Getting on a gas-guzzling Jet Ski or powerboat isn’t the only way to get your kicks on the water this summer. More and more Americans are enjoying both the tranquility and exhilaration of human-powered boating, whether by kayak, canoe, pedal boat or paddle board—minus the pollution. While no modern boats are perfect when it comes to environmental impact, those made from wood verified by the nonprofit Forest Stewardship Council come pretty close. But since wood boats are typically handcrafted, they can cost more than four times as much as similar boats made of other materials. Do-it-yourselfers can keep costs down by ordering plans from Guillemot Kayaks or a complete wooden canoe or kayak kit from Chesapeake Light Craft and building it at home in the garage.
Milk Jug and Metal Paddling
For everyone else with an ecological conscience—but not the time or money to spare on a hand-forged wooden boat—a plastic kayak or canoe might be the best option. The high- and low-density polyethylene (HDPE and LDPE) that most plastic kayaks and canoes are fabricated from, while petroleum-based, is recyclable either through municipal recycling centers or specialty recyclers.
Some manufacturers produce kayaks and other boats out of already recycled plastic. Walden Kayaks, made in the U.S. by Michigan-based Meyers Boat Company, include upwards of 15% recycled HDPE (also known as #2 plastic), known for its high strength-to-weight ratio and its use in a wide range of everyday products including milk jugs. The company estimates that its use of recycled material since its inception in 1992 has saved upwards of 600 tons of plastic from entering landfills.
Another decent choice for the green-minded paddler is aluminum. Grumman aluminum canoes and Aluyak aluminum kayaks not only look like classics, but they can also be recycled—like so many soda cans—once their time has passed.
Use Your Feet
New designs in polyethylene-based pedal boats from companies like Nauticraft, which makes modernized pedal boats, and Hydrobike, which makes ones using a bike frame set atop two floats, are helping a growing number of converts achieve speeds as fast as 10 miles per hour on leg power alone. Meanwhile, stand-up paddle board surfing—a form of paddle-aided surfing for flatwater conditions first pioneered between surf breaks in Hawaii that’s now a fitness craze—is also going green, as board designers like Surftech, Everpaddle and Greenlight working with bamboo and other sustainable materials flood the growing market with new products.
Of course, the greenest option would be to buy, borrow or rent a used watercraft—and thus prevent the manufacture and shipping of a new one. Even if the older one is made from a less-than-sustainable material like fiberglass, Kevlar or Airalite, it’s still better to keep it afloat than send it to a landfill.