Ethical Dilemmas

We recently reviewed our position on a whole swath of decisions which we have taken consciously and sub-consciously as we have been setting up our cruise and charter business.

It was an interesting process. and brought into focus a number of issues we have been ducking for some time.

So what is an ethical decision and how do you decide the best path. The abstract definitions of deontological, virtue and teleological ethics don't really help very much. In the end we can only trust in out intuition or 'common sense' and do what we think is right. Our decisions may have only a tiny impact on the world in general but they do directly and indirectly effect our customers and partners and of course ourselves.

Our overriding responsibilities are treat our customers, partners and the general public with respect and to avoid actions which will have a negative effect on their collective wellbeing. In particular we have reviewed environmental considerations and commercial relationships.

Carbon footprint

Our first area for review was our environmental impact. This falls into two parts, the efficiency of our cruising operations and our of season periods.

Cruising impact

We have done an simple CO2e calculation for our typical cruises including travel options for guest arrival and departure. The diagram shows different guest travel options against a standard 6 day bareboat charter in Turkey (6 people sharing ) and a Caribbean cruise (based on Carnival's own figures for an economy cabin) The comparisons are stark and we think reinforce our claim to be an eco-cruise company. This is not to say we couldn't do better and some of options in the following sections will impact on our cruising footprint.


This is a tough one. We resisted the hair shirt approach of operating without engines. It is simply too restricting and potentially dangerous. Modern harbours do not offer the space or shore based support for sail only ships and the cost of hiring overpowered tugs for manoeuvring in port is prohibitive. Historically sail only vessels particularly sailing barges have a suffered numerous disasters on lee shores which suitably sized auxiliary power would have prevented.

We looked hard at all electric propulsion when we built Snark but it simply wasn't viable five years ago. Even now the costs are very high. A 67 tonne ship needs a lot of power to make way against a strong wind and large waves and in the end this is our safety criteria. To do this with electric motors required substantial stored power, batteries are expensive and can only store a few hours of power, hydrogen fuel cells are complex, introduce a high risk system onto a simple vessel and are still in their infancy.

Recharging either of the above with solar, wind or water turbines will only work with significant rest periods. So many electrically propelled vessels fall back on diesel generators. These theoretically operate at maximum efficiency unlike direct propulsion engines. However there is a fallacy in this argument. Properly sized and used direct diesel propulsion will operate close to its optimum performance and transfer the maximum power to propulsion. Indirect power is just that and the losses in conversion from generator to battery to motor are all significant.

So in the end we have modern high efficiency low emission turbo diesel engines with high efficiency propellers. The best strategy we can manage at present is to minimise our engine use and sail whenever we can. Not such a bad thing really.


Our other power uses are for cooking, chilled food storage, water heating and pressurisation, and space heating. We decided at the outset to avoid using butane gas systems for both environmental and safety reasons. While in harbour we try to connect to shore power, the most likely way to obtain an efficient sustainable green supply of power.

For off grid operations we have looked at onboard wind and solar generation but this would not come close to providing the continuous power we need for a commercial sailing vessel and is disproportionately expensive and complex to operate. So in the end we have to rely on diesel generator and minimising usage. We use the waste heat from the exhaust to provide hot water for washing and heating etc.

Winter space heating is our biggest energy use. Snark is well insulated and needs about the same space heating energy as a modern house. We have a heat store tank that supplies hot water and underfloor heating ( I know very posh) but how to heat this. We need to be flexible.

  • In our current berth we are on the mud half the time so have no continuous sea water supply. This limits the use of the water cooled generator.

  • Also in a deep Devon valley we don't see the sun on deck for five months of the year so solar heating is out.

  • We have a solid fuel stove with a back boiler which is our current main heat source. This is labour intensive, dusty and even with eco fuels way down the list for environmental considerations.

  • We have a small 5kw diesel boiler for quick hot water production without firing up the 15kw generator.