that is left onboard can leak into the ocean. Responsibly 'retiring' your boat is also required by law, the Wrecked, Abandoned or Hazardous Vessels Act was implemented in 2019 to help regulate the disposal of vessels and outlines the responsibilities of vessel owners.

If your boat is no longer seaworthy, can no longer be safely operated, or the repairs to keep your boat operation exceed the monetary or emotional value of the boat, Boating BC Association suggests its time to retire your boat.

Here are the steps for retiring your boat:

This can be most simply achieved by enlisting a reputable full service boat disposal group to manage all steps to responsibly dispose of your retired boat. The linked document on the left by Boating BC Association is a directory of boat disposal services for the Vancouver Island region. It includes both full service disposal contracts and contacts for each of the steps mentioned above.

If you are simply upgrading your boat but there’s still life left in your old one, you can sell it or donate it to an organization that may have use for a boat.  Find local non-profits close to home with this map of stewardship groups on Vancouver Island.

If you find an abandoned boat, report it!

Report derelict, abandoned boats to the Dead Boats Disposal Society, who specialize in removing and salvaging vessels.

Additional resources

  • Georgia Strait Alliance has written a helpful guide that is freely available. Many of the tips we share come from this guide.

Photo credits: Eiko Jones, Kyla Sheehan, Maria Catanzaro, Debby Hudson on Unsplash, Coastal Photography Studio

Salmon Friendly Docks

Shallow coastal habitats are critical for Pacific Salmon, especially when juveniles first migrate to saltwater.

They use shallow nearshore areas for refuge and finding food, and during this period, healthy eelgrass meadows and complex habitat are vital.

How does building a dock with salmon friendly features benefit salmon?

Creating docks that will maintain important habitat values supports juvenile salmon during a critical phase of their life when they are growing and foraging in the nearshore shallows.

Under traditional docks and overwater structures, it can be dark and barren – eelgrass can not thrive, nor can all the critters that depend on it. The lack of light also impacts salmon behaviour, as they naturally avoid dark areas and end up using deeper waters where they are more exposed to predators and don’t have the food resources they need. To learn more about these impacts, see our post on Salmon and Shoreline Modification you can also learn how to protect eelgrass habitats while you are boating in this post.

Fortunately, with a few considerations, there are ways we can build docks that minimize their impact to the coastal environment and to Pacific salmon.

The best way to protect the shallow coastal habitat is to avoid building docks in the first place.

If you are thinking about building a personal dock, consider if you can store your boat at a marina or at home on land. Could you share a dock with your neighbours? After all, it is a large endeavour to have a dock built. It requires authorization and there are regulations for building and compensation for habitat damage, especially when vital habitat like eelgrass is present. Along with reducing your footprint, sharing a dock also reduces costs and maintenance!

If you must build a dock, make it salmon friendly. Here’s how:

Keep it non-toxic – Do not use creosoted or chemically treated footings, which are highly toxic! If retrofitting an existing structure, remove any treated pilings.

Allow the light to make it through – rather than using solid decking, use grating that allows light penetration to the water. This is a relatively simple fix that can even be applied to existing docks by swapping out sections of decking.

Reduce the number of pilings – make the dock span more like a bridge, and keep the bottom of the dock’s deck at least half a metre above the high-water mark. This will also allow more light to shine through and reduces the amount of submerged artificial structures in shallow areas.

Be considerate at night – don’t leave your lights on overnight. Lights at night can affect natural circadian rhythms and expose fish to nocturnal predators. 

To learn more about better docks for salmon, check out this post on the subject by Lake Washington/Cedar/Sammamish Watershed.

Photo Credits: Joey Genovese Unsplash, Meritt Thomas Unsplash

Protecting Eelgrass When Boating

There are simple steps boaters can take to minimize harm to vital marine habitats such as eelgrass. By practicing mindful anchoring and mooring, slowing down, reducing wakes and avoiding running motors in shallow coastal areas, we can protect critical eelgrass habitat and all the life it supports.

Healthy eelgrass meadows increase the resilience of nearshore habitats and also build resilience in coastal communities. Not only is eelgrass an important nursery ground and refuge area for Pacific salmon and forage fish, it also buffers wave energy, reduces shorelines erosion, stabilizes sediment, improves water quality, and sequesters carbon.

How does protecting eelgrass benefit salmon?

Avoiding accidental damage to eelgrass meadows, which are already facing pressures from pollution and climate change, helps this vital habitat support juvenile salmon and forage fish.

One of key threats to eelgrass is careless anchoring. When anchoring, boaters typically seek out calm bays – which, are also the prime location for eelgrass.  Anchoring can scour and damage eelgrass resulting in a reduction in density and extent, and fragmented habitat. It also suspends sediment in the water column that can smother eelgrass reducing its ability to thrive.

To avoid this damage:

Anchor Deeper

Eelgrass only grows in shallow areas, therefore, damage to eelgrass can be avoided by simply anchoring in depths beyond 7 meters.

Avoid known eelgrass habitat

On some Gulf Islands you may find signs, such as the one on the left that delineate eelgrass habitat. You can also mark locations on your GPS for eelgrass beds to avoid them in the future. Plan your boating and check out the following map of sensitive nearshore habitat to avoid in the Strait of Georgia. The green shows where eelgrass is and the brown shows where kelp forests are.

Use Environmentally Friendly Moorings (mid-line float)

Traditional moorings, which consist of heavy chains and anchors, drag and scour the seafloor as the tide ebbs and flows. This scouring of the seafloor leaves circular scars where eelgrass has been scraped away as can be seen in the picture on the right of San Francisco Bay (Kelly et al. 2019).

Instead, environmentally-friendly moorings contain a mid-line float that holds a rope above the seafloor, and therefore will not scour or damage eelgrass. Mooring buoys can be repurposed, but it is best to contact professionals for advice (have your local tidal information and boat specifications when you call). Trotac Marine in Victoria, BC sell parts to create an environmentally-friendly mooring – keep in mind you need a strong cement block to attach it to. See the diagram below of a recommended mooring design provided by Trotac Marine for additional considerations. Even if you’re anchoring away from eelgrass habitat, these moorings help reduce drag and suspended sediment in the water column.

Mind Voluntary No-Anchor Zones

Voluntary No-Anchor Zones have been implemented in Jefferson County, Washington State, USA, with the aim to reduce boat traffic and reduce damage to sensitive habitats. They have experienced a 98% compliance rate! And now you can look for these marker buoys in Canada – it is now a collaborative transboundary initiative! The first ones have been placed around an eelgrass restoration site on Bowen Island, with the help and input by local community members and SeaChange Marine Conservation Society.

Learn More About Restoring Eelgrass

Photo credits: Jeff Skinner, (Kelly et al. 2019) Coastal Photography Studio.