ARTICLES, SPEECHES AND OTHER READING
GRAY AREA from the Phuket Gazette
DITCH THAT TWO-CYCLE ENGINE , May 2006
None of Phuket's speedboats are 4-cycle, but there are
still too many two-cycle machines on the water, which are noisier, pollute
more and waste fuel.
My California family was scuba-certified in
1957, so we bought something new for the time - a 6.5- meter fiberglass
cabin cruiser with two 35hp outboard engines, and we took it just about
anywhere. We fished, dived, water-skied and slept the entire family in this
utility boat, exploring from Oregon to Mazatlan, Mexico.
Teenage John water-skied from Long Beach to Santa Cata-lina Island and back
on weekends, but wanted more power to negotiate the channel's afternoon
overhead swells. Although we could easily afford Twin 50hp engines (the
biggest outboards of the day) my father resisted.
"These two-cycles aren't car engines. If we don't stay small, one day they
will kill the planet with their pollution," he said. He taught me that
two-cycle motor oil mixes into the petrol, going straight through the engine
and into the water.
Today, I paddle. By definition, sea kayakers think combining speedboats with
kayaks is mixing oil and water. But we live in the speedboat capital of the
world. Google "speedboat tours", which shows seven of the first 10 search
results to be Phuket companies.
It may be good business, but what are the environmental consequences? I
looked back to my California birthplace. On January 1 this year, the world's
seventh-largest economy banned all two-cycle engines because of their air
and water pollution. The transition to four-cycle should be relatively
painless, with only environmentalists complaining that the seven-year switch
should have been reduced to four.
Stimulated by California's effort, four-cycle technology is well-developed,
and today's transitions can be accomplished immediately - ban new sales of
two-cycles, but allow attrition to replace existing two-cycles so nobody
gets hurt economically.
I researched studies by the California Air and Water Resources boards.
Starting in 1991, they studied all two-cycle outboards, jet-skis,
generators, lawnmowers and chainsaws to "achieve the greatest possible
emission reductions in a technologically feasible and cost-effective manner"
- a euphemism for "don't hurt manufacturers, dealers or users economically".
By 1994, results proved what most people already knew - two-cycle engines
eliminate the four-cycle's exhaust stroke with disastrous results. The
California study found two-cycle's advantages are simplicity, light weight
and good power. Disadvantages include poor efficiency creating high fuel
consumption, high emissions and an oiling system in which lubricating oil is
used once, then expelled with the exhaust.
Low efficiency and high emissions result from the simultaneous charging and
exhaust cycles. Up to a third of the fresh fuel mix escapes the cylinder
with the exhaust, going straight through the engine without burning,
creating extremely high hydrocarbon emissions.
Just how bad are two-cycle emissions? Two-cycle outboards generate 70% to
90% more hydrocarbon pollution than four-stroke outboards of equal
horsepower - and 95% more pollution than automobiles of similar power. Just
one trip to Koh Phi Phi in a 2x240hp speedboat creates more global-warming
pollution that two American V8 SUVs in their entire lifetimes!
Because jet-skis are propelled by sucking water into and through the craft,
these have even more drag - and are more polluting - than speedboats. Seven
hours of jet-ski use is the equivalent of 100,000 miles in an average
Look at the number of speedboats and jet-skis based in Phuket and it becomes
clear that our travel industry is a major contributor to global warming.
There are, however, solutions that could actually benefit speedboat and
For example, there are two four-cycle speedboats at The Racha resort on Koh
Racha Yai. General Manager Urs Aebi told me four-cycles may cost more, but
that the savings are immediate.
Fuel consumption is 50% of two-strokes, without expensive two-cycle motor
oil - and four-cycles are more reliable, meaning fewer repair bills.
My only other recommendation is to waive import duties on four-cycle engines
- and charge 100% on two-cycles. With such economics, laws would not be
necessary - and how effective is such legislation anyway? You only have to
look at jet-skis, which were officially banned on January 1, 1999.
The most efficient motorboat option is an inboard-powered stern drive.
Costing just a bit more than outboards, stern drives offer lower maintenance
and petrol consumption than outboards.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand could also benefit by promoting
eco-friendly four-cycle outboards.
These days, Phuket needs every marketing advantage it can think of, and that
includes educating the market.
We can't expect the individual traveler to understand the nuances of
speedboat pollution, but international incentive planners with their large
speedboat groups are some of the worst villains of global warming. They
should develop a modicum of environmental responsibility and demand
The best incentive, however, is "doing the right thing".
Joe Adams, owner of Windward Marine, Hawaii's largest boat shop,says,
"Hawaii doesn't have a two-cycle law, but 95% of my outboard sales are
four-cycle anyway. The other 5% are outboards under 20hp. In Hawaii we love
the sea, so we don't need a law to tell us what's right."
It's true. In Hawaii, there are 60,000 privately owned sit-on-top kayaks,
and who knows how many surf and boogie boards - all human- or wave-powered.