Deep Green Seas by Mike French Featured

"Deep Green Seas" written by Captain Michael French, director of International Yacht Training of Fort Lauderdale, has been awarded one of the Eco Awards by Global Environmental Communications.

The competition recognizes and honors excellence in the environmental.. communications field. His insights into the current environmental trends in the super yacht industry are eye opening. As a testimony to how rapidly the trend toward environmental technology is advancing, all yachts referred to in the article have already been recently built.

Not long ago, the “greens” were stereotyped as the sandal-wearing fringe that appeared at odds with the global political landscape. In the 21st century however, there is not one developed country that does not have a commitment to designing and maintaining an effective environmental policy. The US, too, has committed to acknowledging that the world might be warming due to CO2 emissions. In May 2007, President Bush instructed his policy makers to determine measures and design legislation to reduce emissions and the consumption of fossil fuels.

The environmental debate considers two principle concerns: the rate at which humanity is using natural resources and what to do with the waste products caused by day-today existence. The modern way of expressing the value of environmental impact is by the amount of CO2 generated through the combustion of fossil fuels, described as the “carbon footprint”. The carbon footprint is a rather detailed value that considers the total processes involved in bringing a product to market, its consumption, and its disposal. With regards to yachts, especially megayachts, the concerns are largely centered around the emissions released during their construction, operation and maintenance, including the amount of fuel or oil consumed or what could be called the “carbon keelprint”.

In May 2005, MARPOL (International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution From Ships), (VI) air-pollution regulations came into force. These regulations were originally determined following discussions in 1997, and specify limits on the Sulphur Oxide and Nitrogen Oxide emissions
from ships. In July 2005 the IMO (International Maritime Organization) also recognized the need to review the current legislation in light of advancing technology. Basically, it was deemed that emissions could be expected to be reduced asq_mikefrench3s technology improves. In October 2006, the IMO was using the CO2 emissions vernacular in their dialogues. In a few years – which is a relatively short time for such a large bureaucracy – the IMO has set the scene for regular reviews of the environmental impact of ships and shows signs of relating standards to those that will compare with other types of commerce where fossil fuels are used. This should tell us, as users of the sea, that the IMO has a unified approach and that the cause of reducing CO2 is treated as both important and urgent.

Safety legislation crept up on the yachting industry despite the fact that among the yachting fraternity it was considered perfectly safe and in no need of rules. The MCA’s motto is not only “Safer Ships Safer Lives”, but also “Cleaner Seas”. The IMO has recognized that with advances in technology comes the responsibility for reduced CO2 emissions.

What is the point of thinking about reducing our carbon keelprint until legislation tells us to? Well, there is really only one way that society has found legislating in favor of reducing the carbon signature of anything, and that is by taxing those that use resources needlessly. Like it or not, yachting is a want, not a need, and could be targeted relatively easily by taxing fuel, yachts themselves or any number of yachting-specific services. Recent EPA discussions, particularly with regard to smaller vessels, point to what could amount to a significant legislative impact on the US cruising industry. In the UK a vehicle tax increase has been levied on Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) over a certain size. Now, your average sales rep who drives hundreds of miles a week probably has a larger carbon footprint than a diesel SUV, but the predominant demographic that drive SUVs were considered to be able to afford the tax. The tax was on the vehicle and not the amount of use it gets, the reason being it is relatively easy and voter friendly to do.

We in the yachting industry may see such a tax as a travesty, but will the overwhelming majority of the population sympathize? If the yachting industry has made inroads in the direction of reduced emissions and reduced environmental impact, history shows that legislation will support such efforts and utilize the knowledge base gained by the research and technology needed to bring greener products to market in order to project realistic goals in carbon keelprint reduction.

Yacht owners have the opportunity to reinforce positive moral custodianship of the planet. After the French opposed the allied invasion of Iraq, several owners reportedly refused to use Evian water aboard their yachts. They just said, “Do not buy Evian and remove what is already there!” Within a couple of days it was so. How easy could it be for the same owner to say, “Do not use harmful chemicals on my yacht!” Or, what about, “When I’m not there, don’t bother with the Battlestar Galactica impression and turn off some of the lights!” (Incidentally, there were no reports of owners banning or dumping French wine from their yachts.) The fact is, pretty much everybody in yachting, from owners to dayworkers, could have a part to play. How many yachts have eco-friendly policies on board? The answer is almost certainly not enough; there simply is no predominant sentiment.


