Being off-grid vs being Sustainable

During the COVID-19 pandemic there have been plenty of YouTube Sailing channels talking about living Off-Grid and talking about their Sustainable lifestyles.

However, the two are not the same. Sustainable living is well suited to being able to live off-grid but not all off-grid living is Sustainable.

Off-Grid, for sailing cruisers tends to mean living away from harbours and amenities for extended periods. Usually time is spent mostly at anchor.

However, if that extended time is achieved by large tanks of fossil fuels then it isn’t sustainable, instead it is simply bulk buying. Some versions of off-grid living will actually be less sustainable than living in a marina or harbour. For example most economies are de-carbonising their electricity supplies. So being in a marina might be more sustainable than being at anchor in a remote location if:

  • you are using a town water supply rather than fossil fuels to power a water maker
  • you are using a marina electricity supply that is at least partially provided by renewable sources rather than burning propane for cooking and/or diesel for heating & electricity generation
  • you are using shoreside toilets connected to a sewage plant rather than discharging raw sewage

By not using fossil fuels Sustainable Sailing helps reduce key limitations for living off-grid . In fact it will allow you to live off-grid for far longer, as essentially food becomes the only limiting factor (assuming you have what is needed for hygiene etc and boat maintenance).

With preparation and care (and throttling your activities to the renewable energy you store) it is going to be possible to be self sufficient for energy and water (at least in climates where enough solar power is available). By combining long life foods with standard ways of adding fresh food such as baking bread, sprouting seeds&beans, making yoghurt and catching fish it is possible to be comfortable for long periods. If you add local provisioning of fresh vegetables and fruit rather than going back to the full grid then indefinite off-grid living becomes straightforward and attractive.

Sadly, few of the YouTube channels have risen to the Sustainable version of Off-grid living. Yes, a few solar panels are now the norm but so is running diesel engines, generators, and petrol outboard motors.

If a pandemic that has encouraged many cruising sailors to go off-grid, hasn’t cured them of their dependence on fossil fuels then you have to wonder what will. Clearly their complaining about the amount of time and money they spend fixing and maintaining their engines and the money they spend on fuel hasn’t reached the tipping point towards change yet.

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