Ways to Use Less Plastic in Your Junior Sailing Program

By Emma Janson, Sailors for the Sea Skipper

As a junior sailing coach who spends roughly five hours a day on the water, five days a week, there is hardly a day that goes by where I don’t see some form of plastic floating on the surface. I’ve spent a lot of time this summer thinking about how junior sailing programs impact the bodies of water they use, particularly how they contribute to the growing problem of ocean plastics.

As junior sailing programs rely on healthy bodies of water, it seems important that programs assess their plastic usage and ways they could decrease it, both directly and indirectly. Below are some common sources of plastic pollution from junior sailing programs and some suggestions for how they could be addressed.

Water Bottles: Even if junior sailors say they won’t lose their single-use plastic water bottle, often those plastic bottles find their way into the water—they can fall out of boats, be blown off the dock, or just get left outside and find their way to the water. One simple solution is to encourage all junior sailors to bring a reusable water bottle with them. Even better, encourage them to clip their reusable bottle to their boat with a carabiner to ensure that it doesn't end up as floating trash if there's an accidental flip. If your club doesn’t have an easy-to-use water fountain, consider investing in a Water Monster or hose purifier to make it easy and accessible for all to fill their bottles, decreasing the need to bring or purchase single-use ones. If your club has a snack bar or galley, encourage them to stop selling single-use plastic water bottles or instead sell canned or boxed water to further reduce plastic.

Bailers: Many junior sailing boats, like an Opti or 420, require the sailor to have a bailer. Most bailers are plastic, often made from an old laundry detergent or iced tea bottle. I have seen many (and sadly experienced myself) plastic bailers float away or even sink in an unexpected capsize. The simple step of making sure your students’ bailers are tied into their boats before leaving the dock can go a long way in reducing the amount of plastic directly entering the water.

Shrink wrap: For junior sailing programs that store boats over the winter, shrink wrap is typically the go-to solution. It’s easy, and it keeps your boat covered well all winter. However, shrink wrap is made from plastic, and lots of it is needed to wrap boats sufficiently for the winter, especially if your program has more than one coach boat. Also, shrink wrap is typically not recycled, and just goes directly to a landfill. To combat this, consider reusing your shrink wrap over multiple seasons (it can be done!). If reusing it is not an option, try to find a location near you that will collect and recycle your used shrink wrap. Finally, you could consider investing in reusable canvas covers for the boats your club uses, and remove the need for shrink wrap entirely.

Candy: Oh candy, it can be so helpful to motivate young sailors, but it also directly adds so much plastic to our waters. Over the years I have grown to incredibly dislike giving candy to sailors for that reason; every time it’s handed (or tossed) out, there are always at least five wrappers floating in the water immediately after. The wrappers fly out of boats, fall out of lifejackets, get left on the dock, or just get accidentally dropped in the water. To add, we always use individually wrapped pieces of candy, like the kind you’d put in a bowl on Halloween. That's a lot of plastic wrappers given out in a really short period of time, often while out on the water directly. The list goes on. To combat this, consider having your junior sailing program stop handing out candy and have coaches brainstorm other incentives to excite kids (like swimming). If you don’t want to cut candy out completely, maybe only give it out on land when sailors can go directly to a trash can, or use it only once or twice a season. I know that’s not a favorable thing to do, but cutting out candy is a great way to directly reduce the amount of plastic your junior sailing program contributes to your local body of water.

No one solution is perfect, and this list is nowhere near exhaustive, but taking the time to reflect on your junior program's plastic usage is a great first step. Each program and sailing center is different, so talk to your staff and program leads to find out what sources your club could realistically address and what solutions would work best for you.

We have a responsibility as sailors to help protect the bodies of water we use, and junior sailing programs have a responsibility to lead by example, as junior sailors learn about much more than just sailing when they participate in sailing programs.

For more tips on how you can green up your club’s sailing programs, check out the 2022 Clean Regattas Toolkit and Green Boating Guide!