Boating for Clean Water

In 2011, there were nearly 145,000 vessels registered in the counties that border Puget Sound. This does not include the thousands of rowboats, kayaks, canoes, sailboats, inflatable boats, and other personal watercraft that do not require registration. If everyone is a responsible boater we can protect water quality and aquatic life.

DID YOU KNOW? All boaters born after December 31, 1954, must have a Washington State Boater Education Card if operating a personal watercraft or boat of 15 horsepower or more. The card is available through Washington State Parks (

Being careful with your trash

Litter, such as plastic bags, fishing line, styrofoam and other debris can injure, trap, or kill animals and birds. It can also foul propellers and block the cooling water intake on your engine. It’s illegal to dump trash overboard, so dispose of it in a proper location on land.

Storing untreated sewage onboard

It is against the law to discharge untreated sewage within three miles of shore, which includes the San Juan Islands, all of Puget Sound, and all fresh water tributaries. Many boaters pump out their sewage at pumpout facilities located at many state parks and marinas. A portable toilet is a good option for small boats.

Preventing bilge waste from entering Puget Sound

The bilge collects a variety of fluids that have dripped or leaked in your boat including oil, fuel, and antifreeze. People used to squirt detergent into the bilge but this only breaks oils into smaller floating droplets that end up covering a greater surface of the water. This is now illegal and harms the larval stages of many marine creatures. Many marinas do not allow bilge water to be pumped into their oil recycling containers. The best practice is to keep oil from entering the bilge in the first place.

You can reduce bilge in your boat by:

  • Maintaining your engine and frequently checking it for leaks.
  • Fitting a drip tray under your engine to catch leaks.
  • Wiping up drips, splatters and spills immediately.
  • Securing an oil absorbent pad in your bilge or placing it under your engine. The pads do not soak up water, only the oil, and are very effective. Use gloves to wring out oil into a container for recycling, and reuse the pad.
  • Installing an inline bilge filter designed to remove petroleum products from bilge water without restricting the performance of the bilge pump. This allows a clean discharge.

Stopping fuel spills

In North America, recreational boating contributes more than a quarter billion gallons of hydrocarbon pollution into our waters every year, which is more than 15 times the amount of oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez. It is the tiny little spills that most boaters experience that add up to this huge number.

Prevent spills by:

  • Filling your fuel tank to no more than 90% of capacity.
  • Filling your tank slowly to prevent overflow.
  • Installing a “No Spill” device to catch spills from the fuel vent.
  • Don’t transfer fuel when you are on the water.
  • Upgrading to a four-stroke or 2006-compliant two-stroke engine.

You are legally responsible to report spills to both the Washington State Department of Ecology’s “Spills Aren’t Slick” hotline, 1-800-OILS-911, and the Coast Guard, 1-800-424-8802.

Practicing slip-side maintenance

A quick freshwater rinse when you return to dock will prevent the need for harsh cleaners and keep your boat looking good. Because cleaning products and paint can harm marine life, where possible clean, sand, and paint your boat on land. If you must work on your boat in the water, prevent cleaning agents, scraped paint, or solutions from getting in the water.