Big, Bad Boating: The Environmental Dangers of Moldering Boats


Your family bought that old boat decades ago, when you had the free time to spend a whole weekend on the water. These days, you find it difficult to find even an hour to yourself, let alone the days it takes to prepare for a boating trip. Now, the large vessel takes up precious space in your garage, backyard, or (worst of all) driveway, and you can almost watch as it falls apart bit by bit.

If this sounds familiar, you aren’t alone. Thousands of American families own boats, but few come close to using it enough to justify the cost. As a result, many boats are rotting in marinas or on their owners’ property — and leaking toxic waste into the environment as they do so.

It isn’t safe to let your boat waste away. Boats are filled with toxic and dangerous materials that have disastrous effects on people, animals, plants, soil, and water. If you want to support your environment, you need to learn more about how boats decompose and safe alternatives for getting rid of your vessel.

The Effects of Boating Chemicals

The days are long past when boats were handcrafted wholly from natural materials, like wood, sap, and linen. Modern vessels comprise millions of chemicals, many of which are harmful to the environments boats are intended to travel through. Here are some common boating chemicals and their impact on boating environments:

  • Oil and gasoline. These often kill wildlife outright, through cancer or birth defects, but they can also inspire strange behaviors that inhibit proper swimming, eating, or mating.
  • Battery acid and lye. These easily dissolve in water, increasing an aquatic area’s acidity or alkalinity — which can immediately exterminate present life.
  • Cleaning agents. These can accumulate over time in sediment and be metabolized by microorganisms. Not only does this reduce water’s oxygen content, often impairing growth in underwater environments, but it also creates a horrible foam on water surfaces.
  • Metals such as zinc and copper. These chip off boats, dissolve in water, and are impossible to remove. When animals and plants ingest high quantities of metals, they die.

Regular maintenance can slow or stop the spread of these chemicals into environments, but it is typically more difficult to thwart leaching from older vessels, especially once they have begun to molder. Unfortunately, as older boats fall apart, instead of recognizing the dangers their chemicals pose to the environment, many boat owners take the easy option: Abandonment.

Abandoned Vessels Cause Problems

Abandoning your boat isn’t a viable solution. For centuries, abandoned vessels have caused problems in waterways around the world, endangering environments not just for wildlife but also for other boaters. If you leave your boat in a waterway, it will likely move without intention, bobbing just under the surface and running into other vessels. In fact, abandoned boats are so dangerous that many nations have used scuttling as a method for protecting their waterways during wartime.

Abandoned boats that don’t sink are equally dangerous. Aquatic squatting is a common practice around the country, and unwanted vessels are prime targets for those eager for shelter. While it might seem helpful to provide the homeless with a space to sleep, old boats can sink at any time, meaning squatters are not safe taking shelter in them. Plus, squatters are known for generating inordinate amounts of litter, which harms the natural environment; even worse, some squatters use boats as headquarters for criminal activity. You could be held liable for crimes or damage caused by your boat even years after you abandon it.

The Best Solution for Unwanted Boats

By far, the easiest way to get rid of an unwanted vessel is boat donation. With a single call or email to a charity that accepts old boats, you can be certain that your vessel will be picked up and hauled away in a matter of weeks. If you are interested in tax deductions from your charitable gift, you will likely take pictures or endure an appraisal process; then, the charity will gather up your boat to refurbish or scrap it in an environmentally friendly manner.

Of course, this isn’t your only option. If your boat remains in good repair, you can try to sell it yourself — but that process can be long and stressful. You can also pull your vessel to a junkyard equipped to manage boats, but that can also be a stressful task. Ultimately, the best way to dispose of your moldering boat is the way that will best keep its debris and chemicals out of natural environments — which for most tired owners is boat donation.

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