How green is my boat?

Practical: The environment

John Champion examines just how green most of our boats are, and what we can do to alter the balance in favour of the environment. Try our spot quiz to see how your boat rates.

In these days of environmental concern, water crisis, global warming, climate change and carbon credits everyone seems to be pedalling the “green” bandwagon.

Governments are trying to make political hay by offering subsidies and rebates on water tanks and certain hot-water systems. Household appliances are rated according to energy efficiency and social ostracism awaits the fool who buys less than five stars.

Renewable energy is another buzzword, and we are being encouraged to pay more for electricity from renewable sources and so do our bit for the planet. All this is very well but one group seems to have been forgotten; for the cruising sailor this is all old hat, water is always scarce, electricity is always precious.

We as a group are probably as environmentally neutral as a western culture can be. Ever wondered where your solar panel or watermaker grant/rebate/tax break is in the political.

How we want to live
Essentially it's all about how we want to live. Some people refuse to exist outside certain temperatures, and reverse-cycle air-conditioners have come to the rescue. Simply dial up a climate and live within the desired range regardless of the weather and wear the clothes you like, not what you may need. Phone the air-conditioning companies and ask how business is; you can get the number from their radio ads.

These normally feature after the “educational” piece that tells us how much power we can save by setting the thermostat to 25¡c rather than 23¡c.

Every lobby group enjoys pointing the finger at another. The automotive industry says if you want to make a difference then turn off a light. The electricity goons reckon you should catch a bus to secure your place in a continued earthly paradise. Maybe do both and while you are at it pay an additional (and perhaps optional) carbon credit fee on that next plane trip. This will offset the pollution and consequential drought you are personally responsible for by riding in an aircraft. Very clever, this – the ultimate in user-pays philosophy and guilt may prove to be a powerful motivation that will allow us to continue to pollute with a clear conscience.

Speaking of carbon credits
If the carbon trading schemes of our masters come to fruition how much are liveaboard cruisers going to be entitled to?

Take a tySo we as a group need to establish how we are part of the solution and how our green boats could serve as a model for the reformed society that climate change is demanding.

Multiple benefits
Sooner or later we too will pollute. Most liveaboard vessels have engines, and if there is one then it will be used with all the consequences of internal combustion. Fossil fuel will be changed into energy, by-products will spew forth and the trickle that was the river Murray will further diminish. Sinful conduct, without doubt, but at least the energy expended has a number of functions.

In addition to moving our boat the engine will be supplying electricity for our current demands, charging the batteries for our future use and heating water in many instances. Imagine if every vehicle in Australia could make a similar claim. By driving to work and back we could run the household lights, refrigeration and heat the bath water. This would make a real contribution to the environment and no doubt send us back to the economic Stone Age, if some corporations are to be believed.

Some boats are greener than others. If you have two V12 diesels for propulsion and two gen sets to run the electric barbecue and blow-dry bidets, then stop reading and go polish the pitchfork; the following will be of little interest.

Solar panels will significantly contribute to charged batteries. More panels equal more energy.

Unfortunately these are expensive and require expensive mounting solutions. However, it is apparent to me that the cruising community values environmental factors highly and is prepared to pay the exorbitant and unsubsidised price for this equipment. More carbon credits due, please.

Wind generators are a similar prospect, with perhaps even a greater level of personal conviction shown by the planet-loving boater. Numerous proposals have been knocked around in the media about wind farms and the great contribution to energy efficiency associated with power generation of this form. Trouble is nobody wants to live near one. Objections from people in the region make it quite difficult to get the projects underway. They are unsightly, noisy and indiscriminate killers of rare birds, I understand. How then do numerous yachties cope with living underneath one of these monstrosities? While the rest of Australia is busy objecting to council, politicians and anyone who will listen (and many who will not) our ultimate greenie is busily coughing up thousands to put a windmill scant centimetres away. This act of selfless environmentalism deserves another portfolio of carbon credits.

Water, water everywhere

And nor any drop to drink, says the line. This is becoming a bit more like the truth. We have been busy flushing our toilets and growing lawn with prime (excludes Adelaide of course) drinking water since day one. Day one of the flushing dunny anyway (been called water closets for a while haven't they?) and lawns for longer, I bet. This is a good opportunity to point out that cruising boats use salt water to flush the toilet; another fine example of greenery afloat. So now the water is running out or we are in the midst of a natural drought, depending on your opinion. Water leases and rights are being traded, stolen and begged. Irrigators are being denied water, which means no crops. The Federal Government wants to take over all the water and most of the country has water restrictions of one type or another.

So, something needs to be done, and soon. “See the large blue, shimmery thing yonder,” says a visionary leader, “'tis water and can be drunk if we but remove the briny.” Desalination is the new solution. Spend a good piece of Telstra and build giant watermakers to quench the thirst of our parched dunnies.

Southeast Queensland has water restrictions and fairly strict ones. Each person in the household is allowed and/or encouraged to use no more than 140L of water per day. Now these are high-level restrictions but imagine the boundless delight of our cruising couple to have 140L between them each day? Many boats would make this last a week ð some much longer. Funnily enough, watermakers have been around boats for a fair while. Hideously expensive as they are (OK, getting more affordable all the time, please don't tamper with my membrane), these little beauties have the ability to make a drop to drink. Throw in the aforementioned solar panels, wind generator and shazzam! Just like the cartoon about the genie who appeared when all parts of the ring were joined, we have the lot ð fresh water made from entirely renewable sources.

