Getting Out
 on the Sound

       Good Boating Practices

Recreational boating provides relaxation and enjoyment for thousands of Puget Sound area residents. Boating is an important industry providing jobs in boat manufacturing and service. Boating also contributes to the environmental problems facing the waters of the Puget Sound region. All of us-especially boaters-have a lot to lose if the quality of our waters deteriorates. Poor boating practices can also destroy the beauty that draws us out on the water. As a boater, you can help ensure that you won’t damage the Sound that bangs you so much pleasure.

Maintaining Your Boat
Many of the cleaning, dissolving, and painting agents used for boat maintenance are toxic to aquatic life. A few simple precautions can prevent these chemicals from harming our rivers, lakes and Puget Sound.

Bottom Paints
Copper and tributyltin (TBI) bottom paints, used to prevent fouling, cause particular environmental damage. The impact of bottom paints can be lessened if we control the amount that enters our waters. Copper paints may be a better choice than TBT paints. TBT pollution has been shown to damage our oyster populations and has been banned in Washington State on all but aluminum boats. Avoid TBT paints when your repaint your hull, alternative products are available. When scraping the boat bottom, catch the scrapings with a drop cloth. Use sanders with vacuum attachments and sweep up any scrapings or dust that may escape your drop cloth and store them for your next hazardous waste day collection

Cleaning Your Boat
The phosphates in many soaps used to wash boats can contribute to excessive algal growth in our waters. Rinse and scrub your boat with a brush after each use instead of using soap. If your boat is stained, use phosphate free soap/laundry detergent or any of the alternatives suggested in the chapter on hazardous waste to get it clean. When possible, avoid products that remove stains and make your boat shine. They are extremely toxic. Avoid products with label warnings indicating that they are toxic, these products can kill marine life if washed overboard or accidentally spilled into the water.

Bilge Wastes
Bilge water represents an especially thorny problem for boaters. Since bilge water often contains oily wastes, there is a temptation to add detergent to the bilge water and pump it overboard. The detergent, which may be harmful in its own right, breaks the oil into small, floating droplets which cover a greater area of the surface. Increasing the area of the oil increases the impact on the larval stages of many marine creatures which call the surface layer of the water home. The practice of adding detergent and pumping bilge wastes overboard is not only environmentally damaging, it is illegal. The Coast Guard can impose fines of up to $10,000 for such activity. It seems like the only solution is to remove the oil/water mixture to the oil recycling container at the local marina. But wait, the signs indicate “Oil only – no bilge wastes.” What can a conscientious boater do? First, fix any leaks that might contribute oil to the bilges. Next, before pumping the bilge water overboard, capture the floating surface oil with oil absorbent pads, paper towels or old nylon stockings. To address this problem, legislation may be required.

Fuel overflows are dangerous to people and toxic to fish and other aquatic life. The traditional method for determining a full tank is watching for fuel spilling from the tank over-flow vent. You can prevent these overflows by estimating fuel consumption relative to your tank capacity. With a little practice, you will become an expert at gauging when your tank is full. Until then, wipe up spills immediately to keep them from reaching the water.

Long recognized as a problem in lakes and streams, nutrient enrichment is starting to be seen in some bays and inlets of Puget Sound. Nutrient enrichment “fertilizes” the waters and contributes to algal blooms and oxygen depletion which can cause fish kills. As well as adding to the nutrients that are affecting parts of the Sound, human waste may contain disease-causing bacteria and viruses. Eliminating or minimizing the discharge of boat sewage helps maintain water quality, reduces risk of disease, and protects shellfish beds from contamination.

While boating, it is important that you treat or dispose of your sewage property. It is illegal to dump untreated sewage into the water and violators are subject to a $2,000 fine. If you have a toilet on your boat, it must be equipped with a Marine Sanitation Device (MSD). If your boat does not have an installed toilet, consider using a portable toilet. Many marinas have dump stations to empty portable toilets.

A Marine Sanitation Device is designed to prevent the overboard discharge of untreated sewage. There are three main types of MSDs. Type I breaks-up and disinfects the sewage with chemicals, then discharges the treated sewage overboard. Type II treats the sewage to a higher degree through maceration and biological decomposition. Type III temporarily stores sewage in a tank on the boat. While deodorizers and formaldehyde are added to the tank, this does not constitute treatment.

There is increasing concern about the effect of chlorine on aquatic life. Many Type I and Type II marine sanitation devices use chlorine and other disinfectants. The adverse impact of chlorine can be lessened if you discharge treated waste while under way and only in waters deeper than 20 feet where tidal movement will disperse the chlorinated waste. Whenever possible, use chemical additives in your MSD that do not contain chlorine or formaldehyde. Because marina pilings hamper the water’s ability to flush through the area, overboard dumping at a slip will deteriorate water quality in the immediate area of your boat, lead to foul-smelling water and an increased risk of disease. Boats with Type Ill systems and those berthed at marinas must use on-shore sanitary facilities. It is illegal to empty holding tanks in U.S. territorial waters.

Regardless of the MSD type on your boat, sewage pump-out stations or portable pump-out units should be used when moored in marinas and to empty holding tanks.

Trash is the most visible kind of Puget Sound pollution. Designate a storage area on your boat specifically for trash and regularly take the trash to shore for proper disposal. Beer cans and tabs, styrofoam cups, plastic bags, fishing line fragments, and other debris can trap, injure, and kill aquatic life and birds. Most of this debris doesn’t disintegrate, instead it remains in the Sound for years and continues to kill wildlife, foul propellers and clog engine cooling water intakes. Call the Coast Guard at (206) 286-5540 if you see any boat – commercial or recreational – dumping plastics of other trash in the water. It’s illegal.

Work with your port or marina to be sure the following questions are answered to protect local water quality:

  • “What happens to wash down/sand blasting/scraping/etc. waste?”
  • “Is your pump out station working?”
  • “Is there a place for bilge/oily wastes?”

    Boats Cause Erosion
    Boat wakes contribute to shoreline erosion, especially in narrow streams and inlets. This loss of land is a problem for shorefront property owners and it also affects boaters. Eroded sediments can cause unwanted shoals and shallows, cut off light to underwater life-especially plants, and create tremendous problems for the aquatic ecosystem.

    The extent of shoreline erosion caused by boat wakes depends on the wake’s energy. This energy is based on four factors: distance from the shore, hull size, speed, and water depth. The closer to the shore, the greater the hull size, and the shallower the depth, the more damage a boat wake can cause. To minimize shoreline erosion, boats should reduce wakes within 500 feet of the shore.

    Many near-shore habitats and the animals and plants which use them are susceptible to disturbance. Good boating practices means that boaters, skiers, and jet skiers avoid speed and excessive traffic in fragile near-shore areas.