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CZ-Tip - Boating Basics/No Discharge of Boat Sewage

Find ways to get to, protect, and enjoy the coast with tips from the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM).

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, all of the coastal waters in Massachusetts are now No Discharge Zones for boat sewage, and pumpout facilities are conveniently located along the entire coast to help boaters dispose of this waste.

Massachusetts No Discharge Zones - No Discharge Zones, or NDZs, are designated bodies of water where the discharge of all boat sewage, whether treated or not, is prohibited. NDZs typically extend out to three miles from shore. See this map of Massachusetts No Discharge Zones (PDF, 1.2 MB) for coverage—which is all of state waters. In addition, most of New England waters are also NDZs. Boating outside New England? See a list of No Discharge Zones by State.

Guidelines for Proper Handling of Boat Sewage

  • 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 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 all of Massachusetts coastal waters are an NDZ—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 120 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 Pumping Out 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.
  • 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. CZM’s Coastal Pollutant Remediation (CPR) Grant Program also funds the design and construction of commercial boat-waste pumpout facilities to help protect water quality. See the CPR Grant Program page for details, including eligibility requirements.
  • 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 (PDF, 99 KB) 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.

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