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Green Boating: Eco-Friendly Tips to Keep our waterways clean for a fresh summer



We think boating is certainly the best way to spend time on the water, but we also care about the environment just as much as we do a fun day of boating. When boaters make poor decisions or don’t take the proper preventative measures, many unintentional and unexpected consequences can affect our famous Southwest Florida environment.

Since summer is right around the corner, it’s time to take stock of your sunscreen, bring out the beach toys, and dig up your swimsuits from the back of your closets. Whether you’re planning on keeping it easy (hello staycation!) or visiting from afar, we’re here to give you some quick tips for keeping our waterways fresh and clean all summer long.


Be Seagrass Safe

Trimming your motor up in shallow waters may be one of the easiest ways to prevent further damage to our ecosystem. When propellers slash into seabeds, not only does water clarity decrease, but a large majority of Florida’s fish species are affected. About 70% of fish spend at least one part of their life cycle in this crucial ecosystem, so when they don’t have a place to hide from larger predators or have a place to start their nursery, the population is heavily affected. This then puts a huge dent in commercial and recreational fishing and nature/wildlife tourism, one of the largest industries in the state.

Scarring also leaves seagrass beds vulnerable to storms like our typical seasonal hurricanes. According to, over 30,000 acres of south Florida’s seagrass have been scarred by boat propellers. If you run in skinny water, keep this number in mind so you can do your part to prevent this number from increasing.

Keep It Clean

A good Captain knows how to keep the boat clean, so chances are you already have a supply of clean rags on board to clean up oil or fuel spills the second they hit the deck. If you’re looking for all natural cleaning products to use on your boat, be sure to do your homework and read up on the ingredients list.

A pretty good rule of thumb is to wash the interior of your boat like you would your kitchen floor: with a bucket and a sponge. Try to use a cleaner that doesn’t require a water rinse and avoid products that contain phosphorus, especially if you are cleaning your boat while it’s in the water.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a regulation for “non-toxic” and “biodegradable” claims, but if you keep an eye out for products with the EPA Design for the Environmental logo then you’re most likely headed in the right direction. Check out this article from Boat US for more information on cleaning products.

Never Abandon Your Boat

There are many ways to properly part from your boat, including several nonprofits who will take a boat donation no matter the shape it’s in. The last thing you want to do is dump it illegally, leave it on someone else’s property or allow it to sink.

Go Boating Florida talked with Lesli Haynes, the Environmental Specialist Sr. at Marine Services of the Lee County’s Division of Natural Resources, about some of the nightmares that abandoned boats create. Haynes regularly gets phone calls from the public about boats abandoned on private property, but because this falls under a civil manner between the property owner and the vessel, the county cannot get involved.

“I feel for the homeowners, property owners, or HOA’s involved,” said Haynes. “It’s a sticky situation because they need the title and to actually own the title themselves to make decisions on the vessel’s future.”

People often wait too long to do anything about the boat and allow it to sink, which is the worst possible route they can take. The hazardous oils and materials on the boat can cause a serious disaster for the ecosystem and sunken boats can also become a waterway obstruction to other boaters.

If your vessel is leaking, immediately contact the National Response Center (NRC) at 800-424-8802. The NRC is the main contact point for reporting any oil, chemical, radiological, biological and etiological discharges into the environment.

Reducing your carbon footprint (or wake print, as the case may be) is luckily not a difficult task. Keep reading to check out additional, easy ways to prevent pollution and protect marine habitats. Below are other tips to ensure that our oceans and beaches stay beautiful for generations to come:

  • Bag it up: Bring a spare bag for food wrappers, empty soda cans, or any other waste made while lapping up the rays and waves. Better yet, bring a pair of gloves and dive into a DIY beach cleanup!

  • Opt for “reef safe sunscreen: Seek out sunscreens that have zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as the active ingredients. These mineral-based sunscreens are safe, effective, and don’t harm coral reefs (while many chemical sunscreens do!).

  • Go reusable: Before heading out, pack a filled and chilled reusable water bottle to stay hydrated all day long. If you’re packing a beach picnic, bring some reusable utensils too. These small actions will reduce the amount of plastics that may sadly end up in our beautiful ocean.

