Boatlife and Sustainability

When it comes to sustainable lifestyles, travel bloggers and influencers are increasingly getting criticized (sometimes rightly so). And it is actually a good question whether it is good for our planet when young people jet halfway around the world for a photoshoot at a waterfall. Only to encourage their millions of followers to do the same – with the result that many beautiful places are completely overrun or even destroyed.

In this post I would like to share a few thoughts on my personal resource consumption and the carbon footprint of my life on board. With this I want to show that it is possible to explore the world even with a relatively small ecological footprint. This text is in no way a complete list of my consumption of resources, there is certainly a lot more, especially indirectly. But maybe it is still interesting and food for thought for one or the other of my readers.

CO2 Emissions

Even though ahora is a sailboat, she is not 100% CO2 neutral. On the one hand, there is the old marine diesel, which I only use very seldom since I’ve been traveling the Algarve and the Mediterranean without any time pressure. If at all possible I will sail straight to the anchorage. This not only saves fuel, but is also a good exercise if the engine should ever fail. At times where I have to run it the engine consumes around 1.5 liters of Diesel per hour.

The good old Volvo Penta MD2B has been doing its job for 46 years thanks to good care and a regular filling with fresh oil
Whenever possible I use the sails. So the engine stays off more and more often even during anchor maneuvers. A good practise anyways…

In addition to diesel for ahora‘s engine, I occasionally need petrol for the small 3.5 HP outboard motor of the dinghy. Fortunately, the consumption is kept within limits, on average not even half a liter per week. But depending on the anchorage, it is good to be motorized. With little wind and short distances, however, I now use the oars more and more often. A free gym, so to speak …

My good old dinghy. Rowing makes you fit and is surprisingly fast over short distances.

The third and last direct CO2 source on board is my petroleum stove. But it is also relatively economical and here, too, I get by on less than half a liter per week, even if I cook a lot.

For me personally, however, there are also flights. During the first year and a half of my trip, I flew to Germany several times. Of course, this has a negative effect on the otherwise very good carbon footprint of my boat life. However, it is important for me to keep in touch with friends and family. So I treat myself to this “luxury”. As soon as I am outside Europe, I will probably reduce the number of flights further.

When it comes to choosing my diet, sustainability is at least one of the criteria for me. That’s why I hold back on meat consumption and use relatively little animal products when cooking. In some countries this works quite well, but of course you don’t always find the selection you get at the organic market from my old hometown Constance or here in the hipster district in Barcelona. And every now and then I don’t say no to a nice piece of meat or fish in a local restaurant.

Other Resources

In our society and our time, it is hardly possible to live without consuming any resources. However, it is possible to get by with surprisingly little.

I need less than 5 liters of water a day. That includes drinking, cooking and brushing my teeth. Whenever I’m in places with good tap water (it has almost always been the case in Europe up to now), I fill up the tank and water bottles with it. As soon as I get to Africa or the Caribbean, for better or worse I’ll have to buy bottled water every now and then.

I don’t need any (fresh) water to shower. Soap and salt water will do just fine. (At least so far, nobody has complained about poor hygiene on my part … ;-))

Let’s get to my floating home. Although I’m actually a huge fan of wooden boats, I opted for a fiberglass boat for reasons of maintenance. Fiberglass is not a renewable raw material, but ahora has 55 years under its belt and will definitely last for a while longer. When it is used for such durable products, plastic is actually an ingenious material. As a plastic bag for single use, on the other hand, it is a nightmare.

For the refit, but also for the maintenance and care of the boat, I of course need paints and varnishes, which certainly do not have a good environmental balance and are also partially toxic. However, all of this is probably much less than what would be involved in maintaining a house or in the production of a car. One particularly toxic paint is the anti-fouling below the waterline. I am still hoping to find a reliable, less toxic alternative for this.

There are also other things that need to be replaced from time to time, e.g. the batteries, the sails, lines (ropes) and other wearing parts on board. Of course, I try (also for cost reasons) to treat everything on board as carefully as possible and thus maximize the service life.

By the way, my “shower bucket” is handmade – recycled from an old piece of canvas.

