Boat sewage (whether it is treated or not) can contain bacteria, viruses, nutrients, and chemicals that can harm water quality and public health. To address this problem, virtually all of the coastal waters in Massachusetts are now No Discharge Areas for boat sewage, and pumpout facilities are conveniently located along the entire coast to help boaters dispose of this waste. The following information gives specific guidelines for the proper handling of vessel sewage, along with links to additional information.
Massachusetts No Discharge Areas
No Discharge Areas, or NDAs, are designated bodies of water where the discharge of all boat sewage, whether treated or not, is prohibited. NDAs typically extend out to three miles from shore. See this map of Massachusetts No Discharge Areas for current coverage—which is virtually all of state waters. In addition, most of New England waters are also NDAs. See this map of Coastal NDAs in New England. Boating outside New England? See a list of No Discharge Zones by State.
- The Basics - The San Francisco Estuary Project Pump It, Don't Dump It video provides additional details on boat sewage impacts, while the BoatU.S. Foundation's Sewage, MSDs and Pumpout page gives important general information on this issue.
- Proper Sanitation Equipment - Federal Law requires all passenger boats with installed toilets (not porta-potties) to have a marine sanitation device. Also called MSDs, these systems are the on-board equipment for storing boat sewage (or treating and disposing of it). In Massachusetts, a Type III MSD, or holding tank, is required now that virtually all coastal waters are designated as No Discharge Areas—which means that no overboard sewage discharge is allowed, even if it is treated. Therefore, discharge from a Type I or Type II MSD is not allowed.
- Pumpouts - Pumpouts provide a convenient way to properly dispose of boat sewage from holding tanks. There are more than 100 pumpout facilities along the coast of Massachusetts, and many of them are pumpout boats that can come directly to your vessel at your convenience. For full list of Massachusetts coastal pumpouts, see the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Massachusetts Pumpout Facilities website. Need a printed copy to take along? Contact the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries Clean Vessel Act (CVA) Program for a wallet-sized pumpout list and tide chart. Also, some pumpout locations provide dump stations for porta-potties, so don't hesitate to ask.
- Need Lessons? - Not sure how to use a pumpout? Check out this Long Island Boaters Club How To: Pump Out Boat YouTube video. Also, see the BoatU.S. Foundation Boat Pumpout Information page.
- Keep It Clean - You can avoid problems by maintaining your MSD according to the manufacturer's instructions. You can also minimize your number of pumpouts by using shoreside facilities for bathrooms while you are docked. And remember to keep those odors away by always keeping the disinfectant tank full.
- Spread the Word on Pumpouts - Encourage others to follow your example. See the BoatU.S. Foundation Outreach Projects page for details.
- Help Make More Pumpouts Available - Does your community or marina have a pumpout? If not, encourage them to contact the CVA Program for a pumpout grant that will pay 75% of the cost, plus operation and maintenance.
- Don't Forget the Graywater - Water left over from dishwashers, showers, and washing machines is called graywater. It can contain detergents, soap, and food wastes that can pollute coastal waters when released to the environment. To reduce this problem, shower and wash your dishes/clothes at shoreside facilities whenever possible. If you must wash on board, use phosphate-free biodegradable soap. In Massachusetts, Nantucket has taken steps to reduce graywater impacts by prohibiting discharges from dishwashers and washing machines into Nantucket waters. See the Nantucket Boat Basin rules on graywater.
- Become a Green, Clean Boater - See CZM's Boater Fact Sheets for tips on lessening your environmental impact while boating. These printer-friendly, PDF fact sheets cover boat operation and fueling; trash and hazardous waste disposal; bilge water, graywater, and boat sewage; boat cleaning and hull/engine maintenance; and non-toxic cleaning alternatives.