Do your part to protect the waterways
As boaters, we all enjoy America’s lakes, rivers and coastal waters. To keep them healthy and productive, you should follow good environmental boating practices. This includes managing human waste and garbage associated with food packaging as well as keeping food (and things perceived as food) away from bears, rodents, and other animals.
10 tips for healthy waterways
- Keep your bilge clean; don’t pump oily water overboard.
- Use bilge absorbents instead of detergents.
- Don’t dump your sewage in confined waters; use a holding tank.
- Observe local and federal sewage regulations.
- Bring your garbage home. Don’t litter.
- Use detergents sparingly; even biodegradable cleaners are hard on the aquatic environment.
- When fueling, do not top off tanks. Clean up any spilled fuel.
- Use only paints approved for marine use.
- Avoid shoreline erosion. Watch your wake and propeller wash.
- If fishing, practice catch and release.
Federal law prohibits the discharge of oil and other hazardous substances into navigable waters.
Oil residue can build up in the bilge and might be pumped overboard, thereby polluting an area. This can happen when drain plugs are removed from a boat on a lift or trailer. Take precautions to prevent this from happening.
There are penalties for every discharge of a harmful quantity of oil.
Boats 26 feet or greater in length with machinery spaces must display a warning placard measuring at least 5 by 8 inches, made of durable material, fixed in a conspicuous place in the machinery space, or at minimum at the bilge pump control station.
Report any oil spill to the U.S. Coast Guard immediately. Report any discharge of hazardous substance that causes a film, discoloration or emulsion to form on or beneath the water’s surface.
It is illegal to discharge raw sewage into the ocean from a vessel within 3 miles of the coastline or in sounds, bays, navigable rivers or the Great Lakes.
Untreated human waste may never be dumped into inland waters. Recreational boats with installed toilet facilities must have an operable Coast Guard-certified marine sanitation device.
- Type I and II marine sanitation devices treat sewage in an approved manner before discharge into the water. These devices must be sealed to prevent discharge into no-discharge zones.
- Type III MSDs include recirculating and incinerating devices and holding tanks.
Use an approved pump-out station to empty holding tanks. If your boat is equipped with a Y valve, it must be closed and secured by a lock or non-reusable tie.
Because of the growing number of no-discharge zones and the increasing number of boaters, the federal government and states are assisting with funding additional pump-out stations along U.S. waterways.
Install a Coast Guard-approved marine sanitation device in your boat, preferably one with a holding tank. Be aware of local anti-pollution laws wherever you boat.
Dumping of garbage
Don’t dump anything into the water. Take all garbage off the boat for proper disposal at beach receptacles, pump-out stations or other shore collection bins as appropriate.
Disposal of all garbage, including plastics, synthetic ropes, fishing gear, plastic bags, incinerator ashes, clinkers, cooking oil, floating dunnage, lining and packing materials, paper, rags, glass, metal, bottles, crockery and similar waste, is expressly prohibited.
Boats 26 feet or greater in length must display in a prominent location a durable placard at least 4 by 9 inches notifying the crew and passengers of discharge restrictions.
A good practice for all boaters is to never throw anything into the water that did not come out of it.
To learn more, take America’s Boating Course.