Oil and Fuel

There’s no getting around the fact that boats require oil and fuel to operate. Unfortunately, they can be the biggest contributors to pollution in the waterways. Proper use and disposal are crucial to marine conservation and a clean environment.

  • Gas up slowly. This prevents fuel spillage, especially in choppy waves. Resist the urge to “top it off.” Since gas expands as it gets warm, filling it all the way to the top can result in leaking.

  • Don’t use dish soap to clean up an oil leak in the water. It causes the oil to break up into very small particles (essentially creating many mini oil spills). This is what you want when washing greasy dishes, but not to clean up a marine oil spill. Keep a spill kit with absorbent pads, socks, and booms in your boat to take care of accidental spills.

  • Oil and fuel leaks can be prevented by keeping the engine well-tuned. Use an absorbent pad in the bilge and engine to soak up small drips. Another advantage of a well-tuned engine is fewer emissions into the air as well as the money-saving factor.


Even if your private boat slip rental allows maintenance, keep in-water maintenance to a minimum. Obviously, this isn’t always possible, but it does prevent the occasional spillage of things like oil or paint into the water at your boat slip rental. If you do have a spill, or witness one (you can’t mistake that sheen on top of the water), follow Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines to clean or report it. If needed, call the National Response Center (NRC) hotline at 1-800-424-8802. Regularly inspect batteries, engines, hoses and bilges to help prevent leaks and keep your boat running right. Use non-toxic cleaning products and non-toxic bottom paint. Copper-based bottom paint can be hazardous to marine life and the water.

Trash and Sewage Disposal a flock of birds sitting on top of a snow covered field

Properly disposing of trash, greywater, and blackwater (sewage) is crucial for protecting the marine environment.

  • Use harbor pump-out stations for wastewater disposal.

  • Dispose of hazardous things like paint, oil filters, used oil and antifreeze in proper receptacles at hazardous waste facilities.

  • If you smoke, please do not toss those butts overboard. It’s a mistaken idea that cigarette butts are made of paper. They’re actually made out of a type of plastic, and they stick around forever.

  • Keep trash on board until reaching the shore. Then dispose of properly in waste containers or recycling bins.

  • Use phosphate-free biodegradable soap to reduce greywater effects. When possible, take showers and do dishes on land at your marina or private boat dock rental.



Fishing and Recreation a close up of a nest

There are a wide variety of green practices you can follow when out fishing, snorkeling or jet-skiing.

  • Never touch coral while diving or snorkeling. It harms the coral and is illegal.

  • Only anchor in approved areas on mooring buoys when near a coral reef.

  • Use monofilament receptacles to dispose of fishing line.

  • If you use live bait for fishing, use bait that’s native to the area. This prevents the introduction of invasive species to the environment. Washing your boat and gear after a fishing trip or boating excursion is another way to prevent this.

  • Stay as far from the shoreline as possible so as not to interrupt wildlife habitats and feeding places. This includes not causing wakes near the shoreline.

  • Pay attention to where you’re docking. While stopping at secluded coves is a fun experience, be careful not to disturb native plants, grasses and animals.

Products to Preserve the Marine Environment

In addition to cleaning products, there are several eco-friendly products on the market that you can keep on board at your boat slip rental. Here are a few to check out.

  • Use reef-safe sunscreen that doesn’t have ingredients like oxybenzone, PABA and parabens that can harm the reef and marine animals. Parabens can contribute to the bleaching of coral. Raw Elements is a great reef-safe sunscreen brand, as it has SPF ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium oxide but none of the harmful stuff.

  • Reusable straws – such as the collapsible FinalStraw from 4Ocean – are a great alternative to plastic straws, which just break down into tiny pieces (known as micro-plastics) in the ocean. They then get ingested by turtles, birds and other marine creatures.

  • Everything tastes better on a boat (it’s a proven fact). And sandwich bags are a must for boat-bound picnics. Skip those skimpy plastic ones and go with reusable sandwich bags. Made out of food-safe polyester and durable waterproof liners, they’re easy to wash after holding snacks, fruit or sandwiches.

Doing your part to help our Floridian waterways means we will be able to keep boating beautiful for generations to come.

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