Clean Regattas in the Time of COVID

By Paige Myatt

Social distancing. Face masks. Perpetually cleaning commonly touched surfaces. All of these measures that comprise the new “normal” have forced us to adjust our everyday routines. It is the reality we live within during this era of COVID-19. Among the many crises that have emerged as a result of the pandemic, the climate crisis is ever-looming. In particular, the plastic pollution crisis has been exacerbated with the uptick in disposable dining items, masks, sanitizing wipes, and gloves, to name a few. Many clean-up organizations have already seen these items begin to litter the marine environment and expect this trend to increase.

As the summer season is upon us in the Northern Hemisphere, many of us are itching to get back out on the water. We hope that as you start sailing again, you do so safely, and with the environment in mind through our Clean Regattas program. We will examine each of our 20 Best Practices, many of which rely on reusable items, and provide information on how they have been impacted by the coronavirus. While we are not health experts, we hope to provide you with reliable information so that you can make an informed decision when it comes to achieving sustainability while maintaining health and safety as a top priority. We realize there will be new challenges, but hope you can incorporate as many Best Practices as you can. Just let us know of your successes or limitations in the feedback section when certifying your event!

Elimination of Single-Use Items

The most important thing to note for this Sustainability Theme is that many studies have been released showing that reusables are safe during this time, including a statement signed by more than 100 scientists, and that surface transmission of COVID-19  is not the main way the virus spreads. The CDC notes that surface transmission has not been documented. If you choose to opt for reusable items at your sailing events this summer, encourage good hygiene practices and washing reusable items frequently and thoroughly.

1. Eliminate Single-Use Water Bottles and Provide Water Refill Stations

  • Our most commonly achieved Best Practice, eliminating single-use water bottles, has become commonplace at sailing events with most sailors carrying their own reusable bottle. Beyond their environmental benefits, insulated reusable bottles keep their contents cooler for longer. On the health and safety side of things, you can control how clean your reusable bottle is and how many hands it passes through. This is much harder to do with plastic water bottles that all look the same, which can also lead to a lot of unnecessary waste.
  • If you have a water refill station at your club, consider posting a notice above it to remind users to not touch the dispenser to the mouth of their bottle.

2. Eliminate Plastic Straws

  • Many regattas that are happening are not socializing post-regatta at the bar. This Best Practice might not be applicable at this time.
  • While you might not need straws at events right now, take this opportunity to research eco-friendly alternatives, many are recommended in the 2020 Clean Regattas Toolkit, for when events get back up and running.

3. Serve Food with Plastic-Free Dinnerware

  • From what we have learned from regattas thus far, the time spent gathering post-race has been limited, if not forgone completely. This likely means there are no meals being served to limit exposure and congregating in groups. While regattas might not be responsible for providing food anymore, if participants are bringing their own food, consider suggesting that they do so in reusable containers and with reusable cutlery.

4. Use or Provide Reusable Bags

  • Achieving this Best Practice might be tricky, as some areas have banned bringing reusable bags to grocery stores. However, this step in the opposite direction is expected to be short-lived, as many of these reusable bag restrictions are being lifted and states who had paused their plastic bag are reinstating them. Without the need to supply food and drinks to participants, provisioning for the regatta with reusable bags might not apply. Any shopping that you do have to do, use your reusable bags if you can, and remind your participants to do the same.

5. Award Gear or Use a Perpetual or Upcycled Trophy

  • This Best Practice is largely unimpacted by COVID, and still worth doing! As we see races geared more towards family and getting whole households involved in the sport, consider taking this time to get any youth involved and make an upcycled trophy.

Community Involvement

6. Publicize Your Sustainability Efforts

  • There is a lot going on in the news right now, and while your efforts towards conservation might not be worthy of the front-page, consider taking this time to update your website with any sustainability initiatives you are tackling, or hope to work on in the future.
  • If you have a special sustainability achievement, your local papers might want to hear about it to provide their readers with some positive news!

7. Involve Local Organizations

  • Now more than ever we are realizing the power of community. Take this time to consider giving back if you are able. Reach out to organizations that might need volunteers or donations. Ask regatta participants to bring a non-perishable item or canned good to donate to the local food pantry, or maybe collect fabric donations for groups who are making reusable masks. Get creative and see where you can make an impact!