Looking ahead, there are two approaches to reducing our carbon keelprint. The first and most efficient is to design and build yachts with this goal in mind. The second is to modify existing yachts either by replacing or upgrading machinery or by changing operating policy.

sq_mikefrench2NEW BOATS

By prioritizing reduced environmental impression at the outset, designers and builders have the opportunity to make the most impact. Already, both European and US builders are incorporating the latest in technological build processes to reduce their environmental impact. These processes often come at a premium to incorporate, but generate savings in time, maintenance and money in the long run.

We’re already seeing environmentally friendly options in new boats across the size range. One of the many examples is Island Pilot, a company that specializes in producing innovative yachts. Their latest project is the SOL Ambition, a 40ft catamaran designed to gain most of its power (about 6.6kW) from large, efficient solar arrays that cover the boat’s cabin top. She uses a hybrid diesel-solar electric propulsion system that will provide 7 knots of speed with absolutely zero emissions using the solar panels alone. Or, with the gensets online, the boat should use no more than 4 gallons of diesel per hour at 13 to 14 knots. This technology will scale up – a 60ft vessel with four staterooms, four heads and zero emissions under sunny skies is already in the design stages.

Ethereal is a 190ft sailing yacht designed by Ron Holland to be built at Royal Huisman for Bill Joy, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems. Joy intends Ethereal to be “the most efficient, eco-friendly boat afloat,” and a showcase for Greentech – a cause he and his partners are championing. Ethereal will use battery banks to provide the energy necessary for prolonged periods of silent operation without mechanical assistance. She will also have a diesel-electric hybrid system to provide auxiliary power for the times when nature needs a little help. Ethereal’s design ethic blends eco-awareness with available technology and common sense. For example, the yacht will use lower heat output light bulbs connected to motion sensors so there will be less heat produced and none when it is not necessary. This in turn requires less air conditioning to maintain lower temperatures and subsequently reduces power generation demands. Whatever you call it, it is basically common sense, but requires the initial commitment.


Modification or “retro fitting” may not result in the same carbon keelprint reduction of a purpose-designed and built boat. However, given the number of existing boats with a relatively high keelprint – i.e., boats that were not built with environmental considerationphicell_ionss in mind – the collective impact of reducing the keelprint of existing yachts would yield the greatest benefit.

The yacht Envision is reportedly one of the first fully environmentally friendly megayachts. The Envision project is the brainchild of RGF Environmental Group, a US-based company that specializes in environmental products and whose mission is to provide the world with the safest air, water and food without the use of chemicals. RGF has invented over 500 products, over 20 of which are in use aboard Envision. Envision started life as a 100ft Broward motor yacht and was “recycled” – a process, which in this case meant an extensive refit. In fact, the original boat was totally gutted before her environmental makeover began. The main focus of Envision is to provide a showcase for RGF’s products, perhaps the most notable of which is its Photohydroionization process, or PHITM. This method uses light-based electromagnetic energy that destroys odors, mold, bacteria, viruses and airborne organics. In common parlance, these are the things that most yacht crew devote untold hours to destroying, using all sorts of chemicals and poisons that have a most derogatory effect on the environment. The PHITM process is a technology used extensively in the food industry. One of the most obvious advantages of the system is the distinct lack of odor anywhere. The engine room is free of that oily bilge smell and it is reported that the holding tank yields no odors even with the lid removed.

RGF is presently in the process of using another of its technologies to drastically improve the exhaust emissions of Envision’s diesel engines. The processes used could be brought to market and retro-fi tted to other yachts once the demand is there.


One of the principle ways to reduce the carbon keelprint is to reduce the amount of fuel used or, indeed, use an environmentally friendly fuel like bio-diesel, which is essentially a compression ignition fuel manufactured from sustainable non-petroleum based substances. Virgin vegetable oils such as soy, rapeseed, canola, mustard and palm, along with animal fats, fish oils and even used cooking oil and grease collected from restaurants, can be used to make bio-diesel.

