Tips and Ideas to Help Your Club Run Cleaner Regattas

As sailors, we are naturally stewards of the seas. The ocean is our playground, training facility and race course, and the basis of all life on earth. It provides nourishment for our souls. To quote famous oceanographer Jacques Yves Cousteau “We are all in the same boat.” Supporting sustainability and clean seas is something we can do in our Pacific Northwest sailing community. With experience at home and recent ones abroad, here is what we’ve learned.

We have been involved with three world championship level regattas in New Zealand in the past year and each of them made sustainability a priority. The OK Dinghy Worlds raced out of Wakatere Boating Club, The 49er/ 49er FX / Nacra World Championships hosted by Royal Akarana Yacht Club, and most recently the Youth Match Racing World Championship at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron (RNZYS)—for each of these, our yacht clubs partnered with Sailors for the Sea – powered by Oceana. This sailor-led organization has developed an easy-to-follow guide for sustainable events.

The process broken down into 5 pillars:

  1. Elimination of Single Use Plastics

  2. Environmental Stewardship

  3. Green Boating

  4. Community Involvement

  5. Responsible Waste Management

In each regatta, yacht clubs implement these values, and depending on the level of commitment, are awarded certification at the Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum level. By promoting this initiative, we have helped teach sailors stewardship and the importance of the health of our oceans, while also assisting community members in supporting the clubs.

Many of the ideas that were put into place during the regatta carried into the local community and become permanent policies at the yacht clubs. For instance, the Wakatere Boating Club now offers bottled water at the bar that comes in a biodegradable bottle made out of kelp. And the RNZYS offers reusable bottles and keep cups in the store, and has discontinued single-use plastics.

What Works

Some successful specific initiatives include: giving out or encouraging re-usable water bottles, and providing water re-fill stations; utilizing reusable lunch bags for competitors and volunteers to reduce the amount of rubbish produced; and recycling and composting as much as possible to divert trash from the landfills. It’s possible to host paper-free regattas using online tools and regatta app platforms. The Royal Akarana YC introduced an app in their platinum-level event that will serve as a template for other regattas.

Documenting these efforts is part of the process. Perhaps more importantly, involving the community and local environmental groups is too. Engaging the community in this way educates those directly involved, and promises to extend the message far beyond.

Join the Green Team

In our first go at running a clean regatta, Michele and I served on the Green Team at the RNZYS 2020 Harken Youth Match Racing Championship. The Green Team is a core group of individuals dedicated to facilitating sustainability at a clean regatta.

Green Team member sorting garbage.

Having the Green Team visibly present was helpful to guide the sailors to change their habits with sustainability in mind. We gave a series of talks during the skippers briefings and conveyed the vision for running a clean event. In doing so, we enjoyed answering questions and providing resources to the competitors.

Organizing a beach or marina cleanup is another great way to involve sailors and their families in supporting the clean regatta mission. They are fun as well, and can be just as competitive as the on-the-water event.

Less is More

The Green Boating pillar can be as simple as using water-only wash downs for the boats, or using ecologically friendly cleaning products if necessary. Also, eliminating bow stickers is fairly easy and can be replaced with the use of racing bibs or flags. Using fuel efficient motors and reducing the number of powerboats on the course is key to the strategy as well. New ideas for this category are far reaching and always evolving.

Sustainable events often use perpetual (re-useable) trophies. Prizes like gear or vouchers from the promoting sponsors or a reusable item are far better than your standard pickle dish. Responsibly sourcing the regatta T-shirt from recycled materials or natural fibers and purchased from a local company to minimize the carbon footprint is another way to promote sustainability.

Get Involved at Your Own Club

Jon with sustainable sailor Bianca Cook sorting the marina.

Every yacht club in the Pacific Northwest should form a “Clean Regatta” committee and team up with the race management to make your regattas clean and green. Together, we can take sustainability to the next level. Look to Sailors for the Sea – Powered by Oceana for guidance. They have done most of the work for you and offer a tool kit outlining all the things you should be thinking of.

Be sure to promote your efforts and document your successes. Sharing photos on social media is an excellent way to spread your message of sustainability with the wider community. Sailors are the natural stewards of the sea, and it’s time to step it up. Remember, the wind is free; everything else has a cost.

Background photo of Whidbey Island Race Week 2019 Courtesy of Jan Anderson.