Why Yachtrecycling? 11 good reasons.

For those who love to read contents as lists and for everyone interested in a quick overview.


Remember the time when the idea of car or computer recycling appeared a surreal, almost crackpot idea? Who would ever organise such a thing, leave alone pay for it, right? That has changed quite a bit as we know. Both became flourishing and very profitable industries. I’m here to tell you that yacht recycling is about to become the next big thing. Here is why:

1. An intelligent solution to a massive environmental problem

Abandoned yachts are n denvironmental problem.

True is, nature is able to adapt to most unusual situations. But how far may that go?

Most countries worldwide, among which Scandinavian countries or The Netherlands, still lack any structure for the collection and safe dismantling of yachts at their end of life. Reason why many yachts just get dumped in the open landscape or are brought to conventional landfill. A sailing or motor yacht for recreational yachting, in short: A pleasure craft, contains substances which are toxic for the ecosystems when left in the open landscape to just rot away: Cooling liquids from the motor, oils, liquids from the board batteries, etc. Right now, many of those liquids enter our water circulation if boats are left in the water. And there’s an awful lot of ships in our waters already. Sustainable dismantling and subsequent recycling of sailing and motor boats would resolve this problem for good.


2. The issue is big and mighty enough to justify large-scale action

According to an ICOMIA estimate published in 2007, roughly 23 million of pleasure craft are out there currently, worldwide, with thousands of new ones joining the markets every year. Just imagine the mass. Average lifespan of a modern ship: 30 to 40 years. Large-scale production of yachts started in the 1970ies. Did some math? Right. Something is not knocking at the door just yet, but definitely getting real close now. Decades have flown by silently, without the nautical industry really giving much thought to this question: What to do with yachts at their end of life?

3. Job chances for many people – decent jobs that actually deserve that term

Yacht dismantling and recycling can mean economic empowerment especially also for people with low job chances including those in coastal regions. If prepared and done well, it could mean to create such chances also for the so called lower educated workforce: The working process to safely dismantle a yacht and extract components of it, technically speaking, is not very difficult. Sufficient safety measures provided (protective gear, workspace, prior appropriate training), it is a work that can be done by a wide range of people, similar like with car recycling.

Industrial structures at the shores of river Tyne, UK.

Industrial structures at the shores of river Tyne, UK.


4. Heck it even could be an alternative to fishing!

Allright – that one does sound bold and I have easy talking. Especially if you’re a fisherman whose family spent their working lives out on the water for generations. Of course it is a very different thing if you work out on the water or at a dock. But in extreme cases, where pollution is severe or overfishing has lead to such a dramatic decline in fish populations that fisheries can’t provide for a living any more, and where relocating is not high on the list of available options, an income source like yacht recycling at least could guarantee some local work alternatives more, in safe and decent conditions, all year round.

5. No sophisticated equipment needed

Safely dismantling a yacht and extracting components for later recycling is a kind of work which can be done with much of the equipment already used at the average nautical working place. The tools for breaking up, cutting down and sawing through the material are already there in many cases. So re containers for collecting materials. You’ll need these for catching the liquids of course, you need protective gear for the workers since cutting and sawing fibreglass to smaller pieces does carry health risks. But there is suitable and affordable safety gear on the markets for such works.

6. It can rather quickly be set up: The structures are there!

Many shipyards and related nautical work sites meanwhile lack sufficient business since years anyway: The economic crises have hit the industry hard, in more than one country. But many nautical work places, with their facilities ranging from hoisting cranes to transport mobiles to halls, they happen to have just the perfect structures right there in a very suitable place, for starting yacht recycling tomorrow.

7. Dots are rapidly connecting, the ball got rolling
Same goes for demand not too far from here. Technically and from the legal view, yacht recycling is becoming both possible and very foreseeable now – and within the EU, even mandatory:

– In the EU, way stricter environmental regulations have come up and will enter into force as of January 2016 – first as optional, from 2017 on as mandatory.

Specifically, there is the EU Recreational Craft Directive capable to revolutionise the entire yachting industry. For other regions of our globe, very similar developments are expected. Don’t believe me, read what above named ICOMIA has to say about it. Also, yacht recycling starting up in Europe will produce best practise intel which very likely is internationally transferable. And who knows, someone else might be faster? China has a most interesting fledging yachting industry whose future trends are totally unpredictable still. The US for instance have experts who explore the issue since a longer time. See the article ‘Recycling dead boats‘, written by naval architect Eric Sponberg. Or have a look at ECO Wolf’s fibreglass recycling process. Speaking of which:

– Fibreglass, an extremely durable, resistant and lightweight material most of the modern yacht hulls consist of, has become recyclable at comparably affordable costs. This is great news since for decades that was one mighty factor preventing yacht recycling in the first place. True is, the process still has to see large-scale industry implementation, but it exists. In various forms.

