Living Aboard a Boat is One of the Best Things You Can Do For The Environment

Recently we’ve seen a lot of “greenwashing” – companies advertising they’re doing good for the environment when they’re really just interested in selling their product more. These companies are capitalizing on the concerns many people have for the environment now-a-days. One ad we saw on YouTube – for a company manufacturing a stainless steel water bottle with embedded electronics (for monitoring your water intake through Bluetooth) – claimed their product was earth-friendly because they’re promising to recycle one plastic water bottle each time you use the steel water bottle.

This is of course ridiculous, because the production of stainless steel and associated electronics is far worse to the environment. And all plastic water bottles should be recycled or properly disposed of, *without* having to manufacture a stainless steel bottle to do so. (In case you’re curious, the product is called REBO and fortunately the comments show many others have seen through the greenwashing as well).

Of course, some people are not concerned with the environment (if that’s you, you may not want to continue reading). But increasingly many people are, and they’re struggling to figure out how to help. But, almost never is the right answer to purchase a new product. And there’s an easy way to recognize greenwashing: unless the company is a charity or non-profit, if they’re advertising about how they’re helping the environment, it’s probably more in their self-interest than any actual benefit.

Trash on the beach in Suva, Fiji

We’ve traveled a lot in the last couple years, and seen trash in many, many places that would otherwise be considered “paradise.” In Suva, the capital of Fiji, trash littered the beach for miles, accumulating in layers that will require many dump trucks to remove. Sadly, the poorer a country is, the more trash and pollution it’s likely to have. In comparison, the Pacific Northwest is much cleaner than many other areas of the world – we’re lucky to enjoy such pristine conditions.

Despite the occasional accidental sewage discharge by city facilities (on the order of millions of gallons!), the deep waters and fast flowing currents of the Salish Sea quickly dilute most pollutants. That doesn’t mean we get to sit back and do nothing though.

Sailors seem to be keenly aware of humankind’s impact on the world – we see the plastic trash when we sail. Somewhere in the Pacific, there’s the Great Pacific garbage patch spanning a huge area.  So it’s rare to meet a sailor who doesn’t agree we should do something about it.

The trouble is figuring out what to do – if you pick up trash on one beach, that’s a very nice action locally, but makes no difference in the global picture. Ultimately we conclude that although our small changes make little global impact, they’re still the right thing to do.

Life on a Boat or Tiny Home

We’re nearing the 2 year mark of casting off the lines, and 3 years of living aboard. So it’s a time of reflection – and realization that this lifestyle really can work. And I’ve realized that living on a boat is actually one of the best things you can do, on an individual scale, for the environment.

Living on a boat we use less:

  • electricity
  • fuel
  • water
  • food (no-waste attitude while cruising)
  • packaging

We use much less electricity when we’re cruising because we generate almost all of it from solar power. And when we’re at dock in the winter we use some for heating, but still less than would be needed to heat a large house or apartment.

300 Watts of Solar

And we use a lot less fuel because we sail most of the time – and aren’t spending any time driving (many people burn more on their commute in a week than we burn in 2-3 months).

We use less water because we have a 30 gallon tank and need to stretch it to last at least a week. Water is plentiful in the PNW, but still – consuming less is always better than consuming more.

Sometimes we even collect rainwater to fill our tank.

And we use less food because our goal is to never throw out anything, never let anything spoil – because we have limited access to fresh food in the remote areas we cruise.

We use less packaging through shopping locally more often, and decreasing the frequency of ordering individually-shipped products and convenience services. There’s no DoorDash or GrubHub in remote BC anchorages. Certainly you could reduce your packaging use without living on a boat, but cruising has been a major motivating factor to do so – because it’s difficult to store / dispose of trash while sailing. It’s astounding how much of our trash is just packaging. Shopping at farmer’s markets and looking for more minimalist packaging in grocery stores has been one way to reduce our trash burden on the boat.

Minimalism

But perhaps the biggest reason why living on a boat is better for the environment is that it’s a form of forced minimalism. I don’t think minimalism needs to mean deprivation, but living on a boat forces you to ask what you really need and what you don’t.

This leads to a whole lot less consumerism. You can’t buy new stuff all the time if you don’t have a place to put it. And it turns out, when sailing you don’t really need much anyway. Anchorages don’t accept dollars, and there are no stores that to deliver to them (as far as I know!).

Another big factor is the reduction of marketing / advertising, and the vastly reduced opportunity to be a consumer. It’s crazy, but few of us realize the impact marketing has until we live life without it for a while. Even if you believe yourself resistant to advertising, it affects you in subconscious ways.

When you’re not advertised to, you feel less impulse to buy things. People often think products are linked to their happiness, but when we turn off the advertising (by going cruising), we buy fewer products but are just as happy. And this decrease in consumerism is clearly better for the world – every object that needs to be manufactured has some impact on the world in terms of production, use, and disposal.

Conclusion

Basically, living aboard leads to a massive decrease in consumption. It’s not the only way to do it of course – you could achieve the same in a tiny home of any kind. But living aboard a boat is a lot of fun, while having earth-friendliness as a kind of automatic side benefit.

So if living aboard is such a good thing, wouldn’t it be great if more people could do it? Unfortunately the trend in most areas of the U.S. is to ban or restrict living aboard. Many marinas don’t allow liveaboards, and most of the few that do have quotas (which are already maxed out).

Hopefully that will change. But as of now it’s kind a niche thing – many people in the world have never even heard of people that live on boats. Perhaps by raising awareness, cities will relax their policies that restrict it. I’m interested in ways I can advocate with Washington policymakers, but am not sure where to start. Until then, here’s a toast to the liveaboard lifestyle and the hope that more people will understand its benefits.

1 thought on “Living Aboard a Boat is One of the Best Things You Can Do For The Environment

  1. stuartsw522

    Thanks, Patrick. Linda and I are about to celebrate our fourth year living aboard “Selah.” The minimalism to which you refer is also a great way of determining the importance of each thing over its entire lifetime of existence, as well: repairing and/or improving, instead of replacing. When one reduces, one also has an opportunity to increase one’s gratefulness: Items are no longer “consumed” without consideration.

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