Clean Boating in the Commonwealth
By Robin Lacey, CZM
What could be better than boating on a hot summer day? Whether you’re sailing a catboat across Pleasant Bay, casting for blues from a Whaler off Race Point, or exploring the Great Marsh on a small skiff, boating not only frees you from the traffic and crowded beaches, it connects you with our natural environment. Clean water—free of debris, pathogens, and pollutants—and healthy coastal habitats are important to the best possible boating in the Bay State.
It All Adds Up
So many routine activities—like driving the car, fertilizing the lawn, even walking the family dog—can leave behind contaminants that are washed into rivers, streams, and oceans when it rains. “Nonpoint source pollution” is the technical term for this runoff contamination. The combined impacts of these countless small sources add up to significant pollution problems. In fact, with the tremendous advances in reducing industrial discharges, improving sewage treatment, and reducing other “point” sources of pollution, nonpoint source pollution is now the number one pollution problem affecting U.S. coastal waters.
While most of this pollution comes from the land, boating and boat maintenance can also introduce a number of harmful pollutants to coastal waters. For example, paints, solvents, oil and gasoline, and other hazardous materials generated through boat operation and maintenance can be toxic to humans and marine life. In addition, sewage released by boaters contains bacteria that can make people sick and contaminate shellfish resources.
To avoid the release of these pollutants to the water please:
- Use Safe Fueling Practices - Always use an absorbent cloth or pad when fueling to catch small drips. Avoid spills and do not top off your tank. Fill portable tanks on shore. Notify the marina or the Coast Guard if you cause a spill—it’s the law—(800) 424-8802.
- Keep Engines Well-Maintained - Proper maintenance prevents leaks, keeps the engine clean, and allows you to spot oil and gas leaks more easily. Dispose of used oil properly.
- Use Bilge Socks - Keep an oil-absorbent pad in your bilge. Monitor and change regularly. Never discharge your untreated bilge water directly into coastal waters.
- Use Pumpouts - Properly disposing of boat sewage at a pumpout station keeps coastal water clean. For a list of pumpouts in Massachusetts, call the nearest marina or harbormaster, or contact CZM at (617) 626-1200. When docked, use shoreside restrooms.
- Observe NDAs - Discharge of treated or untreated sewage in the Commonwealth’s No Discharge Areas (NDA) is not allowed. Contact CZM for the locations of NDAs in Massachusetts.
- Don't Clean Boat Bottoms in the Water - Boat paints contain harmful components including metals, solvents, and dies, which may be released to the water during cleaning. Never clean your boat bottom when it is in the water, and take precautions to prevent paint residue from washing into coastal waters.
- Use Less Toxic Cleaning Products - When you need to use detergents, always use those that are biodegradable. (Even biodegradable soaps and detergents contain substances that can be harmful to marine life, so use all soaps and cleaners sparingly-a little extra “elbow grease” can go a long way!)
- Keep Trash Out of the Water - Do not toss trash overboard-store it securely onboard and dispose of it when you return to land. Take particular care to properly dispose of nylon fishing line. In the water, it can entangle fish, wildlife, swimmers, and boat propellers.
- Buy a Clean Outboard - Today’s 4-stroke and Direct Fuel Injection 2-stroke outboard engines are substantially cleaner than traditional engines, reducing fuel costs for the boater and protecting the environment.
“Tread Lightly” on the Sea
Boats allow people to explore areas where improper boating practices can cause environmental harm. Operating a vessel in shallow waters, for example, can do severe damage to eelgrass beds, which are the nursing grounds for many important fish species. Because eelgrass is hidden just below the surface, boat propellers can tear up and uproot the plants. This is of particular concern since eelgrass habitat has dramatically decreased statewide. Boat traffic can also impact salt marshes, which provide flood control and critical habitat for fish, migratory birds, and other wildlife. Because salt marshes naturally form in low-energy environments away from wave action, they are particularly susceptible to erosion from waves created by boat wakes.
To avoid physical impacts to the coastal habitats,please remember to:
- Observe “No Wake” Zones - Lower speeds are required for a reason—for safety and to protect sensitive shorelines.
- Avoid Boating in Shallow Waters - Be aware of the environmental damage caused by boating in shallow waters, particularly to eelgrass. If you can’t avoid eelgrass beds, then go slow!
Stop the Invasion!
Help prevent your boat from becoming an invasive species carrier. Invasive species are non-native plants and animals that negatively impact aquatic ecosystems and related activities—including boating. Invasive plants, like water chestnut (Trapa natans) and Codium (Codium fragile), can grow so densely that they make waterbodies less attractive for boating, fishing, and swimming. Introduced animals such as the invasive sea squirt, Didemnum, can dramatically alter coastal habitats.
Fortunately, these relatively small changes can have big benefits in stopping the spread of invasive species:
- Discard Plants - Remove plant debris from your boat when you take it out of the water. Dispose of plant debris in the trash.
- Check the Hull - Inspect your hull and remove any attached organisms.
- Keep that Bait - Never release unused bait into the water.
Clean Boating for All
These are only a sampling of the important things that boaters can do to protect the environment. The small, extra efforts and expenses required to practice clean boating will help preserve a healthy and safe boating environment for now and the future of recreational boating. Enjoy!
Massachusetts Pumpouts - www.mass.gov/czm/potoc.htm (updated annually).
No Discharge Areas in Massachusetts - www.mass.gov/czm/nda.htm.
Environmentally Friendly Boat Engines - www.mass.gov/czm/tips/engines.htm.
CZM’s Boat and Beach Web Page - www.mass.gov/czm/boatandbeach.htm.
CZM’s Aquatic Invasive Species Program Website - www.mass.gov/czm/invasives/index.htm.
Photograph by Jay Baker