The Official Magazine of the Bluewater Cruising Association

Offshore Sailing in the Climate Crisis - Part 2

Rick Ellis

Welcome Passage
Truant 33
August 24th, 2022

Editor’s note: The author recently submitted this paper to the BCA Board of Directors for their consideration in anticipation of a strategic planning session in the fall. The BOD thought that sharing the paper would be of value to the membership and our Currents readership at large, hopefully stimulating some thoughtful conversation about the climate crisis and what we, as offshore sailors, need to think about.  Part 1 of this article covered topics around weather, global circulation, sea level rise, navigation and the economics of cruising.

This is the final part of a two-part document outlining factors to be considered when preparing to sail offshore during the climate crisis.  This article focuses on how the climate crisis is influencing social factors in foreign countries, and how that will impact cruising in a multitude of ways. Climate change is inherently unpredictable, and ongoing research is continually changing.  Offshore sailors, and those interested in providing relevant education, will be well advised to keep in mind that the current status of the factors discussed should be reviewed and updated frequently.

Note: The term carbon is used to refer to carbon dioxide, methane, and all other gasses contributing to climate change.

Social Factors in Foreign Countries

Middle income and wealthy people are increasingly being recognized as the major contributors to the climate crisis. Promised reparation payments to poorer countries bearing the burden of the climate crisis are lagging or non-existent. Cruising sailors, especially those with larger, modern boats may be seen as “representing” the cause of the climate crisis. This may lead to significant change in how they are viewed and accepted in other countries – especially in tropical islands and other locations that are being most severely impacted by the climate crisis.

Ongoing changes are as follows.

Economic / Wealth Gap / Inequities

Third world countries will be disproportionately impacted by climate change – influencing their economic, political situations and infrastructure – and thus influencing what they will be able to offer sailing yachts. Route planning should consider these changes.


As mass human migration increases, resulting from the climate crisis, certain locations will likely be closed to cruising sailors. Cruising yachts may well be subject to additional inspections regarding human smuggling.


Third world destination countries may change their perspective on cruising sailors which will influence how welcoming they are compared to the past. Changes in regulations regarding foreign vessels will result if sailing yachts are considered an imposition on local infrastructure, a drain on scarce local resources, or are considered a risk to the health of local populations.


There are likely to be increased security risks to sailing yachts and sailors due to the local impacts of the climate crisis. Desperate people (especially youth) may become more hostile. Cruising sailors are an easy “target” in a tumultuous climate crisis world – especially if they are viewed as a symbol of ostentatious wealth.

Health of offshore sailors

The climate crisis will create additional health risks, and challenges in receiving health care. Maintaining sailor health will become more difficult as the climate crisis progresses. Ongoing changes are:

  • Since recurring pandemics are a probable result of the climate crisis, unpredictable changes in regulations to enter foreign countries are likely. Meeting local requirements while cruising (e.g. getting vaccinations or test results) will become more difficult.
  • Local medical support for cruising sailors (including providing vaccinations) may be unavailable or a low priority if the climate crisis and associated emergencies (e.g. famine or pandemics) have depleted local health care capacity or overwhelmed hospitals.
  • Heat stress tolerance or adaptation in some parts of the world will become a requirement to access these areas.
  • Air conditioning on boats will become essential to cruise in some areas – with associated carbon contribution to the climate crisis if powered by diesel gensets. The implications of air conditioning failure could become more dire.
  • Algal blooms and potential allergic, or toxic reactions will increase as the climate crisis intensifies.
  • Climate crisis drought in many parts of the world will make water scarce, and water availability to sailing yachts more limited. Watermakers running on diesel gensets will contribute to the climate crisis.
  • In many locations food supplies will be disrupted or severely limited. Hence, the variety and amount of provisions available will be unpredictable or possibly rationed in foreign ports.