8. Post Responsible, Educational and Reusable Signage

  • Clean Regatta signage probably looks a lot different now, encouraging mask wearing and social distancing, more so than the typical waste receptacle guidelines. For any signs you may produce, make them durable so they can last as long as they need to.

9. Serve Local Food or Source Seafood Sustainably

  • Local food is beneficial for many reasons, especially during COVID. We’ve all heard about food and beverage factories shutting down due to outbreaks. If you can reduce the amount of hands your food touches and buy directly from the farm stand down the street, even if it’s just a few ingredients of your meal, that’s a huge win for you and supports your community.

Responsible Waste Management

10. Assemble and Identify Your Green Team

  • A Green Team member’s typical job might be helping to post responsible signage on waste receptacles or helping sailors sort their recyclables. With the lack of social gatherings post-race, these tasks are likely obsolete. However, you can rely on Green Team members to make sure your efforts to stay a Clean Regatta are intact via your email and digital communications.
  • Take this time to brainstorm sustainability initiatives for the future! 

11. Ensure Proper Waste Bin Placement and Signage

  • While you might not have extra bins to label as you typically would during a regatta or post-race setting, now might be a great time to consider installing more permanent and informative waste signs to your club’s receptacles.

12. Divert Food Waste from the Landfill

  • Composting at a regatta that has little food makes this Best Practice hard to apply. However, consider sharing with participants the benefits of composting and challenge them to start doing it at home. Or, if you have yet to implement composting at a regatta, do some research now to see what it would take once larger scale events are back up and running. This might be a great way to involve a local composting organization or farm (see #7).

13. Use Paperless Event Management

  • Many things in our daily lives have gone virtual over the past few months. Hopefully, transitioning to online skipper meetings and digital regatta management has followed this trend, making wasteful, paper-based event management a thing of the past.

Environmental Stewardship

14. Host a Beach or Marina Clean-up

  • With more and more personal protective equipment showing up along our coastlines, it might be important to do a clean-up now more than ever. However, we recommend using grabbers and/or reusable gloves to handle these items.

15. Promote Alternative Transportation

  • We understand public transportation can be a health concern during COVID. With more locally-based regattas happening and much less international travel, it could be fun and informative to share a quick carbon footprint calculation of the CO2 emissions that have been saved by not traveling hundreds of miles to an event. If your club is in a bike-friendly location, consider reminding attendees to ride their bike!

16. Increase Awareness of Wildlife and Habitat Protection

  • With many open ocean races on hold for the moment, take this time to get to know the wildlife that may be present in your immediate area and share this information in an e-newsletter or on social media.

17. Offer Vegetarian or Vegan Alternatives

Green Boating

18. Encourage Water Only Washdowns

  • Especially in the case of community boats, it is important to take the precaution of wiping down commonly touched surfaces after each use. We realize simple water washdowns might not be sufficient during this time, which leads us to the next Best Practice.

19. Use Non-Toxic Sunscreens or Cleaning Products

  • Since COVID-19 is a coronavirus, meaning it has a layer around it that, when destroyed, also destroys the virus, simple soap and hot water are effective in cleaning surfaces. Most cleaners are designed to handle diseases more persistent than coronaviruses. Heavy-duty, toxic cleaners are not needed, and will likely damage the environment. You can find a list of non-toxic cleaning products in our Green Boating Guide. Ecoworks Marine notes on their website that their sanitizer is safe for the environment and is tested and approved to destroy coronaviruses.
  • Did you know that sodium hypochlorite-based cleaners are not only harmful to the environment, but also to the skin and respiratory system? Quaternary ammonium compounds, or quats, can be toxic if inhaled and are also known to cause birth defects and are toxic to marine life if they enter waterways.
  • Here is a resource that will tell you if your cleaner can kill COVID-19 based on EPA registration number.

20. Do Not Offer Bow Stickers to Competitors

  • With more fun and family-oriented races, the focus shifts from competition to having fun on the water. Consider encouraging youth to make their own burgees for their family boat. If you are getting back to racing, check out the toolkit for bow sticker alternatives.

Additionally, here are some examples of COVID resources from various sailing organizations:

US Sailing

Caribbean Sailing Association

Canadian Yachting

Sail Newport

Oakcliff Sailing

Severn Sailing Association