Six Ways to be a Green Engineer

24 November 2008 By Chris Gregor

The easiest way to be “green” is to think about things you do every day and realize the impact that you, as an individual, have in reducing waste.

Over the years, I’ve discovered a few simple ways to help make a boat more environmentally friendly:

• In order to reduce energy consumption on board, I retrofitted our yacht with LED bulbs rather than incandescent bulbs. This also falls under the safety category due to the amount of heat traditional bulbs produce. I’ve seen the tops of doors smolder and  throw pillows catch fire due to a reading light. LEDs use much less power and operate with little heat compared to conventional bulbs.

• If you can run your vessel on a smaller load to facilitate using only one generator, then do so. In cooler climates, I disable one of my chillers. When no one is due to be aboard for a week, I turn off the water heater. It's these little things that really add up.

• How the yacht is run underway can make a big difference in fuel economy. Most modern main engine manufacturers now supply percentage of load, fuel burn and exhaust gas temp (EGT). This great tool helps to show how the main engines operate most economically. Older units display load as a function of throttle lever position, which is not a true indication. I like to use an exhaust gas temperature gauge plumbed before turbo to get an actual engine load. This way when I find the rpm that corresponds with the lowest EGT, I know the engine is using less fuel. The rpm can change with load, especially in semi displacement hulls. The big, full displacement hulls typically have one sweet spot and stay that way regardless. Also, keeping the hull and running gear clean with monthly dive service will improve performance.

• If you are lucky enough to have an Alfa Laval, polish your fuel once a week. The amount of power you will use in the process will be outweighed by reduced fuel consumption.

• If you’ve been sending out the oil from your main engine for analysis then good for you; if not, then listen up. Oil analysis is a procedure whereby you take a small sample of engine oil and send it to a lab, which mails or even emails you back a report. It will tell you how many parts per million (ppm) of different trace elements the oil contains, which can alert you to excessive corrosion, water emulsification and whether the bearings are beginning to break down. The report also gives you total base number (TBN) of the oil, which basically tells you how much life it has before detergention begins and additives deplete, necessitating a change. Not only does this reduce the cost of operation by extending oil change intervals, but also helps reduce waste oil.

• Whenever possible, my wife, the chief stew, and I only use products that are biodegradable on board. Instead of using a product containing a caustic additive, like bleach, to clean the nonskid, try diluted Simple Green, formulated for marine use. Use vinegar and water to clean windows instead of ammonia-based cleaners. My cleaning arsenal consists of microfiber towels, vinegar, magic erasers, vinyl protectant, Simple Green, wax and a metal polish.

Most of us work on yachts because we love the water. We make our money off the seas and it is our duty to ensure their survival.

If you have other tips for keeping green on board, please post them.