Sailing for Change

If clean water globally is your priority, start at home.

December 14, 2010

sailing for change

The clean regatta programs run by Sailors for the Sea provide opportunities to cut down on trash. Tim Wilkes

Paddling my board across the glassy, early morning water of the harbor and taking in the relative calm around me—the gulls and their morning calls, the gentle breeze, a few greetings from nearby mariners—I spy more than seaweed and jellyfish floating nearby.

I come across cigarette butts, broken foam cups, and other unidentifiable detritus. Having finished my workout, I’m carrying my paddleboard across the beach, and I find clusters of trash at the high-tide mark interspersed with eelgrass, seaweed, fishing line, and a dead gull. It’s more than I can carry in two trips to the trash bins.

Trash, plastics, and general marine debris continue to pollute lake, coastal, and ocean waters. Whether you’re sailing from the local yacht club, paddling your kayak, paddleboard, or dinghy in a harbor, or swimming in a favorite summer spot, pollution that’s seen and unseen is ubiquitous. It’s a danger to human health, the ecosystem, and our economy. No one willfully chooses to fish, swim, or sail in such waters, yet the contamination is impossible to avoid. Can anything be done to stop the flow of garbage and pollutants that are having such a negative impact on local waters?


Sailors for the Sea, a nonprofit organization that educates and empowers the boating community to protect and restore the world’s oceans and coastal waters, was founded as a direct result of the involvement of David Rockefeller Jr. on the Pew Oceans Commission, which in 2003 released recommendations to assist the federal government in its management of America’s marine environment.

The goal of Sailors for the Sea is to galvanize the sailing and boating community around the issues of ocean health. Headquartered in Newport, Rhode Island, the nonprofit and its network of partners, via websites and programs, show communities worldwide how to engage locally and take steps along the waterfront toward making a difference for the better.

Organizations such as the Scripps Institution of Oceanography collaborate with Sailors for the Sea on Clean Regattas, the Around the Americas expedition, and similar programs. Other projects, such as the education-based Rainy-Day Kits for young sailors and the Certified Sea Friendly program for marine manufacturers, are currently in development.


Our Clean Regatta program continues to gain momentum, with events on the U.S. East, West, and Gulf coasts as well as on the Great Lakes. In conjunction with the environmentally-focused sailing team 11th-Hour Racing, Clean Regatta issues certification to groups that commit to preventing marine debris, providing oil-spill prevention kits to all crews, educating participants on using nontoxic cleaning products, going paperless with electronic press kits, and using biodegradable cups, towels, and garbage bags during events.

Collaboration with partner organizations is also vital to the development of the Rainy-Day Kits program, an environmental-education program that provides an interactive experience by connecting young sailors to the marine environment beneath their hulls.

And the voluntary Certified Sea Friendly program highlights the important connections between clean oceans and a healthy economy as it seeks to transform the marine-manufacturing industry and make the construction, maintenance, and operation of vessels more environmentally relevant. Cooperation and dialogue with marine-industry experts from J/Boats, the International Yacht Restoration School, and the American Boat & Yacht Council, among others, has facilitated the drafting of the C.S.F. program plan. It’s designed to educate, empower, and ultimately certify environmentally responsible builders and designers of recreational boats based upon standards we’ve developed. The C.S.F. green rating scale is an opportunity to establish the ecological value of a specific vessel with benefits to the brand and owner in terms of resale value. The C.S.F. program also intends to assure retail purchasers and the marine industry that the standards enhance a product’s value to sellers and consumers. The shift in focus is toward sustainability while boat production remains regionally practical and achievable.


Sailors for the Sea also supports other projects. These include the co-sponsorship of A Sea Change, a documentary about ocean acidification, and the co-sponsorship and co-origination of the Around the Americas expedition, completed in June 2010 and chronicled in the pages of Cruising World. The crew of the 13-month-long expedition, led by Ocean Watch’s captain, Mark Schrader, with CW editor at large Herb McCormick aboard, completed a 27,000-mile circumnavigation of the American continents. Its mission was simple: to inspire, educate, and engage citizens of the Americas to protect fragile oceans and to increase awareness of related issues.

Whether you choose to join Sailors for the Sea, start a local chapter, participate in one of our programs, or take your own personal action to protect and restore the marine ecosystem, your involvement helps make the lakes, bays, coastal waters, and oceans cleaner, more healthy places on which to sail with family and friends.

Dan Pingaro worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and San Francisco’s Marine Science Institute before becoming the executive director of Sailors for the Sea. For more details about the group, consult its website (


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