Energy Consumption

From March to October I was able to cover all of my electricity consumption with the walkable solar panels on deck.

Since I arrived in the Algarve in February, I was almost permanently at anchor with ahora, and due to the lockdown, I was even forced to do so. I also stayed at anchor in Ibiza and Mallorca without ever having to visit a harbor. From the beginning of March until my arrival in Barcelona at the end of October ahora and I were almost completely “off-grid”. Despite a temporary defect in one of the two solar panels on ahora‘s cabin roof, I was able to cover all of my electricity needs from the sun alone. Navigation equipment, laptop, 4G router, refrigerator and light for free and without a gram of CO2 emissions. It’s a great feeling when you know that you are self-sufficient in this regard.

I was even able to supply the studio equipment for my new BoatHowTo project with electricity from the sun

Since I arrived in my winter port of Barcelona at the end of October, things have changed. First of all, there would probably be a shortage of solar power in winter due to the low level of solar radiation. And secondly, I treat myself to the “luxury” of an electric kettle and electric heater here in the harbor. Even if the Mediterranean climate here is much more pleasant than in Germany, I wouldn’t want to have to go without a cozy, warm boat in the evening.

From my arrival at the end of October to the end of January, I used 338 kWh of shore power. That’s quite a bit, but still only a little more than half of my monthly electricity consumption when I lived in my little house in Constance.

Here in the harbor there is of course the additional energy consumption of the hot showers, which I “treat myself” to every one or two days. And of course the energy needed for running the kitchens in the restaurants here in Barcelona where I am now a regular guest.

Garbage and other Environmental Pollution

Whenever possible, I try to buy unpackaged food. It works quite well with the jute bag on the market, but there are still a few pieces of packaging that you can’t avoid. Overall, the garbage on board is additionally limited by the fact I hardly consume anything except food. Typically there is only one small garbage bag per week.

The sewage, on the other hand, is a problem on board. ahora doesn’t have a holding tank (she doesn’t have to because of her old age) so everything from the toilet and sink goes straight into the sea or the harbor basin. Fortunately, most of the anchorages are quite wide and there is a good exchange of water, so I don’t worry too much about human excrement. While in port I use the port toilet for all “big” businesses of course.

My “shower stuff” while at anchor: shampoo bar and organic soap

For shampoo and soap, I have now switched to biodegradable soap products for the times at anchor, and I also had a biodegradable variant of dishwashing detergent, at least for a while. Unfortunately, things like these can be rarely found in a supermarket. I also found a type of toothpaste that, at least according to the label, consists to 99.7% of natural ingredients. If you, dear reader, know other good and environmentally friendly care and cleaning products, I would be very happy to hear from you!

Is sailing always this environmentally friendly?

This article was about my personal situation at anchor in the Algarve and the Mediterranean. This is the “ideal situation” insofar as it is warm enough here until well into autumn to get by without heating. And the sun is shining enough to cover my energy needs from the solar cells. In addition, I got by here largely without using the engine, a situation that was very different to my voyage in the North Sea and the English Channel.

If I were to spend a winter in the port in Germany, my energy consumption would look less good. Nevertheless, I dare to say that even there my energy requirements would be lower and my environmental balance would be better than in an average city apartment.

This was a small list of my thoughts on sustainability. I have probably forgotten a few important points. If you can think of anything else or if you have any questions, write me a comment under this article. I am also happy to receive criticism or suggestions and ideas for optimizing sustainability on board.

All is well!


Underway with Tom in the Mediterranean. What a blessing to be able to use the power of the wind. (Photo: Lars Wichmann)

Leave a Comment:

Kristan says 20. March 2021

Stuff that’s good for your body and the environment! This is something that is really important to me. And, I’m onto something. My husband and I are about to leave Seattle and head south to Mexico and beyond in our boat and being a good visitor on this planet is important to me.

I make a lot of my own hygiene products. (Toothpaste, shampoo, dish soap, face wash…)

Kaz says 27. March 2021

What a nice read. It’s interesting to see which things you thought about and how you try to implement sustainable options. 🙂 thanks for sharing

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