Green awareness seeping into boat sector: Intracoastal Waterway

By Mike Readling

It only takes a short trip along the Intracoastal to see the beauty and elegance of some of the docks and decks that line the waterway. Colorful woods in various designs, small piers jutting out from the sea walls and boats of numerous sizes and classes catch your eye at every turn. It is one of the things that make the Intracoastal such a peaceful, meandering ride during any summer sunset.

What you don’t see during your dusk float is the destruction many of those decks, docks and boats are causing: environmental effects that have ramifications not only in Manalapan and Ocean Ridge, but throughout the entire state of Florida and even into South America.

The problem, during this time of more green-concious living, is that eco-thinking hasn’t taken hold in the marine industry. Yet.

But there are several local businesses that are trying to change the way waterfront dwellers and mariners think when it comes to upgrading their docks, repairing sea walls, or simply taking the boat out for a quick trip. The key words are renewable and recyclable. And we’re not talking the bottle of wine you finished last night, or the soda cans and newspapers that are so dutifully put in the blue and yellow bins by the curb.

It’s more global than that. For the time being, it’s also a little more expensive.

Dock construction

Ken Gidney is the president of Anchor Deck and Dock in Boca Raton. He has been building docks and decks for nearly 20 years, and is on the leading edge of area builders who are embracing a more environmentally sensitive movement in their business.

Gidney recently completed a course toward becoming LEED-certified. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and teaches builders techniques and alternatives to current methods, instilling the value and importance of protecting the environment.

“The biggest issue is wood,” Gidney said. “Don’t use Brazilian hardwood, because it’s coming from the rain forests in Brazil. They’re taking trees that are thousands of years old and cutting them down in less than a minute so we can all have pretty decks and docks.

“You [also] have to think locally when you’re building. If you’re going to put in concrete walls or pilings, use concrete you can buy locally. It takes a lot of fuel to haul concrete from far distances.”

Wood is the most popular deck and dock material. But wood has its advantages and disadvantages.
First, it fits into the rapidly renewable and recyclable category in that it can be broken down and mixed with recycled plastics to form a composite that can be used on docks and will last much longer.

However, wood also contains chemicals designed to make it last longer in the harsh marine elements. Until about five years ago, that chemical was arsenic. Then the government realized the large amount of arsenic in the Florida Aquifer was the result of seepage from all the docks in the state. Copper was the mandated replacement, though no one is entirely sure how that element will affect the state’s water system.

“Is it more carcinogenic that arsenic? We have no idea,” Gidney said. “Honestly, the best way to go is with concrete pilings. They last forever and there is no environmental impact at all.”

Overall, Gidney said, the best way to build a new dock or deck is to use Forest Stewardship Council certified wood or concrete and stainless steel attachments, and make sure you’re not damaging the sea life under the dock. FSC-certified means the wood is not stripped from a rain forest and shipped thousands of miles, but rather part of an approved method for improving forestry practices.

Some cities — Fort Lauderdale, for example — are requiring the placement of rip rap (basically broken rocks and rubble) under docks that extend more than eight feet from shore, ensuring a habitat for sea life. Gidney has seen an increase in environmentally sensitive building orders, but that’s not necessarily because people are thinking correctly.

“Are people thinking green? No, they’re not,” Gidney said. “People are doing this stuff because they don’t want the maintenance and the green solutions are much longer lasting and durable.”

Boat handling

But, what about the boats that are tied to those docks? Every time someone cleans a boat, or runs a bilge on the way offshore, something falls in the water. Whether it’s marine soap, industrial cleaner or the slosh-over fuel or other contaminants that pour out of the bilge, something that’s not environmentally safe hits the water. And that, according to Jena Bradley, is bad. Bradley is the dockmaster at Palm Beach Yacht Center and she sees thousands of boats a year doing something that is not only bad for the environment, but usually against Coast Guard regulations.

The biggest offender? People who are fueling boats.

“Boaters need to pay better attention when they are fueling their boats. I see them leaving the nozzle unattended while they’re down below fussing with their wife or kids,” Bradley said. “It’s probably my biggest pet peeve. They’re just so uneducated that when they get to the dock they go crazy.”

Uneducated and usually illegal. The Coast Guard regulation states that when you’re fueling your boat you must attend to the nozzle 100 percent of the time. And the Coast Guard backs up its rules with some pretty hefty fines. Any spillage over 10 gallons is reportable by law. Any clean-up that’s required will be covered by the boat owner, or the person responsible for the spill. That’s a bill that can add up quickly: The regulations state that, besides the $5,000 fine for negligence, the owner will also be fined $50 per teaspoon of fuel that hits the water.

Hull cleaning

Wendy Jackson and her husband own Pro Boat Clean, a boat cleaning service out of West Palm Beach. Pro Boat Clean is a 100 percent environmentally sensitive and completely non-abrasive way to maintain boats. Having moved from England two years ago, where the marine green movement is years ahead of the United States, the couple owns the franchise for the entire state of Florida.

“The upper end of the market has been more keen on it,” Jackson said. “It’s a little bit more expensive than wet sanding and compounding, but it works out over the course of the year. A 30-foot boat, for us, takes 3 to 4 days, where a regular guy could do it in a day. Once it’s been clean and protected by us, though, it’s a once-a-year process, rather than every three months. So, it’s the same price through the year. The advantage is you don’t have your boat worn away. You’ll still have your Gelcoat left. The boat will be the same as the day you bought it.” Typically, a wet sander and compounder will clean the boat by basically rubbing off the top layer of Gelcoat and then waxing the boat to maintain its cleanliness. Much of that Gelcoat and leftover compound goes right in the water. After about three months, the wax goes soft and the process has to be repeated. With Jackson’s Pro Boat Clean method, they use environmentally safe chemicals that seep into the deck and draw the dirt and grime out. There is no grinding or wearing away of the hull, which means not only does the boat remain intact, nothing harmful works its way into the water.

“It is completely environmentally sensitive. The animals are able to drink it if they happen to come into contact with it,” Jackson said. “We are completely green. We don’t use any of the bleaches that many of the companies use. Those bleaches are really harmful to the environment, and they’re also wet sanding so you have all those fragments flying all over the place.”

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