Jean-Benoit Manhes: Can we make yachting green?
An international development specialist with the UN for over two decades, Jean-Benoit Manhes is also an avid sailor. In a Column for Yacht Style, he looks at how yachting can become a greener pastime.
Yachting is a pleasure relying on the environment, offering access to the sea, beaches, harbours, reefs and fishing. As such, it’s subject to public and governmental scrutiny, and has increasingly become viewed as an unsustainable, damaging activity due to growing concerns about environmental preservation.
The ultimate vision of a growing number of yacht designers and builders is to transition towards a zero-emission system, although entirely neutral boats might take years to be fully operational and safe, never mind affordable for many owners.
However, a series of measures can be explored to make yachting greener and simultaneously reduce operating costs, while also maintaining safety and enjoyment at sea.
Silent 60 with kite wing
The easiest choice can take place during the initial investment phase, with models featuring hybrid technologies, new high-performance hull forms and solar-electric propulsion. Most major superyacht builders now propose improved designs and sustainable propulsion options.
Many are also driven by legislations including from the UN’s International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to adhere to new limits on sulphur and nitrogen oxide emissions.
Environmental considerations are not the sole factor determining an owner’s choice of yacht but they’re of growing importance. They can also prove beneficial in terms of savings to be made on fuel consumption, especially considering the increased cost of energies and fossil fuels around the world.
When purchasing a new boat, looking at the entire life cycle might also help owners make an informed decision. How flexible is the design? Can new materials be used instead of pure plastic? What’s the expected life cycle of components? Can it be dismantled in the future?
Leopard catamarans use water purification technology to provide drinking water from a tap
Also, how often will the boat be used and what’s the most energy-demanding equipment such as desalinisation, air-conditioning, fridges and galley appliances, lights and other automated equipment?
Many owners are attached to their existing yacht or brands they trust, or they rely on good deals in the second-hand market, where futuristic designs are scarce. Yet a yacht is not just a hull and many of its components can be optimised.
What’s the fuel consumption for a particular voyage or regular passages? Which equipment can be upgraded and modernised, or used in a less systemic way? Which equipment could rely on alternative sources of energy?
Let’s look at alternative sources of energy. In this domain, sailboat owners have a head start by using wind, although most still use fossil fuel to refill batteries, especially during long journeys. However, this is probably the sector with the biggest technological changes, resulting in increased efficiency.
Sunreef’s Eco models feature a ‘solar skin’
Solar panels can now have a 30 per cent return rate and are used extensively by Silent-Yachts and Sunreef on its Eco range, for example. Wind turbines are more silent and efficient ¹ and hydro-generators – while not sufficient for heavy equipment – can replenish IT-induced power consumption.
For the most adventurous, new batteries such as sea-water powered batteries or fuel cells can complement the available energy.
Fuel consumption will remain the main source of pollution of a yacht. Switching to hybrid power is possible and encouraged by several yacht companies, but require important investment and are not always technically compatible with yacht design.
Azimut’s new Magellano 60 can operate on biofuel
Alternatives include using biofuel (HVO), which Azimut is offering for use on its new Magellano 60 and has been adopted on some Caterpillar engines and by the 44m Lammouche superyacht. This can be a solution, although not for long hauls, while kites can be used to support or replace engine propulsion ² and have been used successfully, such as on the Silent 60 solar-electric catamaran.
Yachting is an integrated experience, so we need to consider other ways to reduce our footprint. These can include treating ballast and cooling water, choosing less toxic anti-fouling paint, using a waste compactor ³, reducing single-plastic use (such as bottles, cutlery and sanitary products), using more non-refrigerated food and not damaging reefs when anchoring.
Fishing responsibly and paddling instead of using a dinghy with an engine are also little steps in the right direction.
Fraser beach clean-up in Hong Kong
Back to the shore. Marinas have a direct impact on the environment and greening possibilities include looking at alternative energy sources, proper waste management, recycling policies and the use of native species for decoration, instead of trees or plants demanding watering beyond rainfall. And we need to encourage citizen initiatives such as beach cleaning and participating in carbon-offset activities.
The above is far from exhaustive and will not make yachting a green activity overnight, but they’re among real actions that are being considered by the industry and boat owners to protect the core of what we like about yachting: access to a pristine environment.
¹ Some vertical ones such as the ones from Phileole are particularly compatible with yachts: www.phileole.com/en/product/phileole-sailing/
Specialising in international development since 1997, including over 22 years with UNICEF, Manhes has worked across Europe, Africa and Asia, where he has held positions in Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar. During his career, his work on climate change and the prevention of environmental degradation has involved mobilising the private sector and influencers through innovation. An experienced sailor, ‘JB’ has crossed the Atlantic and sailed in the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Indian Ocean.