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Seamanship – Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness

I am oft reminded of this expression and it goes back to Biblical days – when there were fewer people and even fewer boats. If each generation wants to hand over these creeks and bays to their children and grandkids in the condition that we had entrusted them with, there are a few simple rules, rubrics and guidelines to follow – even if your neighbor doesn’t. And the increasingly more powerful storms have upped the challenge as storm drains spew debris and God-knows-what-else, reminding us that even bubble gum wrappers thrown in rain culverts can end up in our creeks, coves and bays.

How Many Fish Are There in the Sea, Mr. Answer-Man?
When we were kids, we thought that question had no answer. Now we know that the bio-mass is going down and, with some specific species, faster than the bigger fish can make little fishes. So, just take what you can eat that day. Use circle hooks to make it easier/safer (for the fish) to release those you throw back and consider calling local fisheries managers (I bet the Riverhead Aquarium is a good place to start) and offering to join their tag-and-release program – help with the long-term data collection process. Be part of the solution.

What to Do With the “Do-Do”
A lot of mariners, half serious and half in jest, justify off-loading human waste into our waters based on the old saw, “do you know what the FISH are doing in these waters??!!?” Admittedly, the marinas are now charging for pump-outs. But, come on, Bunky, you can call 1-800-ASK-FISH and find out where there are pump-out stations in your area and what they charge. And if you put a “user-friendly” head on your boat, you can probably get your better half to come out with you more often. Be part of the solution.

“Good to the Last Drop? Why???
Have you ever squeezed off a few more ounces at the fuel dock – just to see half of it (or more) spill over the side? Forgetting Coast Guard regulations and fines, think about this for a minute; you’re burning some number of gallons an hour – and you’re trying to top up the last few ounces? What does that represent – 20 seconds of steaming? And fill your jerry cans on the hard, not on your boat. If someone throws even a small wake at you while fueling the can in your boat, it is better than even money that gasoline is going to end up in your boat and/or in the water (where your bilge pump will send it before you can spell “big trouble!”) Keep some absorbent pads aboard. Be part of the solution.
Garbage In, Garbage Out…
If you brought it out, bring it in. Don’t throw excess anything over the side, even if it is “bio-degradable.” Treat your boat as a temple on God’s great sea and leave no mark behind that you were there. Be part of the solution.

Painting with Poison
Yes, if you really think about it, we paint the bottoms of our boats with poison. Intentionally. We’re trying to kill barnacles, algae, slime and other stowaways who can clog our intake valves, foul our running gear and, as a consequence, actually create another bio-hazard as we have to apply more power (meaning burning more fuel and creating more exhaust) to move the boat at a given speed. So, our intentions are not necessarily ignoble – but if we start to address some of the collateral damage, we can make them noble.
The history of the War of the Barnacles goes back to the Phoenicians. They used many substances – including lead and tar – to battle the speed-killing and weight-adding stowaways. It wasn’t until the Romans realized that shields of battle work at sea too – and shielded their ships with copper sheathing – that something effective began to turn the battle in favor of the mariners. This technique lasted for millennia. History tells us that Nelson had an inherent 20% speed advantage over the Spaniards at the Battle of Trafalgar because of copper sheathing.
A lot of dangerous things don’t reach the tipping point until there is a lot of something acting on the environment. By the 1950s, boating had begun to be popular enough that scientists started to notice that shellfish were being affected by these bottom paints. This started the process that a half-century later is showing up in various alternatives.

Two Pounds a Year
A 30’ boat, painted with copper-oxide anti-fouling paint, leaches 2 pounds of copper into the waterways. Now, before you dry-dock your boat, scientists note that Nature naturally leaches 250,000 tons of copper into the sea each year – compared to the ~15,000 tons that all the sea-going vessels add. But the ocean is one thing – a marina with 100 vessels closely packed is another. And that is the rub, sort to speak.
States and municipalities are starting to notice and take action in two ways – restricting boat owners from using certain bottom paint mixtures and keeping marina owners from draining their wastewater into the sea. Connecticut banned marina owners from doing so years ago, requiring them to collect the water and bring it to a treatment plant. Sounds expensive, which just ends up in dockage fees or, worse, fees so high that boaters start to drop out. Eventually, the Feds will bring a suit under the Clean Water Act and then the game is afoot.
But the regulators aren’t just throwing (your) money at the problem. They are sponsoring “bake-offs” where boat owners and paint companies can try different formulas to address the issue. San Diego both passed a law that requires the amount of copper pollution in the Port of San Diego to be reduced by 75% in 15 years – and has created test beds for various formulas. And they have found that not only are different chemicals effective (such as zinc) but also paints can be made more “slick” so those stowaways can’t grab a toe-hold (or whatever they hold on with!)
The paint companies haven’t sat on their hands and have developed a number of alternatives – but getting approval from the EPA to add a chemical to the equation takes considerable time too. Will the solutions cost more? They already do and they will continue to. Not sure there is any way around that one.

A Primer of Sorts
There is a lot of material out there and you can always discuss it with your dock master, who is certainly interested in the health of our waterways. The largest anti-fouling paint company, InterLux, maintains a lot of material online (
For the more scientifically inclined, the stowaways are not attached to our boats for a ride. They attach to eat. When you put anything in water, tiny electrical charges develop. This was discovered by Johannes van der Waals in 1873 (getting the Nobel Prize in 1910.) Via the “van der Waals” force, free-floating objects are attracted to the surface of that object. In waterways, these objects are decaying matter – a very attractive food source for our stowaways. The table is set. All it needs is hungry guests, which Mother Nature serves up readily.

Come Upons
If you come upon flotsam in the water, grab your boat hook and bring it aboard… dispose of it as if you had dropped it over the side. Clean up, even if your neighbor won’t.
Why? Well, as Cicero said 20 centuries ago, “Virtue has its own reward.”
Be part of the solution.

BTW, if you are interested in being part of USCG Forces, email me at or go directly to the US Coast Guard Auxiliary “Flotilla Finder” at and we will help you “get in this thing . ..