Bio-diesel can be used neat or combined with petroleumbased diesel fuel in order to reduce emissions significantly. The use of bio-diesel in a diesel engine has no known derogatory effects on the engine and in many cases can be used without modifi cations to the engine. Bio-diesel is not readily available to the megayacht market as yet, but in time and given the rising public awareness it is sure to become more common. Earthrace – a modern speed boat that is on a quest to circumnavigate the globe and promote environmental awareness – is totally powered by bio-diesel fuel. She was on track to break the current 75-day record to circumnavigate the globe when she suffered structural damage after taking on a storm in Egypt, but her
hull repairs are nearly complete and she’s set to resume the race soon.

Fuel economy is a function of the efficiency of the engine/hull relationship, which is of course affected by a number of factors. With the latest fuel prices, the sustainable fuel economy and bio-fuels with their reduced emissions are sure to become stronger points of discussion in the yachting business.


Many crew will point out that ergonomics are a factor in the pursuit of eco-friendly operation. For example, very few crew messes have the facilities to recycle garbage or indeed the space to store the garbage to be recycled. In gever_mikefrenchneral, only the largest yachts will have anything like the space required to efficiently recycle waste. When the 228ft Aussie Rules was built for golfer Greg Norman, it was striking for many reasons. Not least of which was the fact that the yacht had separate storage and compactors for glass, metals and cardboard. She also had enough refrigerated garbage storage for a two-week charter.

It is certainly the case that conditions, design and the location of a yacht have a bearing on how well it can manage its waste or emissions and environmental impact. Take, for example, the Bahamas – for some, the most beautiful place to cruise in the world. Considering its main economic source is tourism and yachts play a great part in that, environmentalists argue that the country is behind in its enforcement of environmental regulations. The small island chain drafted its first comprehensive environmental plan only in 2005, and laws are still being written, although they do not seem to be keeping up with the voracious marina and resort development happening at each turn. Events like the Family Island Regatta in Georgetown, the Exumas, for example, draws several hundred yachts. However, because of the lack of satisfactory facilities and no enforcement of MARPOL rules, visiting yachts will pump their waste into the Sound because there is no alternative.


Another real advantage is the marketing power of green. Shell, British Petroleum, and more recently Subaru, to name but a few huge companies, have focused on projecting an eco-friendly image in their marketing. They pay some of the best minds in marketing so there may be something in it. Not long ago, charter yachts or even new yachts promoted the number and size of flatscreen TVs as part of their marketing blurb. This has since evolved through the availability of Internet on board, to most recently, the presence of at-anchor stabilization. In the not-too-distant future, new or charter yachts could market their reduced carbon keelprint alongside their other many attributes. Customers in most demographic groups will actually pay a premium for green goods – look at Whole Foods or the Toyota Prius hybrid car – and yacht owners and charter guests are no different.

The SeaKeepers Society was founded in 1998 by several yacht owners who were “horrified by the deteriorating conditions of the oceans” and set out to install ocean-monitoring gear aboard their yachts. Recently, they announced an installation of the innovative SeaKeeper 1000TM – an ocean and meteorological monitoring system – on Dockwise’s yacht transporter, Yacht Express. While crossing oceans, the vessel carrier will be collecting data from around the world in 50 locations in order to examine and analyze the ocean’s health. In so doing, they would provide a free data collection resource for research purposes. The society has received awards for its work in support of the oceans and in 2006 introduced the Yacht Builder Partnership Program, whichencourages the clients of participating shipyards to become involved with the society’s efforts.


Every year, barriers are broken and advances in yacht design are made. Perhaps most importantly there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of customers. Perhaps they will be more inclined to choose wood finishes for their sustainability as well as their hue. Judging from the buzz around the shipyards,
many clients will soon have the choice.

The limits of space, speed and comfort are constantly redefined by greater advances in technology and the signs are now evident that green could eventually be the new white. The SeaKeepers Society is one example of moral leadership in the direction that will surely yield lower carbon keelprints and more environmentally friendly yachts.

At operational level, yachts can undoubtedly improve their environmental approach at the discretion of owners, guests and crews. Attitudes have to change at faster than glacial rates. The metaphor may not be around forever.

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