Sail Green: Sustainable Escapes

What charter companies are doing to lessen their environmental impact at their base locations.

fragile ecosystems
Many charter destinations are also home to fragile ecosystems, above and below the surface.Tor Johnson

For me, as a resident of the Pacific Northwest, a midwinter sailing escape to somewhere warm makes the cold more bearable. But as an environmentalist, I find the challenge to be escaping the chill without leaving a huge environmental wake. Fortunately, charter companies are actively working to mitigate this challenge. But, as with creating any positive change, success—and vis-a-vis chartering's long-term sustainability—also requires active user participation.

“Our biggest green step forward [involves] cladding our new monohulls with a vinyl silicone wrap instead of conventional antifouling,” says Andrew Thompson, Horizon Yacht Charters’ director, adding that the company expects these wraps to last for five seasons before needing refreshing. “The wrap is too slick for marine life to adhere to, and any growth can be wiped off with a cloth, no scrubbing ­required,” Thompson says. “This is potentially a game-changing product for both the environment and bottom antifouling performance.”

Additionally, Horizon Yacht Charters purchases biodegradable boat soaps in bulk (read: reduced packaging), enforces a no-bleach policy, and uses water from Nanny Cay's reverse-osmosis plant aboard all of their charter boats. Additionally, all staff members are issued insulated (and commercially available) water bottles that they refill using this same water.

Other charter companies are planning similar actions. "It's up to us to pave the way in environmentally friendly charters and bases, and to address the sustainability issues that surround the industry as a whole," says Dan Lockyer, Dream Yacht Charter's General Manager. "The impact we make now in reducing our carbon footprint and respecting our cruising grounds will ensure the health of the oceans, marine life, and indigenous plant species for future generations to explore."

According to Shannan Brennan, Dream Yacht Charter’s marketing manager for the Americas, the company’s board of directors is working on a three-year blueprint for its global ­operations. Examples of its intended efforts include eliminating single-use plastic water bottles by installing watermakers and additional tankage aboard their charter fleet, facilitating waste and recycling at the company’s bases, and stocking all charter boats with biodegradable detergents, shampoos and soaps. Additionally, charterers will receive instruction on reef-friendly anchoring techniques, and on sunscreens and behaviors that won’t harm wildlife.

In terms of operations, Brennan says that the company's board is interested in partnering with local nongovernmental organizations such as the Association of Reef Keepers and Unite BVI, which are focused (respectively) on preserving reefs and ­endangered-turtle populations in the British Virgin Islands.

While these initiatives are great, it’s critical that charterers contribute. This starts with pre-charter efforts such as researching environmentally benign sunscreens, and continues throughout the charter with steps including properly handling recyclables and other trash, and treading as lightly as possible with wildlife.

Finally, charterers can ­continue to be good environmental stewards by pressing their charter companies to take bold steps such as forgoing ablative paints and single-use plastics. Not only is this the most seamanlike thing to do, but it will also help ensure that midwinter charter escapes continue to be available for all sailors.