– Boat owner registry systems are about to be introduced, too. The fact that thus far these were literally absent in many countries has lead to the wild west-style practise of yacht owners carelessly ‘forgetting’ their boats somewhere in the open: No one could ever trace the owners back. That is changing as you read this, for instance in The Netherlands and Canada.

– The EU is running a real big framework programme called Horizon 2020, where substantial funds are directed to environmental innovation projects like – well, sustainable recycling of pleasure craft. Especially for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) where these cooperate across borders. Just one example of possible sustainable funding schemes whose timing is perfect.

Public awareness is rising
Which as we know is always a crucial factor in facilitating the creation of new industries. A few specific conferences meanwhile were held, successful best practise is being developed and shared by a series of experiments with yacht recycling.
France has more than 50 yacht dismantling stations and is very willing to share the experience gathered there. Sweden has started up a voluntary yacht dismantling scheme. Momentum has set in. The very same happened with car and computer recycling at their respective time: It took some time for the ball to get rolling, but look at those industries now! Shining case in point: Car recycling.

Those 4 factors listed right here above combined mean: Essential pieces have definitely begun to fall onto their places. And yacht recycling is becoming an interesting landscape for investors.

8. Cooperation across various industries

Many yachts at their end of life can’t be sailed any more to the place where they will be recycled, they have to be transported there. Via land or via water, on another ship, together with others. This can lead to more and regular work for transportation firms. It is also a new field for insurance companies. And it definitely is interesting for material recyclers. A variety of raw materials can be extracted from yachts upon dismantling, such as aluminium, copper, iron. Material recyclers very probably would welcome raw materials from yachts too. Fact is that materials like aluminium (besides other) vary in their degrees of purity (read: Recyclability). But the recycling industry is prepared to deal with this.

9. Circular economy finally also in the yachting world

Yacht recycling takes old yachts out of circulation and frees up space for new yachts. For the longest time, yachts were designed and built without considering disposal requirements at their end of life: A completely new design approach will be introduced – and enforced – by the EU directives mentioned above.

Specifications include a clear structuring and marking of components to facilitate later dismantling, like it happens in the automotive industry: A design method called ‘Cradle to cradle’ – and the start of a circular economy. Successfully recycling a mass of old yachts will free space for new yachts, to be produced, sold and sailed. Shipyards can sell more berths again, yacht brokers might see their business revive more in the near future. Right now, the largely non-existing yacht collection and dismantling structures stand in the way of a circular economy as one big obstacle: A road block consisting of missing road sections, so to speak. Here is an inspiring introduction into that concept, provided recently by a young organisation called Go Sailing, for a change (GS4C), active in yacht racing.

10. Cross-pollination of industries

This is another fine classical factor increasing business opportunities anywhere. Successful yacht recycling could bring about another recycling industry branch, currently still sleeping. Because the mass of yachts to be recycled are just one silently approaching problem of impressive dimensions. But this monster already has a cousin: Ever thought about recycling wind turbine blades? They are made of fiberglass (what do you know), their average life span is roughly 30 years. Any idea how many wind turbines are servicing out there, to date? Just let the idea sink in for a moment.

11. A sustainable pioneer industry is a great working field!

Who said it: “Luck is opportunity meeting preparation”? I love that. If you move now you’d be in fine company of innovation pioneers. And you should know, there are pessimists who say: Sailing will decline so strongly in the coming decades that it might vanish as a water sports industry altogether. Well, a mighty change is going on here. The baby-boom generation are the currently most active sailors right now and word goes that the yachting world is ‘greying’ (what a term!). But that absolutely does not mean that youngsters don’t enjoy sailing any more. Rather, there is a bigger change happpening and it calls for a shifting of business models:

Right now, young people in many countries are not so keen any more to actually own a yacht all for themselves (and the automotive industry has noticed a similar trend). They rather prefer to charter one, spend their sailing holidays on it and then go on and do other types of holidays throughout the rest of the year: Think snowboarding, hiking, surfing, other. The classical sailor who dedicated decades to his or her one own boat and used it holiday after holiday throughout decades, yes that species is slowly disappearing. In Europe at least. But concurrently, yacht charter and boat sharing are on the rise. So what changes is actually the concept of ownership. Now imagine younger generations becoming aware that the yachting industry is following sustainable practices: Definitely one coolness factor more, to consider sailing. Which by the way now includes the option to have sailing ships powered by renewable energies (walkable solar panels, hybrid propulsion!). How cool is that?

Either way, there will be constant market demand for new yachts, while space in marinas around the seven seas, rivers and lakes will remain limited. With yachts getting increasingly more eco-friendly, their recycling should become progressively easier. And it won’t become obsolete for many years still.

Yacht recycling is a pioneer field. And as said above, many pieces on the big board have now started to move. But connections and cooperations are missing between all those (mostly) small scale initiatives. No real industry branch is created without that kind of active networks. Within most nautical industries worldwide, in various countries, people are still waiting for each other to make the first move. But Victor Hugo said it once: “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” Yacht recycling is no exception here, I think. Looks like the waiting and sleeping is over. Stay tuned!

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!