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Outfitting a Sailboat for Green Living
Why Go Green?
Green living has been sweeping the nation over the past few years as more people become aware of the tremendous impact our culture has on the natural world around us. More importantly, we are beginning to understand how detrimental some of our practices are to the continuation of our way of life.
The basic principle of green living is to create a lifestyle that is sustainable, renewable, and environmentally friendly. By doing so, people are ensuring a sustainable planet and way of life for future generations. However, most people are still unaware of how dangerous our current practices are and how we are impacting the planet in a negative manner.
Here are some articles for further reading :
Why Choose A Sailboat
Adapting to a green lifestyle on a sailboat is fairly easy and affordable, which makes it very attractive to those who are curious about pursing a more earth friendly lifestyle. Why are boats so suitable to the green living philosophy? Well, most boats are already set up to be self sufficient for extended periods of time. This means less dependency on "the grid" right out of the box. With their self contained DC power systems, low fuel consumption (due to efficient diesel engines and reliance on wind power for transportation), and efficient yet compact floor-plans, sailboats make the perfect stepping stone to a green lifestyle.
Living aboard a sailboat is also a fairly inexpensive way to go about your daily life. Once your boat is bought and paid for, all you have to worry about is slip fees (generally under $400 a month for a 27-30ft boat) and maintenance. Most marinas will have laundry facilities, showers, and restrooms available to tenants, making marina life about equivalent to living in an apartment ... for a fraction of the cost! There are a lot of great live aboard sailboats out there that you can get for $10,000-$20,000. Way cheaper than buying a house ... and a more exciting way to live!
Sailboats also have a plethora of options available to make them even more green. With all the optional equipment you can add to a sailboat, you can live a comfortable lifestyle using completely renewable energy sources and for a fraction of the cost of living on land. Lets take a look at some of the easily upgradable components of a sailboat to make her more green friendly.
Most lighting on a sailboat is done through the DC system onboard. Traditional lighting can be a real drain on the batteries, consuming more energy than most would prefer. When unhooked from shore power (the grid) these lights will run down your onboard power supply in no time.
However, by switching to all LED lighting, you can cut back on the power needs for lighting considerably. Everything from cabin lights, anchor lights, and nav lights can be easily switched over to LED lighting with a minimal amount of effort.
Solar and Wind Power
Marine solar power options are almost as infinite as the stars themselves. With a well thought out solar power generating system onboard, most sailors find that all of their power needs can easily be met with a single panel or two. Now, this may not be true for some of the more power hungry systems that you might be used to (refrigeration, hair dryer) but for the simple living lifestyle, you'll be able to keep all the essentials running. The trick here is to make sure you have a good charge controller and adequate placement of the panels to ensure you are maximizing your batteries efficiency.
If you find yourself in the more northern or southern parts of the world where sunlight is a bit more scarce, then consider supplementing your solar system with a wind generator. Just like solar panels, a wind generator creates free energy for you whenever the blades turn ... while sailing or at the dock. The downside to wind power is that it is not as consistent as solar power and the turbine does make a bit of noise. But for free power you can't beat using the sun and wind to power your lights and radio!
Bio-Diesel and Electric Engines
Most sailors still need an engine sometimes. While there are a few really hardcore sailors out there who sail "engineless" using oars, row boats, and sculling systems to move their boat in and out of the harbor ... chances are you'll want to have an auxiliary engine aboard for those tricky docking maneuvers and windless days.
Switching your existing diesel engine to bio-diesel is a viable option, however it can get a bit spendy for the conversion. Finding ports with reliable bio-diesel pumps can also be an issue. But, unlike a truck or car running on bio diesel, the average sailor will only have to fill up their tanks once or twice a sailing season ... so you don't need to find much!
There has been some headway in the electric boat motor industry in recent years, but these are typically limited to smaller vessels and take up a lot of space. Keeping the batteries required for the engine will eat up a good amount of stowage space. But keep your eyes on this technology as it seems to be the best option in the future for a small motor to help you in and out of your slip.
Solid Fuel Heater / Stove
Most sailboats out there rely on propane fueled heaters and stoves. If your aim is to be as petroleum independent as possible, then a great alternative is to buy a solid fuel cabin heater / stove. These burn wood chips, pellets, and logs just like a normal fireplace and create a wonderful, renewable heat to keep you toasty warm and cozy in the colder months. Most of these heaters also come with a flattened surface on which you can boil water and cook out of a pot. Storing the solid fuel for these heaters will take up more space than their propane counterparts - but you'll never have to worry about the supply running out!
Waste is another big concern onboard a boat. Most marine toilets (heads) have a waste tank that the sewage goes into and sloshes around until emptied out at a waste pump. If you are sailing out on the open ocean more than 3 miles from shore, then it is legal to dump your bio-waste directly into the water. Out of all the waste your boat produces ... the waste that comes from you is probably the safest to the environment.
However, there are alternatives to just dumping your waste. A few companies have developed compostable marine toilets that take your waste and biodegrade it into a useable compost that is then easily recycled back into the natural environment. From what I've heard (but have yet to verify) most of these systems put out almost zero oder and are much more pleasant that the traditional marine heads found on most boats.
Live Simple! Go Green!
While there are many other ways to live a green lifestyle, I have found that adapting to life aboard a sailboat has taken almost zero effort. I still have all the creature comforts of home (minus a ton of walking space) and love the lifestyle living on the water brings. Living on a boat also forces you to scale back and cut down on un-needed material items. There's only so much space aboard you can't afford to have all the nick-knacks you would normally fill a house with!