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Region 1: EPA New England

Boating Should Be Good Clean Fun

Note: EPA no longer updates this information, but it may be useful as a reference or resource.

CT | ME | MA | NH

By Robert W. Varney
June 26, 2003

For many of us, boating is the essence of summer in New England. Whether they are used for fishing, cruising or a trip to the beach, the region’s lakes and rivers will soon be abuzz as hundreds of thousands of boating enthusiasts take to the water, leaving the winter blues in their wake.

As summer gets underway, we must all keep in mind that fishing, swimming and other boating activities would not be enjoyable without clean and safe water – and that each and every person out on the water has a role in keeping these waters clean.

On June 21, the Marine Environmental Education Foundation (MEEF) kicked off its sixth annual National Clean Boating Campaign on Boston’s waterfront. Participants at the event celebrated the growth and vibrancy of the nation’s recreational boating industry, which provides 17,000 full-time jobs and $1.7 billion of economic activity in Massachusetts alone. But it is also gave us a chance to take stock of the industry’s performance in keeping the region’s waters free from pollution. It let us assess the environmental habits of well over a half million boats registered in New England and the thousands of marinas and boatyards that service those boats.

The campaign was launched in Boston for good reason. Marinas and boatyards on the city’s waterfront have made their operations ‘greener’ to reduce environmental impacts to Boston Harbor, which now supports a tourism industry worth $4 billion a year. Marinas and boatyards now provide pump-out services for boater waste, free litter pickups, and recycle shrink wrap for protecting boats in winter. These efforts have all helped in the historic cleanup of Boston Harbor.

At the same time, marinas across New England are adopting similar environmental practices, helping to create more responsible boaters and cleaner recreational waters.

In Massachusetts, many of these ‘green’ services are the result of close partnerships forged between EPA, the State of Massachusetts , the Massachusetts Marine Trade Association and environmental groups such as Save the Harbor/Save the Bay.

Across the Bay State, these organizations are working on a voluntary initiative to spur sales of low-pollution outboard and personal watercraft engines. These engines replace conventional two-stroke engines, which discharge up to 30 percent of their gas and oil into the water and air as pollution. More than two-dozen engine dealers are participating so far and last year 80 percent of the engines they sold were the cleaner marine engines.

EPA and the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management are also pushing aggressively to ensure that boaters take advantage of discharge services available at more than 100 pump-out stations across the state. More than a dozen pump-out facilities and pump-out boats are up and running in Boston Harbor and dozens more are available on Cape Cod, where many water bodies have been designated by EPA as no-discharge zones where boat discharges are illegal.

At this year’s celebration, boaters learned simple techniques to avoid polluting waterways. The campaign reminded boaters that if they are not careful with sewage waste they can cause pollution that closes shellfish beds and make beaches unhealthy and unpleasant for swimming.

According to the campaign, boaters can follow some basic steps to help keep oceans and harbors clean:

BOAT MAINTENANCE : When caring for your boat, use environmentally friendly products that will not harm the water.

  • Physically remove old paint without chemical use.
  • Scrape, sand and strip on shore over a drop cloth to catch all debris.
  • Use less toxic bottom paints that do not contain tributyltin or copper.
  • Avoid cleaners that contain phosphates, ammonia, chlorine, caustic soda or potassium hydroxide.
  • Frequently inspect fuel lines for leaks or potential leaks such as cracks and loose connections. Repair as necessary.
  • Change oil and transmission fluid with a spill proof pump or vacuum tank; slip a plastic bag over the oil filter before removal.
  • Use orange-pink colored propylene antifreeze/coolant, which is less toxic, instead of blue-green ethylene glycol, which is very toxic and kills animals that ingest it.


  • Keep a drip pan or absorbent pads under the engine to capture oil and gas drips.
  • Use absorbent pads, not detergents, to remove oil from the bilge.
  • Never pump bilge water that is oily or has a sheen.
  • Avoid using bilge cleaners that are detergents or emulsifiers since these chemicals dissolve the oil and fuel into water, leaving your bilge clean, but the water polluted.


  • Make sure your boat has a proper, well-maintained waste containment system.
  • Familiarize yourself with pump-out stations available for discharging waste, and use these free or inexpensive facilities.

For more information on clean boating, visit EPA New England’s web site at www.epa.gov/ne or the National Clean Boating Campaign’s web site at www.cleanboating.org. Click icon for EPA disclaimer.

Boating is good clean fun. Let’s keep it that way by doing our part to keep New England’s waters clean!

Robert W. Varney is regional administrator of EPA’s New England Office in Boston.

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