Info campaigns on EOL yachts: Canada update

Can the government of a country decide by law who should pay for the costs of yacht disposal before even having suitable collection or dismantling structures in place? Just to end a state of legal limbo? And provided such a step is possible, how do you ‘sell’ that to boat owners? Here is an interesting example. And an update from Canada.

About a year and a half ago I wrote about the legal situation with abandoned pleasure craft in Canada: Transport Canada, the Canadian governmental institution responsible for transportation policies and programs, was very busy to elaborate guidelines and regulations back then. Apparently already with the intention to transfer big part of the responsibility for sustainable yacht disposal directly to the boat owners.

As many of us know, one big discussion with yacht recycling is: In the near future, which percentage of the actual costs for sustainable boat disposal can and should be covered by the boat owners, which by other parties? And who exactly are those other parties – insurance companies, harbour managers, boat brokers, shipyards, the communities, material recyclers? What can be called a fair distribution of costs and business opportunities? Many countries still are working to assess this and to find fair, viable solutions, apt to satisfy all stakeholders involved.

I checked back this week to see where Transport Canada has gotten with this topic and am impressed: On their web section for pleasure craft they now feature a special page called Abandoned boats or wrecks. It  has a set of guidelines and recommendations. Lots of clear and useful information there – and an interesting advance.  First of all, there is a fine succinct summary of the problems end-of-life boats pose to the environment:

Transport Canada on abandoned pleasure craft

Screenshot from the Transport Canada website.

Then this abandoned boats or wrecks website has 4 main text sections:
The issue
Transport Canada’s role
I own a boat
I found an abandoned boat or wreck.

Of these, 3 are just fine in terms of clear, comprehensive  information. Great imagery too. But it is the I own a boat section which definitely needs some more work. I miss a lot of essential information there. Have a look.

In that section, after (from my view: boldly) stating right in the first paragraph that only the OWNER of a pleasure craft is responsible for its safe disposal, they make a hard turn and proceed to lay out that delicate issue from a very light perspective  – the view of a potential owner of a new boat. In other words, they invite you to identify with a potential boat owner who is not saddled up yet with all the costs for maintaining and financing a less-than-brand-new pleasure craft. The timeless power of selective mention. Smart move!

Responsible boat owner guidelines

The proposed scheme “How to be a responsible boat owner” published by Transport Canada. Screenshot.

I may quote (verbatim) from their website and that section:

“Here’s a brief look at the stages of responsible boat ownership:

1. Plan to become a boat owner.
When you start to consider buying a boat, plan carefully. This is the time to budget and to find out what you will need to begin your boating adventure, in terms of documentation, insurance, training and safety equipment.
And, while it is the first stage of boat ownership, the planning stage is also the time to start thinking about what you’ll do when the adventure ends – sell the boat or dispose of it responsibly.”

That section presents 4 sub-points in total,
#2 being “Buy and license or register your boat”,
#3 “Meet all safety requirements” – last item of which is ‘respect the environment’ – but let’s jump to
#4: “Dispose of your boat”, where it gets interesting.

See for yourself. Text in italics are my comments:

“There comes a time in every boat owner’s life when they no longer want or need their boat. If the boat is still in good condition, you may choose to sell it. If you do, make sure that the ownership documents and the licence or registration are properly transferred.
Note: Many people who sell registered boats do not know that, if the new owner does not complete the transfer of ownership as specified in Part 2 of the Canada Shipping Act, 2001, the registered owner could still be liable for the vessel. If the boat is in poor condition or no longer runs, you should plan for responsible disposal.

How can I get rid of my boat when it’s not worth selling?
Don’t let your boat become a wreck. This will save you time and money. Options for disposing of your boat vary across Canada:

Overlooking that it’s not just the wrecks that can be hard to sell. Impact factors vary but it does happen that supply exceeds demand for pre-owned boats, also in Canada.

Find a boat recycling facility in your area.

Easier said than done – various services exist but this site unfortunately offers nothing resembling a respective industry businesses directory. Be informed that I’ve started to build up such a global directory here – you may wish to have a look!

Search for charities or companies in your region that may want your boat.

Phrased differently, bring the problem somewhere else, postpone it. Nice move from a social and educational point of view, but no real sustainable solution.

Ask the nearest landfill operator if they accept old boats.

And then what? Just scraping a boat is known to be far from sustainable. A collection site for end-of-life boats would be far more interesting until structures will be built up.

Ask local boat retailers if they take old boats in trade.

Local boat retailers’ often already struggle to sell usable older boats. So this idea looks hardly applicable to real end-of-life boats.

