Boating Life

Boating Green: Reducing Plastic in Our Oceans

September 27, 2023
Ingman Marine
September 27, 2023
Ingman Marine

In recent decades, the threat of debris – particularly plastics - polluting our waterways has become a well-known issue. Research suggests that an estimated amount of 33 billion pounds of plastic alone ends up in our oceans every year. To put it in perspective, Oceana draws the comparison to approximately two trash trucks full being dumped into the oceans every minute! Plastics are particularly dangerous because the majority of them are petroleum-based (which is developed to last a really long time), making them non-biodegradable. They may break down more and over time, being small and even micro plastics, but they will never disappear entirely.

Although this sounds quite grim, we’re hoping you’ve landed on this article to get a better understanding of the true impacts, research efforts and/or programs available so that you can make informed decisions. Maybe you just want to know a little about how you can do your part each time you are out on the water. Regardless of your motives, we are happy you are here and hope you find this information enlightening.

How Do Plastics End Up in our Oceans

There are many roads on which plastics can travel to end up in our majestic oceans. Most ocean debris finds its way to the water from land-based sources. For example, if a trash or recycling bin on the beach overflows, items may fall out and blow into the water. When litter ends up on the streets, it can navigate into a storm drain and make its way through to, say, a local estuary. If there’s a will, trash will find a way.

Impacts of Ocean Plastics

So, what are the true implications of marine debris? It probably goes a lot deeper than most people know and can even come full circle to wreak havoc on consumers. For starters, there’s the obvious – we know that many plastics are dangerous to wildlife, such as turtles, birds, plankton and whales. They can get entangled, or they can ingest plastics that are hazardous and/or toxic. Research shows that roughly 1,800 sea turtles and marine mammals “had swallowed or become entangled in plastic in U.S. waters between 2009 and early 2020. Of these animals, 88% were from species listed as endangered or threatened with extinction under the Endangered Species Act”.

In their nature, plastics are toxic if ingested, but over time, plastics in the water can absorb additional chemicals and toxins. An additional danger that stems from the ingestion of these extra toxic plastics is the risk that these toxins could be present in the fish our beloved anglers catch, or those caught commercially, and end up in our grocery stores or on our plates after a boat day.

Plastics then go on to damage marine habitats like seagrass beds and coral reefs by getting entangled and preventing further growth, wounding them and causing infection (coral reef specifically) and/or blocking sunlight. Without healthy habitats, loss of biodiversity is a major concern. The oceans need a variety of plant, habitat, invertebrate, mammal and fish species to maintain their delicate balances.

Furthermore, large amounts of waste can seriously impact the experience that boaters and their families have out on the water and can even inflict damage on our boats!

Conscientious Boating

What then, as part of the boating community, can we do to help keep our oceans free of plastic waste? We’re glad you asked! It all starts by simply being conscientious. Take stock of your actions when you are planning for a boat trip, while you’re on that boat and when you’re coming in for the day.


  • Buy in bulk when possible to reduce the amount of discarded packaging
  • Remove all items from packaging prior to bringing onboard, eliminating the potential for trash to go overboard
  • Pack reusable items such as non-plastic utensils, silicone and canvas storage bags, glass containers, etc. instead of single use plastics
  • If single use plastics cannot be avoided, try to purchase those that are made from recycled materials and/or can be recycled
  • Install an onboard water filtration system for use with tablets rather than bringing plastic water bottles aboard


  • Designate a secure place for trash to keep it from flying overboard
  • Cut up six-pack rings and other similar items – in the event that they end up in the ocean, this will keep them from entangling wildlife
  • Secure everything below deck or in a latched storage space in the event of inclement weather
  • Get creative with upcycling disposables
  • Practice Plus One Boating – bring back all your trash, plus one waste item you found on your trip

Coming Ashore:

  • Bring all your trash ashore and dispose of appropriately, considering recycling options first and foremost (there are programs for recycling antifreeze, oil, batteries, fishing gear and fishing line)
  • Encourage your marina to offer recycling receptacles.
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What Efforts Are Being Made

On a larger scale, there are several national and international organizations that are actively fighting the ocean plastics crisis, from the Plastic Pollution Coalition and NOAA – with their Marine Debris Program - to Guy Harvey and Yamaha. The three most important organizations that we’d like our boating community to know about are Ocean Defenders Alliance, The Ocean Conservancy and Sailors for the Sea by Oceana.

Each of these organizations are combatting this global problem by coordinating, funding, researching and/or volunteering for ocean cleanup, plastic waste reduction strategies, public education and outreach efforts and so much more.

If you’d like to get involved, please visit any of the sites linked above and find out more about those programs. You can join Sailors for the Sea Powered by Oceana by becoming a member of their Green Boating Community, or you can download their Green Boating Guide for more information on being environmentally conscious in every aspect. Additionally, you can help The Ocean Conservancy by downloading their Clean Swell app, which allows you to log any trash you recover from the ocean and records it to a database.

Final Thoughts

Boating enthusiasts are, more often than not, water enthusiasts as well. Everything that comes along with owning a boat – watersports, fishing, swimming, wildlife gazing – can quickly become negative experiences when you see a marine animal in danger, or you have trash interfering with your water toys. It is easy to forget the impact we have on our surrounding environments; one absentminded act committed by each person every day adds up to billions of harmful actions. Fortunately, there are ways we can all make a difference. Knowledge is power! So, we encourage all boat owners and ocean aficionados to consider their actions and the impacts they have, lest we leave behind an even larger mess that our descendants will be responsible for. Imagine if they could not enjoy the resplendent and beautiful waterways that we have been accustomed to.

Happy (Green) Boating!

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