Boating rule to remember: If you wouldn't swim in it, don't put it in the water! 

Anyone who has been to the beach knows that there is a lot of garbage floating around in our coastal waters and ending up on shore.  Most of this garbage is making its way down to the water's edge through street gutters and storm sewers that drain directly into local creeks.  However, a small percentage may still originate from vessels.

Disposal of Toxic Substances

Courtesy of

Why Should I Care? 

Garbage in the water looks bad and can cause problems for wildlife that mistake it for food and eat it, and for boaters.  A significant number of boaters have had cool-water intake valves clogged by plastic bags, causing engine overheating and expensive repairs.  Others have had monofilament fishing line wrapped around their propeller, and others have seen enough trash in the water to be able to use it to follow the direction of the current flows! 

The Law 

Under U.S. law, it is illegal to put any garbage into the water from a vessel on a lake, river, stream, or any coastal waters up to 3 miles offshore.

In the Great Lakes, this no-garbage law applies everywhere. As you venture further offshore, the law loosens a bit.  The biggest thing to remember is that no matter where you are, NO plastic garbage should ever go into the water.

If you have a boat 26 feet or over, you need to have a "MARPOL" placard prominently posted to remind your crew of those dumping restrictions.  You can purchase this placard from most marine supply stores.

Trash disposal regulations from Boat US.

Under the same law, marinas are required to have adequate trash receiving capability for their normal customers.  (The Marine Plastic Pollution Research and Control Act of 1997 is Title II of Public Law 100-200.)

1. Stow it, don't throw it!

Keep your trash on board. Never throw cigarette butts, fishing line, or any other garbage into the ocean. Take advantage of shore-side facilities to recycle plastic, glass, metal, and paper. If you wouldn't swim in it, don't put it in the water!

2. Prevent oily discharge from the bilge.

Keep your engine well tuned to prevent fuel and oil leaks. Place an oil absorbent pad or pillow under your engine where drips may occur in your bilge. Check the pads often and dispose of them as hazardous waste at a marina or nearby collection center.

3. Spill-proof your oil changes.

For oil changes, use an oil change pump to transfer oil to a spill-proof container. Wrap a plastic bag or absorbent pad around the oil filter to prevent oil from spilling into the bilge.

4. Spill-proof your fueling practices.

Prevent fuel spills by filling fuel tanks slowly and carefully and by using absorbent pads or rags to catch drips and spills. Don't top off or overflow your fuel tank and leave 5 percent empty to allow fuel to expand as it warms.

5. Don't add soap.

Never use soap to disperse fuel and oil spills. It increases harm to the environment and it is illegal.

6. Minimize boat cleaning and maintenance in the water.

If possible, save maintenance projects for the boatyard. When performing work on the water, minimize your impact by containing waste using tarps and vacuum sanders, and collect all drips and debris for proper disposal.

7. Reduce toxic discharges from bottom paints.

Minimize the discharge of heavy metals from soft-sloughing antifouling paints by using a hard, less toxic or nontoxic antifouling paint. Use only non-abrasive underwater hull cleaning techniques to prevent excessive paint discharge. Remember, dry storage reduces the need for antifouling paints and saves money.

8. Dispose of hazardous waste properly.

Dispose of paints, batteries, antifreeze, cleaning products, oil, oil filters and other hazardous wastes at a hazardous waste collection facility or event. Call 1-800-CLEAN-UP for a location near you. Recycle paints, batteries, oil, oil filters and antifreeze.

9. Plan Ahead! Manage sewage wastes properly.

Never discharge sewage within 3 miles of shore. Use harbor pump-out stations and shore-side facilities. If you don't have an installed toilet, use a port-a-potty and empty it at harbor dump station or bathroom.

10. Reduce gray-water discharges.

Use a phosphate-free soap to minimize the impacts of gray water on the marine environment. Also minimize discharge by doing dishes and taking showers on shore whenever possible.