Cruising in a climate crisis will present additional psychological challenges, such as:

  • The death of dreams – some sailors have been dreaming about and preparing for offshore sailing for years and may find the dream is shattered by the challenges posed by the climate crisis.
  • The loss of privilege – sailors have often taken for granted their privilege. It will be important to be aware of personal responses to the “restrictions” listed above and the desire to continue privileged and climate-destructive lifestyles.
  • Discomfort and inconvenience – as sailing yachts have become larger and better equipped, likewise the desire for comfort and convenience has increased. Both will be threatened by the climate crisis.
  • Higher risk – offshore sailing will become a higher risk activity, even in traditionally benign waters. Increased tolerance for danger and risk will likely pose both a challenge and stress on skippers and crews.
  • Fear – ability to manage fear will become essential in rapidly changing situations.
  • Predictability – all aspects of offshore sailing will become less predictable. Constant changes, disruptions and uncertainties will increase stress on skippers and crews.
  • Eco-grief – encountering the destruction of the natural world (e.g. coral reefs, tropical ecosystems) and the destruction of the cultures of third world countries will likely lead to increased ecological grief or “eco-grief” and the need to develop ongoing “heartbreak capacity”. Alternatively, sailors may find they develop callousness and become less compassionate or concerned for the natural world or for others (including fellow sailing yachts).
  • Guilt and/or remorse is likely if sailors acknowledge and make themselves accountable for their “lifetime carbon footprint”. Recognizing that most middle-income activities engaged in, and the associated wealth accumulated, over the past 35 years (time since climate change was recognized) resulted in significant carbon contributions to the climate emergency.

Ethical considerations and responsibilities

In the past sailors have considered their activities relatively “green”. However, the reality seems to be that offshore sailing in today’s larger, more extensively equipped boats, on today’s schedules, has made offshore sailing far less green. This raises ethical questions regarding sailors’ contributions to the climate crisis.

It also raises the question of whether cruising sailors will be held accountable for their carbon footprints via things like carbon taxes. Calculating the carbon footprint of vessels and voyages would provide a useful basis for assessing and addressing this issue. Items to include in any evaluation are:

  • The carbon footprint of the vessel as outfitted with all equipment.
  • The carbon footprint of the various sailing routes that are planned.
  • The carbon contribution of diesel engines and gensets vs electric generation and propulsion alternatives.
  • The carbon footprint of flights home, family and friends flying to ports for rendezvouses and other ancillary travel while cruising.
  • The whole-life carbon contribution of all cruising equipment.
  • The carbon cost of the disposal of broken or outdated equipment.


Traditionally, offshore sailors would ‘learn the ropes’ by sailing with experienced skippers and crew, then sailing their own boats with an experienced person on board to mentor them in a variety of challenging conditions. One very effective way to gain valuable experience was to be part of sailing races that were known to be held in challenging conditions. The option of “wait until conditions are better” doesn’t exist when races start at fixed times. With the development of the Internet, an explosion of information was available and people that were planning on sailing offshore could become very knowledgeable. The axiom “knowledge is preparation” became the mantra. As boat systems became more technical, there was much more to learn and understand. However, knowledge isn’t skill, and in the climate crisis knowledge won’t be a substitute for skill based on extensive practice and experience.

Given the challenges arising during the climate crisis it is likely that cruising boats with simple, less technical, easily maintained systems are going to be more desirable. Likewise smaller boats that are less conspicuous and easily sailed may be more desirable. The climate crisis will demand high skill levels to handle the challenges ahead, whether they be weather, navigation, cultural or psychological.


Offshore cruising in the next 5 years will require a much greater level of tolerance to risk, and skill to respond effectively and quickly to the dramatic changes that are occurring on both the local and global scales. It seems unlikely that the risk can be mitigated by additional equipment, which has often been the ‘go to’ solution in the past.

Cover image: Author: kai Stachowiak, License: CC0 Public Domain


  1. Billy Norrie says:

    Doom’s Day is coming. Oh bother.
    Go Simple. Go small. Go Now.
    Bless Lin and Larry,S hearts
    BCA is ultimately conservative and “prep centered”.
    I for one will not be dismayed by such over the top negativity.
    Sure times are changing but let there be degrees of concern
    VS GPS, PredictWind, AIS, Satellite communication and BCA friendships etc
    … if it was easy everyone would be out there …
    Oh PS don’t forget fishing rods and a deep bodega
    Scuppers and Popppy

    SV Pixie

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