NYMPP: Section 3 - Hauling & Storing Boats
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New York Sea Grant's
Marina Pollution Prevention Web Site

Section 3:
Hauling and Storing Boats - Bilge Cleaning

Potential Environmental Impacts

Bilge water can commonly contain oil, fuel, antifreeze, and other contaminants. Even small amounts of such materials introduced into the marina environment can cause environmental problems, especially if they persist. Although some oil that spills into the water evaporates, petroleum hydrocarbons can remain suspended in the water column, concentrate on the surface, or settle to the bottom. An oil sheen can block necessary oxygen and light from moving through the surface of the water. According to the EPA, the hydrocarbons in oil harm juvenile fish, upset fish reproduction, and interfere with the growth and reproduction of bottom-dwelling organisms.

Best Management Practices

Before pumping out a bilge, visually inspect the bilge water to determine whether there is a visible sheen of oil.

Use oil absorbent materials to remove oil before pumping a bilge.

Consider using a portable or stationary oil/water separator to clean bilge water (for examples, click here). These devices draw contaminated water from bilges, capture hydrocarbons in a filter and discharge clean water.

Don't use soaps and detergents to clean up oily bilge water.

Educate customers to keep their engines properly maintained, to continually check and fix all leaks, and to keep an absorbent pad or pillow in the bilge to absorb small drips and spills. For information on the performance of different types of oil absorbent pads, click here.

Regulatory Issues
Oily bilge water or any petroleum product that is discharged to the waters of the state must be reported to the state (In New York call the NYSDEC Oil Spill Hotline at (800) 457 7362). For more information on reporting and responding to spills in New York, click here.

If oily bilge water or any petroleum product that is discharged into navigable waters causes a visible sheen, it may also be necessary to report the discharge to the National Response Center at (800) 424-8802.

The use of dispersants, such as dishwashing soaps or detergents, on a fuel spill or sheen of any size on the surface water is prohibited in most circumstances [40 CFR 110.4, click here]. Dispersants may only be used with permission from federal or state authorities, and only in rare instances.

If oily bilge water cannot be sufficiently cleaned for legal discharge, make arrangements with a waste hauler to properly dispose of the bilge water.

If there is a stormwater discharge from your facility and any oily bilge water may come into contact with precipitation you may have to register for a General Permit for the Discharge of Storm Water Associated with Industrial Activity ("Storm Water General Permit"). For more information on storm water permitting in New York, click here.