More people in the United Kingdom today are more aware of the environmental impact of their actions than ever before. That awareness extends to travel, whether for business or leisure. Ferry travel, one of the most ancient of the forms of modern-day travel, has long established its own impact on the environment as minimal and many ferry companies are taking actions to reduce that impact even further.

The United Kingdom, being a set of islands, has always been dependent on sea travel. Besides the British tradition embedded in maritime ventures, there’s the experience gained over the many centuries from using as few natural resources as necessary to accomplish the purpose of travel. Today, British ferry services run international routes between UK ports and the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Spain, Scandinavia and Ireland; local ferry services connect the British mainland to the Scottish Isles, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Wight, the Isle of Man and the Isles of Scilly. Imagine the alternatives if there were no ferries and you’ll come up with few other answers as reliable, safe and friendly to the environment as ferries.

Ferries were the first mode of modern travel to pioneer mass transit. When you consider the automobile, any mode of travel that replaces fifty or a hundred engines with one or two, even for short legs of a trip, confers an ecological advantage. Even the large engines used by ferries have environmental credentials. Engineering studies have shown that modern ferry engines produce much less greenhouse gas than aeroplane engines, as measured in kilograms of CO2 created per passenger-km of travel. In addition, many ferries today recycle the heat generated by their engines to warm passenger areas and to provide hot water, thereby not using any extra fuel for those purposes.

One of the intrinsic ways in which ferries help to protect the environment is with their own design and manufacture. Ferries are now being built out of aluminum alloys and other metals just as strong as steel, but much lighter in weight. Less weight for a ferry means less fuel used per trip just to move the ferry. Ferry hulls are being designed with the use of software that determines the shape that will work at peak efficiency. Paints of a non-polluting type are now used to protect the vessels from corrosive sea air. Engines that run more efficiently are being used for more fuel savings. Power management systems enable the captain of a ferry to shut down one or two of a ferry’s engines completely when the load is light, again creating fuel savings.

The other equipment installed on a ferry has also become more environmentally friendly. A simple item like a light bulb can reduce environmental impact by the multiplication of the small amount saved with an individual energy-saving light bulb by the thousands of light bulbs used aboard a ferry. Safety is not reduced with the use of these lights, though — these safety lights are still kept bright enough to do their job. In other locations onboard ship, such as the engine room, the bridge and vehicle areas, Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs) are being used, consuming much less energy and last much longer than incandescent light bulbs.,

Fresh water aboard a ferry is always a supply problem — no one wants to take fresh water away from local coastal areas that need it. So, some ferries produce their own fresh water supply with small desalination plants onboard. To take the concept of being friendly to the environment in a local way, many ferries buy the fresh products for consumption onboard locally rather than by shipping the products across country and wasting fuel.

The infrastructure needed for a ferry route is simple — it’s the sea. A railroad needs to have track laid and maintained; aeroplanes need massive amounts of land for terminals and runways. Both railroad engines and aeroplane engines are simply not as efficient or as clean when compared to ferry engines. Advanced route planning that takes notice of weather, currents and other maritime factors is yet another way in which ferries reduce their fuel costs.

Ferry engines not only conform to all national and international standards for fuel emissions and environmental impact, but also are being designed and installed to take advantage of low-impact fuels, including low-sulphur and bio-diesel types. Anti-idling programs, both for ship’s engines while a ferry is in port and for any automobiles being ferried, also work to reduce pollution.

Ferry terminals are being re-designed to reduce the environmental footprint of ferry operations. The gasoline-powered vehicles used within ferry terminals have been converted to electrical and propane-powered vehicles. A ferry’s sewage is no longer being dumped at the terminals, at ports or at sea — most modern ferries carry their own environmentally-friendly sewage treatment plants onboard. Garbage created during a ferry trip is collected and either recycled or composted at the end of each trip. Even something as trivial as a few drips of motor oil are considered important — education programs for the crew focus on clean-up as an intrinsic part of their duties.

Awareness of the environment is another way the ferry lines of the UK have begun to contribute to the ecology movement. Anyone who’s ridden a ferry knows about the view of the ocean and its inhabitants in passing, but it’s time to see what’s actually there. Marine conservation organisations such as SeaSearch, Oceanopolis and ORCA have all partnered with ferry lines to present educational briefings onboard on dolphins, porpoises, whales, birds and other creatures of the sea. In addition, ferry lines have set up surveys of coastlines and special mini-cruises for study of coastal bird migrations.

Such efforts are not limited to the ocean. Crews are given credit for local clean-ups on rivers and streams. Ferry lines have contributed to the recent Whale Festival, destined to become a regular event promoting the importance and necessity of keeping the seas surrounding the United Kingdom clean and unpolluted.

Finally, citizens of the United Kingdom are the ones who make the most difference when it comes to finding the alternatives for travel that do not hurt the environment. More and more people are choosing the ferry as the way to go.