club life article

Sustainability for sailors: how can you reduce your environmental footprint?

By Martin Gray, Pure Latitude Founder


In its purest form, sailing is a highly sustainable activity. It allows us to travel and explore the natural world harnessing the power of wind and sea with minimal impact on the environment.

However,  we need to remain aware of wider sustainability issues within the marine leisure industry.

There is great progress in manufacturing processes and materials, with a focus on renewable energy sources and recyclable marine consumables. But will these really make enough of a difference or is it just ‘greenwashing’?


Boat construction and materials

In the boat manufacturing sector, construction techniques and materials are a big challenge. GRP (Glass-Reinforced Plastic), a composite material, is the go-to in the production of the vast majority of boats because it’s light-weight, corrosion resistant and strong. It is, however, almost impossible to reuse or recycle.

An incredible 250,000 tons of fibreglass is sent to landfill in Europe every year – and that’s something that has to change fast.


Innovating with aluminium and wood

For years, more sustainable choices such as aluminium or wood have been available but they are not always practical, being both heavier and costlier than the standard plastic. Although metal is recyclable, it still has to be coated in a corrosion-proof layer and its weight makes it an inefficient option for smaller boats.

Wooden boats are easy on the eye, but wood choices within the industry are frequently unsustainable, with teak or other tropical hardwood typically favoured at the higher end of boat building.

However, there are now sustainable options that can achieve a similar look to these.


Modified wood

Modified wood “changed thermally or chemically to enhance its properties.” allows trees that wouldn’t generally be considered useable to be modified to imitate the expensive and less sustainable hardwoods.

A wood manufacturing company in Wales, LIGNIA produces such a product. Their LIGNIA Yacht is,” a high-performance modified timber which is delivered with minimal visual defects. The timber’s properties are enhanced to include greater durability against rot, stability, density and hardness and what’s more, has a rich golden-brown colour that resembles teak.” LIGNIA Yacht has already been used by Spirit Yachts’ on their Spirit CR50 deck helping them to win the first ever Environment Award at the Southampton Boat Show.


Flax and bio-resins

Some boat manufacturers such as Green Boats’ Flax 27 daysailer, are experimenting with the use of flax to construct hulls. The use of natural materials and pairing them with bio-resins (generally made using by-products from growing sugar cane) is a big step forward. The carbon emissions required to produce the fibres are dramatically reduced, while the resins are less noxious than standard polyester, vinylesters or epoxies.


Recycled aluminium

Another solution is recycled aluminium. Vaan, a new Dutch boatbuilder, has just launched its first aluminium R4 model. The hulls are made from more than 50% recycled aluminium, some parts of the boat are made from 75% recycled material and the whole boat is completely recyclable.

So although there is a long way to go in sustainable mass boat production, some manufacturers are starting to find a way.



Traditional petrol and diesel powered boats are rightly under the spotlight for their harmful emissions. Whilst the industry is still some way behind the car industry in terms of switching to electric, some progress is being made. The high cost of installing electric propulsion systems in boats and their limited battery capacity have impeded large-scale electric motor growth in the market to date.


Lithium batteries

Modern lithium-ion batteries have 10 times the run capacity of traditional lead-acid batteries, plus they are lightweight and quick to charge, making them more suitable for boat use. Companies such as Greenline are now producing hybrid yachts that run off a combination of solar and battery power.


Recyclable sails

In terms of sail manufacture, there are innovative businesses such as OneSails which use a continuous yarn without glue or Mylar film, resulting in sails that are fully recyclable. There are other businesses investigating using recycled plastic bottles to manufacture sailcloth. Currently, however, the majority of sail makers won’t touch it due to perceived inferior performance and longevity. A sail that lasts longer is arguably more sustainable.


Recyclable rope

Recycled plastic bottles are being used more successfully to manufacture rope. Marlow Ropes were one of the first to do this in 2018 and produce ropes made from recycled material that can also be repurposed and recycled again.


Are these incremental changes enough?

These steps towards sustainability are important, but they cannot yet be fully adopted within the mass-production of boats due to cost and performance considerations. Ultimately, you’d expect legislation to be required to secure the change.

We need to find another way and consumer demand must lead the industry in this. Until we reduce the volume of GRP boats being manufactured, with all the equipment they require, we can’t meaningfully improve the environmental credentials of the industry.


The rise of boat sharing

In recent years, we’ve seen a significant acceleration of growth in our sector – boat sharing. Most privately owned boats are used less than 20 times a year and when you consider the carbon footprint of each vessel against such low use, the environmental impact is hard to justify.

For years, sharing models have delivered access to other high values items such as cars and holiday homes, and now for a host of reasons including sustainability, growth in the boat share sector is accelerating fast:

Subscription boating

At Pure Latitude Boat Club, we’ve seen strong demand over the last few years. Increasingly the modern boater is seeking flexibility, variety and value as part of a sustainable boating choice. A year’s membership provides access to sail and power boats, different locations and an extensive range of training and networking opportunities.


Individuals buy a share of a boat and have allocated use of it. This can work well for many people, but they can be challenging to exit and internal politics are not uncommon.


Some companies allow you to rent boats in different locations, operating in a similar way to Airbnb and Zipcar. It’s ideal if you don’t want to sail very much or just want a holiday but the maintenance standard of different privately owned vessels can vary.


For years, charter companies have provided an easy solution for holiday sailing and infrequent trips. Charter works well for a one off experience if you don’t have sailing expertise but the environmental impact of flying around the world to go boating needs addressing. Additional issues include restrictive availability at peak times.



Despite the simple sustainable truth of sailing in it’s purest form, we need to think long and hard about how we can reconcile our love of sailing with caring for the environment.

We need to think laterally, moving away from an ownership model towards the sharing of marine resources.



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