Boating and the Environment

How boaters operate and maintain their vessels can affect the environment significantly. It is a boater’s legal responsibility to help protect Washington waters and aquatic wildlife.

Operate and Maintain Your Vessel Responsibly

Vessel Operation

  • When boating, proceed slowly in shallow areas to avoid disrupting the environment. Stirring up sediment affects the natural life cycle of plants and animals.
  • Watch your wake. Boat wakes erode shorelines and damage habitat.
  • Watch your anchor. Avoid anchoring in sensitive, shallow water habitat such as eel grass beds.


  • Know how much fuel your tank holds and fill only to 90 percent so the fuel has room to expand. Don’t top off your tank to reduce the chance of a spill. Use absorbent pads to wipe up all gasoline and oil spills. Use an overflow prevention device on the fuel vent to guard against accidental spills.
  • Never use soaps to disperse fuel spills. It’s illegal and makes the problem worse under the water.
  • Report all fuel spills: Visit the Department of Ecology’s Web site for a list of whom to call.

Engine Maintenance

  • Keep your boat’s engine well-tuned for fuel efficiency and to minimize pollution. Use engine cleaners minimally. Repair oil and fuel leaks promptly.
  • Remove all bilge oil. Use pumps or oil absorbent bilge pads to safely remove contaminated bilge water for proper disposal on shore. New products are available that can digest petroleum hydrocarbons in bilge water, but be aware that they take time to work. Never use soaps to clean an oily bilge.
  • Dispose or recycle oil and other engine fluids properly. Do not drain engine fluids into the bilge.
  • Flush first. Flush winterizing agents and antifreeze from the engine before launching each season. Collect these fluids and properly dispose or recycle them on shore. Avoid using ethylene glycol antifreeze in your boat; use only propylene glycol winterizing agents.

Vessel Maintenance

  • When refinishing your vessel over water, limit projects to less than 25 percent of the surface area of the deck and superstructures. Contain all debris with tarps and clean the work area regularly. For all hull work and larger refinishing projects, remove the vessel from the water and take it to a permitted boatyard.
  • When painting or varnishing, guard against drips and spills by using secondary containment.
  • When cleaning your vessel, use plain water whenever possible and minimize your use of soaps or toxic materials when the vessel is in the water. Keep all quantities to a minimum. Be aware that there are no legal cleaning materials for discharging into our waters.
  • Never scrub, scrape, or clean boat hulls on or near the water if covered with anti-fouling paint. Clean and prep boat hulls at permitted boatyards where the waste is properly contained.


  • Use onshore restrooms or carry a portable toilet. Larger vessels should have a Coast Guard-approved marine sanitation device or marine head with a holding tank. Use the nearest pump-out or dump station for waste disposal.
    • Pumpout Washington: A Web site hosted by the Washington Sea Grant in partnership with the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission’s Boating Program. It contains information on pump-out locations on Google Maps, a how-to video, information on impacts of sewage on shellfish, and grant opportunities.

Solid Waste

  • Dispose of trash properly on shore; recycle when possible. Minimize disposable plastic products brought on board. Fishing line, six-pack rings, and plastic bags are harmful to fish, birds, plants, and other wildlife, and they last for many years. They also tangle boat props, clog intakes, and litter shorelines.
  • Recycle old fire extinguishers and marine batteries.
  • Dispose of hazardous waste properly, such as in county household hazardous waste stations. Ask your marina or marine supply store about approved locations for expired marine flares.


  • Support marinas that are environmentally conscious. Many will help you recycle oil, antifreeze, aluminum, and plastic bottles, and will provide a pump-out facility for your sanitary system. See a list of certified marinas.
  • Whenever possible use environmentally friendly products on your boat. Be aware; however, that even these products can be harmful and concentrations should minimized. Select non-toxic, phosphate-free, liquid detergents, biodegradable soaps, and non-acidic teak cleaner, to name just a few. Baking soda is an excellent non-toxic all-purpose cleaner.
  • Consider replacing older two-stroke outboard engines with a clean, efficient four-stroke engine. They run quieter and cleaner and are much better for the environment. Newer Environmental Protection Agency-approved (2006 or later) two-stroke engines are better than older designs.