Sunday, January 21, 2018

Become a Green Boater

April 5, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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We all want a non-polluting boating environment with clear waters, clean beaches, and healthy marine life. While we cannot control every assault on our environment, boaters can curtail or eliminate our human-generated pollution.

Petroleum products are high on the list of marine foulers. Before you leave your slip, take a look over the side of your boat. Is the water clear, brown, or scummy? Does it reflect the colors of the rainbow? Spilled fuel is the culprit; fuel in the water is responsible for harming marsh grasses, fouling fish, curtailing the water-filtering ability of shellfish, and gunking up our beaches.

The solution is to avoid fuel spills when you are at the gas dock. Be extra careful if you are pumping your own. Use a portable gas spill cap at your fuel line. If you do manage to slop a little fuel, wipe it up immediately with an absorbent rag, but don’t throw it overboard. Dispose of mopped up fuel properly — many marinas and town docks provide designated trash receptacles. If you don’t see a trash site, ask the dockmaster to direct you.

If you’re a boater that fuels up from a gas can, fill your tanks before you head out. Filling an outboard tank from a jerry can while offshore is a recipe for disaster for the marine environment and a potentially costly mistake for you if you’re cited for polluting.

If you boat in a no-discharge zone (an area in which both treated and untreated sewage discharges from vessels are prohibited), no human waste can enter the water from your vessel. The waste in the holding tank of a head contains formaldehyde, phenols, and chlorine among other chemicals — pollutants that have a negative impact on water quality and harm marine life. It also affects swimmers and threatens the health of humans and land animals. For some reason, there are boaters who think a no-discharge zone has no restriction on peeing over the side, but it does. All human waste creates a toxic brew of bacteria.

Afford your guests and crew the opportunity to use the facilities before shoving off. Install a marine sanitation device with a secure holding tank if you don’t already have one (there are small portable units you can carry on and off the boat). Use a pumpout boat or dockside service available in the area.

Do you know what happens to plastic water bottles tossed over the side of a boat? Over a period of time they break down into tiny microscopic particles that then get into fish and other marine creatures (and eventually into the food chain). Straws are another water and beach foe, as are plastic bags and descended balloons that appear as food to marine creatures. Reduce or eliminate your use of such non-reusable items and dispose of the rest properly.

Lessen deadly waters when you paint the bottom of your boat. Choose a non-toxic or least toxic bottom paint and apply carefully (if you’re confused about bottom paint, ask a pro). Don’t chip off or sandblast the old paint and hose it away! Many marinas and boatyards prohibit DIYers from scraping off old paint and reapplying new on premises, instead requiring use of employees or tradespersons who are licensed pesticide applicators.

By William C. Winslow

The author is the Division 5 – Staff Officer Public Affairs, First District Southern Region, for the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, the all-volunteer, non-military arm of the Coast Guard, teaching boating safety education and conducting search and rescue operations. Visit to join the Auxiliary or for class information.

Do you boat in a no-discharge zone?


is Division 5 – Staff Officer Public Affairs, First District Southern Region, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, and a freelance writer for marine publications. His work has appeared in Sailing, Wooden Boat, and Good Old Boat; he is also the author of Cat Boat Tales.

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