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Global Yachting Community Ramping Up Search for Sustainable Boats

Those who love yachts also love the sea.

Sailing the sparkling blue oceans of the world is what imbues yachting with meaning and joy. Thus, it’s not surprising that yachting enthusiasts by significant numbers are looking for a sustainable yacht and/or ways to modify their current rigs to make them more environmentally sound and eco-friendly.

Yachting culture members have long been conscious of the subtleties of ocean conditions. In recent years, alarming trends have created cause for concern. For example, it’s difficult not to notice the disturbing and increasing amount of plastics floating in the water. Another is the proliferation of algae blooms and the unnatural burgeoning of seaweed growth near favorite world shorelines, such as off the coast of Mexico.

Other pressures may not be as visually obvious, but yachters are aware of them. That includes the rising level of ocean acidity and locations where water-oxygen content is rapidly being depleted. Oxygen deprivation and warmer water is threatening whole species of sea life with extinction.

A small boat in the middle of the Arctic ocean
A small boat in the middle of the Arctic ocean

The Green Yacht Revolution

The recent cross-Atlantic journey of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg aboard the eco friendly yacht, the Malizia II garnered world attention. Yachting fans took special notice.

A key aspect of the story was the advanced sustainable design of Malizia II. The boat incorporates a number of eco-innovations that more yacht owners and buyers are eager to emulate

The Malizia II is fitted with solar panels to generate electricity on-board. That power is supplemented by wind turbines and underwater hydrofoils. The Malizia does carry an internal combustion engine but it’s intended for emergency situations. This engine was sealed during Thunberg’s trip from Plymouth, U.K., to New York. The Malizia team also recycles used sails and has implemented a “paper-free” and “plastics neutral” operational scheme.

In developing the Malizia II, the Malizia team took guidance from the “Sports for Climate” action initiative. This is an effort sponsored by the U.N. Its stated goal is to use sports as a unifying tool to “federate and create solidarity” among global athletes to promote climate protection and action. The global yachting community has been at the forefront of this movement.

An image of a 4-story white yacht that works with Dennis Boatworks sailing the dark blue water.
An image of a 4-story white yacht that works with Dennis Boatworks sailing the dark blue water.

Sustainable Construction Processes

Other innovations in support of an eco friendly yacht building effort include sourcing materials from sustainable suppliers and using carbon-neutral processing methods. A key is finding ways to modify the wood to make it seaworthy while not creating wastes and pollutants as byproducts.

At the same time, yacht-building materials must be flexible and resistant to the degradation caused by rot. Traditionally, this has meant treating would with an array of chemical substances that may be environmental toxins and/or tend to result in carbon-intensive manufacturing processes and unwanted byproducts.

Yacht builders are adapting by developing eco-friendly methods, such as thermal modification of wood. This involves heating it to high temperatures (180-240 C°)in an oxygen-free environment. This produces wood that is highly resistant to rot while being dimensionally stable.

Another innovation is a process called furfurylation. This involves treating wood with an aqueous solution of furfuryl alcohol. This type of alcohol has a low molecular weight making it able to impregnate the cells of wood. It can then be polymerized with heat. The result is superior moisture dimensional stability. It also makes wood harder and highly resistant to rot and insect damage. Best of all, it reduces the need to treat materials with toxic, eco-antagonistic substances.

Jacuzzi pool area complete with sink on a superyacht
Jacuzzi pool area complete with sink on a superyacht

Search for a Teak Alternative

Processes like these and many others also make it possible to use less wood overall to build a sustainable yacht. That means fewer trees need to be cut down to support the yacht building industry. This is especially true of teak wood. Teak is perhaps the most prized yacht-building material. In fact, teak has been an integral part of shipbuilding for about 500 years.

However, teak trees have been placed in the Red List of threatened species by the International Union for Conversation of Nature. A teak tree is not ready for harvest until 40 to 60 years old. Finding a substitute for teak has been a key pursuit by yacht designers. One such product is Atlanteak offered by British-based Treadmaster. Atlanteak incorporates thermoplastic sheeting finished with teak-planking. Other competing synthetic teak substitutes are Esthec and Kebony.

It is important to note that the International Maritime Organization has issued a directive for the industry to reduce greenhouse gases by 50% by the year 2050. The yachting industry is leveraging high technology to make significant strides to meet that goal.

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