Transport Canada’s approach basically is common sense and down to earth. The problem with abandoned yachts is clearly explained, too. They also explicitly state that their boat-owning citizens are expected to take action with their old boats if they don’t use them any more. Fair enough. But here is the problem I see. They just don’t provide the essential useful information which would enable them to take the next steps:

Where exactly should owners bring the yachts? It would not hurt to get some addresses, divided per region, of collecting stations.
Do these not exist yet? Fine. Just say so, and provide intermediate collection stations then. Meaning: Provide something that works, is organised and accessible, before desperate boat owners feel compelled to get creative (keyword: dumping).

How to get their boats to a collection point when waterways are not an option any more?
Any funding available for the end-of-life transport for vessels? Or….provide mobile dismantling teams and machinery. Some very interesting concepts are being developed in The Netherlands and Italy, for instance. I can very well imagine, also in Canada.

With Greenwashing all around us in these days, how to judge whether a boat dismantler actually adheres to environmentally sustainable practises?

Price guide references for services? What may, what will it cost, best and worst case? A governmental institution is the perfect institution to ensure in time that not the sky, but financially viable common sense will be the limit for yacht disposal services.

Another point still worth a more precise definition: When is a boat lying somewhere really to be considered abandoned? Again, verbatim quote from their site – section Transport Canada’s role:

“Transport Canada does not have the authority to remove a boat unless it poses a potential or immediate hazard to navigation. We do, however: Work to educate the public about being responsible boat owners; and authorize any person, including a municipality (on a case-by-case basis), to remove abandoned boats or dispose of or destroy wrecks if the owner of the wreck is unknown.”

In other words: Transport Canada does not have the authority to remove a boat unless it poses a potential or immediate hazard to navigation. But they do assume this authority where a boat has been abandoned.

And on a scale ranging from abandoned for a few weeks, but fit for the water to wreck since years I see lots of space for creative interpretation. Do you?

Transport canada about wrecks versus usable boats.

I own a boat in fine conditions, I found a wreck – do you miss a third category here, too? Screenshot from the Transport Canada website.


Is an abandoned boat any boat without a visible license at its hull, perhaps? A look back at the I own a boat section #2. Quote again, with highlighting as it appears in the original text:

Buy and license or register your boat. Congratulations on becoming a boat owner! Make sure to license or register your boat. While these words mean one thing when we talk about owning and driving a car, they mean different things when we talk about boats.

  • Pleasure craft owners must license or register all boats with a 10 horsepower (7.5 kilowatts) or more engine. Note: If your boat is required to be licensed and it is not, you may be subject to a $250 fine.
    • A pleasure craft licence is free. It gives you a unique licence number that you must display above the waterline on both sides of the boat’s bow. This number helps law enforcement and search and rescue officials in an emergency. Note: You must carry your licence document with you when using your boat.
    • Registration has a cost. It gives you a unique name and official number. This number helps law enforcement and search and rescue officials in an emergency. It serves as proof of ownership in and outside of Canada.

And indeed, there are many opportunities and possible options. One of them also for Canada could include to pay, upon registering a new boat, a fairly calculated fee as contribution to the boat’s eventual disposal and recycling, come end of life day. Obviously this would fist require a fair spreading of the rest of the costs across various instances.

Conclusion. What do we have here? A good start, no doubt. But without the urgently needed, essential information for boat owners, there is a risk for this fine useful campaign to backfire. Because this info campaign is more than a simple environmental awareness campaign. It is a legal call to action, without enabling grounds. Meaning: Without getting the complete information and service structures boat owning citizens need to efficiently respond to that call for action. Reason why chances are high that this campaign will either motivate EOL boat owners to postpone dealing with their boats as late as possible (best case scenario) – or encourage illegal dumping instead (worst case scenario).

My own proposal for a complete structure of any website that calls out to boat owners in the above described sense would look like this – of course filled with respective contents:

The issue
Transport Canada’s role
I own a new boat
I own a pre-owned boat and want / have to get rid of it
    Business directory of boat dismantlers (per region / province)
    Map of boat collection stations (per province)
    How to get your boat to the collection station
        Road transportation (special discounts for registered owners!): Directory
        Waterway transportation on collecting ships: Directory
        Directory of mobile dismantling services
How to prepare your boat for transportation / collection

    Material recyclers: Directory (imagine an aluminium mast, a iron keel…)
Yacht component re-vendors: Directory

How to identify a sustainable dismantler

I own a boat but am unsure if it’s end-of-life already (criteria, taxation services)
I found an abandoned boat or wreck

What do you say? Let me know! In the meantime, I’m off to researching for industry news which might match one of the orange categories here above.

Happy X-Mas holidays everyone, too!


wonderful cozy X-mas house

Image courtesy of werner22brigitte @pixabay.











About mele

I research and write about the intersection of yachting with the environment aka 'sustainable sailing'. From sourcing planet-friendly yacht construction materials, sailors for ocean science, clean regattas, renewable energies aboard right up to yacht recycling. Academic training in environmental science, sailor, living at the shores of the Dutch IJsselmeer. Want me to write for you, too? Get in touch!

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