Tips on Maintaining Clean and Healthy Waterways

Written by barrington

This issue of Smart Boater is devoted to helping keep our waterways clean and healthy for all of us to enjoy. Let’s face it, nobody enjoys boating, fishing or swimming in dirty water. Boaters are best suited to be guardians of our water because we are closer to it and enjoy it more than the average non-boating citizen. How we handle our trash, boat maintenance and sewage can make an enormous difference, in the quality of the water we enjoy. Below are a few simple guidelines all of us can follow to help keep our waterways clean.


This is one type of pollution only boaters cause and only boaters can prevent. One quart of oil can create a surface slick 2 acres in size and a single gallon of fuel can contaminate 750,000 gallons of water. Fuel spilled by careless fueling and bilge oil discharged into the water are two of the most common forms of water pollution by boaters. Some things boaters can do to prevent this.
• Use vent collection devices when possible.
• Listen to your boat and slow filling when the sound of fuel entering your tank changes.
• Keep oil absorbent pads under all engine room machinery and inspect and change them frequently.
• Keep a dry bilge. Route grey and condensate water to drain boxes or grey water tanks which pump out separately from bilge water.
• Never spray detergent onto a fuel or oil leak. It only makes the problem worse by causing the contaminants to sink into the water, and it’s illegal.


This one should be simple – never pump sewage overboard anywhere in coastal waters any time. Discharging vessel sewage is illegal within 3 miles of shore in U.S. Coastal waters. Also when more than 3 miles off-shore, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should pump sewage overboard. Always use pump-out facilities when possible. Use active-enzyme based products to control odor and reduce solids in holding tanks and avoid products that contain quaternary ammonium compounds (QAC) and formaldehyde. Let’s also not forget our pets. They are family members and boat with us frequently. Pick up their waste when they go ashore and dispose of it properly.


Improperly discarded fishing line is a hazard to all marine life and is also a risk to boaters and swimmers. Monofilament line can last up to 600 years in the environment. Ask if your marina has a collection bin for your discarded line. If they don’t, encourage them to get one.


Many products used to wash boats contain toxic chemicals such as chlorine, phosphates and ammonia. Cleaning a boat can leave many of these toxic pollutants in the water where they can poison marine life. The best way to keep them out of the water is to not use them at all. In many cases, a little “elbow grease” will go a long way.
• Use less soap and frequently clean decks with fresh water.
• Ask your favorite ship’s store to stock biodegradable cleaners.
• Wax your boat to prevent surface dirt from sticking to the hull.


Borax or hydrogen peroxide

Wood Polish
Three parts olive oil and one part white vinegar (for interior unvarnished wood)

Copper Cleaner
Lemon or lime juice and salt

Stainless Cleaner
Apple cider to clean, baby oil to polish

Fiberglass Stain Remover
Baking soda paste and a scrub pad

Window Cleaner
One cup vinegar in one quart warm water

Mildew Remover
Lemon juice and salt paste

Head Cleaner
Baking soda and a brush

Floor Cleaner
One cup white vinegar in two gallons of water

Varnish Cleaner
Wipe with ½ cup vinegar and ½ cup water solution


Most coastal states have a Clean Boater Program which asks boaters to pledge to follow clean boating habits. Please pledge with us to help keep our waterways clean and healthy. As a participating member of a Clean Boater Program, I pledge to do my part in keeping waterways clean by following Clean Boating Habits. I will identify opportunities and implement practices to prevent pollution associated with my boating activities such as: fueling, cleaning and washing, sewage handling and maintenance. I will further ensure that all passengers aboard my vessel follow the guidelines and maintain a clean boating environment.


• Keep waterways free of trash and recycle.
• Practice proper fueling techniques.
• Use pump-out facilities.
• Support Clean Marinas, Clean Boatyards and Clean Marine Retailers whenever possible.
• Promote clean boating habits and the Clean Boater program to fellow boaters.
• Remember a smart boater is a Clean Boater!