Rain, when it falls, is also water and our task is to catch it. In essence our boats are like little dams. All we need to ease the water restrictions is rainfall in the right place and the ability to store it. This is why many people are entitled to a rebate on the cost of a rainwater tank. I heard Premier (at the time) Peter Beattie on the radio a while ago saying his government had just achieved a payment rate of $1,000,000 per day for tank rebates. Now this is the action we should be talking about. Nothing like a large awning for catching water and the more the better. However, a good awning will probably set one back a good percentage of that rainwater tank but not a cent do we see. How many credits do we achieve for using water frugally and how many for catching and producing our own? Lucky we do these things or the population of Brisbane would be one step closer to drinking from their toilets.

Offsetting CO2
I have a credit card and this card has points awarded to it at the rate of one point per dollar spent. These points may be redeemed for various things. Generally products of exceptional utility like toasters, clock-radios and styling wands. Imagine my delight when the new brochure arrived informing me that I can now exchange the points for certificates that represent offsets to my CO2XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX emissions! The details claim that a 14-tonne offset is equivalent to the emissions generated by an average household for a year. This certificate will only set me back 101,800 points. So I spend $100,000 annually on the card and can be officially carbon-neutral. Another option allows you to support alternative energy options like wind farms; got my own, thanks, and it is running the computer and fridges as I write. Nothing builds a thirst like pounding a keyboard and I know it's going to be cold! How about a program that rewards us for not producing the noxious gear in the first place?

A few thou in my direction will enable even more solar panels and I promise not to spend a cent on administration, advertising and good corporate citizenship programs. Of course, we are all looking forward to clean-coal technology. This “silver bullet” (so called because of the similarity of coal miners after a few beers and werewolves I'm told) is all that stands between us and many split atoms. Yes, folks, nuclear power is a fine option and maybe coming to a site near you.

I saw a boat recently that was built in France. This vessel had a couple of solar panels and two (yes, count 'em, two) wind generators. Now as I recall the French have had a sizable proportion of their electricity (and selected coral atolls) powered by nukes for quite a while. These sailors, despite familiarity with nuclear energy, had chosen to power their boat by alternative sources and not install a reactor. This made me think maybe there is an alternative to giving Monty Burns free rein in our cities. Sometime in the future the tally will be made and perhaps we will then be granted our true worth in the new society. Carbon credits will be showered upon us and maybe then we can get that old Boeing 747 we always wanted.

The cost of green
roughly based on my boat, the Hunter 40 Rancho Relaxo)
Solar panels 100 watt x two $1500
Wind generator 400 watt $1400
Stainless mounting arch $2500
Batteries 500ah $ 900
Sails (jib, main, shute) $7300
Watermaker $2000
Rain-catcher awning $1500
Total $17,100

Obviously there is no change from 20k if you throw in another jib and a sock for the asymmetrical. I desperately need a new suite of laminated sails so am perfectly happy to offset your obscene amounts of emissions by continuing to sail even more efficiently. Please support generously and help to save our planet.

Just how green is your boat? Take our spot quiz and find out
1) If your boat has twin V12 engines what should you do?
A Polish your pitchfork
B Blow-dry your hair
C Buy me laminated sails to offset your carbon and clear the conscience

2) How was the French boat powered?
A Clean-coal technology
B A small reactor
C Two wind generators

3) When in Brisbane which would you rather drink from?
A The Murray river
B Your own dunny
C None of the above

4) Do I need laminated sails?
A Yes
B No
C Of course, fool. Do you need to offset carbon?

5) What will you do with your carbon credits?
A Get a bigger carbie on the outboard
B Buy a 747
C Nothing 'cause you won't get any

6) What is the best way of offsetting carbon emissions?
A Get a credit card
B Light a fire
C Send me laminated sails

7) Rain, when it falls, is?
A Not going to happen anymore
B Water
C A bloody nuisance

8) Who is to blame for global warming?
A The automotive industry
B The electricity goons
C Anybody who doesn't agree with us

9) What stands between us and a nuclear future?
A Ziggy (ex-Telstra/Optus guy)
B A lead shield
C Werewolves

10) What Is the “large blue shimmery thing yonder?”
A The saviour of parched toilets
B A visionary leader
C A new source of lawn food

11) What is the best way to catch water?
A Motor around looking for rain clouds
B Build a dam on deck
C Put up a large awning


1) C. 2) C. 3) C. 4) C. 5) C. 6) C. 7) B. 8) C. 9) C. 10) A & C Huh! Thought it was easy eh? 11) C

How you scored.

11 out of 11. You cheated – send sails;

10 from 11. You probably already have good sails;

6 to 9. You are an idealist who needs a credit card;

3 to 6. You need help with emissions – send sails immediately;

Less than 3. You have a polished pitchfork; I imagine you are very comfortable and not likely to sponsor a sail.

Jeanneau JY60
M.O.S.S Australia
NAV at Home
West Systems
Cyclops Marine