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Marinas & Small Boat Harbors: Operations
Table of Contents
Background and Overview
Reasons for Change
P2 Opportunities
Assistance Activities
Where To Go for Help
Complete List of Links

Essential Links:

Best Management Practices for Delaware Boat Maintenance Facilities
This thorough guidebook presents a listing and description of Best Management Practices for marina m...

Best Management Practices for Marinas and Boatyards
Guidebook explaining the complete pictures of marinas. Includes information on what operations a ma...

New Hampshire Marina Project
Website contains ordering information for obtaining the actual BMP guide for NH Marinas. Guide incl...

Watercrafts require maintenance in order to function properly and efficiently. Exteriors must be scraped, painted, and cleaned, while engines must be lubricated, maintained, and repaired when necessary. Extensive preparations are needed for winterization and storage. These operations provide an opportunity to utilize pollution prevention techniques.

Boat Cleaning

Boat cleaning uses a variety of cleaners, such as teak cleaners, fiberglass polishers, and detergents. These often contain chlorine, ammonia, phosphates, and other caustic chemicals that can be hazardous to people and to the environment. The detergents in many cleaning products destroy the natural oils on fish gills, reducing their ability to breathe properly.

Sanding/Blasting/Pressure Washing

These operations are performed to remove paint and marine growth and may result in the release of toxic metals such as copper and tin, which can adversely affect aquatic life. The heavy metals not incorporated into living tissue remain in sediments, where they contaminate the soil.

Paints, solvents, thinners, and brush cleaners may contain toxic material and potentially harm aquatic life and increase the risk of cancer among exposed workers.

In the 'blasting' process, paint is commonly removed from boat hulls by blasting it off with abrasive grit. Harmful dust emissions can result, polluting both air and water and raising worker health concerns. Used blasting materials, or 'black beauty,' may contain toxic levels of metals from bottom paint and steel hulls stripped during the blasting process. Dust generated from sanding boat bottoms also contains copper, which is toxic to marine life.


Anti-fouling bottom paints are used to protect hulls from barnacles and other types of fouling organisms that can potentially interfere with vessel performance. However, pesticides contained in the paints can unintentionally harm fish and other aquatic organisms.

Anti-fouling paints cannot be used on aluminum hulls because they can corrode the hull. Instead, tin-based paints (tributyltin, or TBT) are used on aluminum hulls. These paints must be applied carefully, because they cause abnormal development and decrease populations in oysters, clams, and snails. TBT also accumulates in bottom sediment and in fish gills, hindering their ability to breathe.

Federal law restricts TBT paints to aluminum hulls, to boats greater than 25 meters in length, and to boats with outboard motors and lower drive units. The boat owner must obtain a pesticide business license in order to apply TBT paints.

There are 3 categories of Anti-Fouling Paints: Leaching Paints contain water-soluble portions that dissolve and release pesticides, while the insoluble solvent-based portion stays on the hull. Ablative Paints leach some toxicant into the water, but differ from leaching paints in that as the active ingredient leaches out, the underlying film weakens and is polished off as the boat moves through the water. It is possible to obtain ablative paints that are 97% solvent-free and water based, significantly reducing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released by paint fumes. Examples of Non-toxic Coatings include Teflon?, polyurethane, and silicone paints.


Gasoline contains benzene, a known carcinogen, and oil contains zinc, sulfur, and phosphate, which contribute to water pollution. These pollutants can float on the surface, evaporate into the air, suspend in the water column, or settle into the sediment. Oil floating on surface water is harmful because it reduces light penetration and oxygen exchange, which in turn negatively impacts plants, animals, and microbes.

Not only is fuel itself harmful to the environment, but the fueling operation also leads to waste. Pads, towels, and drip pans contain remnants of oil and gasoline, which, when disposed of improperly, can contaminate of ground water and storm water runoff.

Engine Parts Maintenance

Engine parts maintenance activities include parts washing, lubricating, repair work, and winterizing. Some of these operations are performed when the vessel is still in the water, while others are conducted at shore-based facilities.

Winterizing and Storage

Boats can either be stored within the upland area of the marina in a closed structure or outdoors, under a shrink-wrap cover or tarps. When shrinkwrap is used, recycling of shrinkwrap should be encouraged. Another possibility is 'dry rack storage,' where boats are routinely removed from the water between uses, cleaned, and then placed in racks until the next use. This process can reduce nonpoint source pollution and the accumulation of fouling organisms on the hulls, reducing the need for washing and blasting.

Winterizing outboard engines may introduce pollutants into the environment. Outboard engines can become 'fogged out' and may introduce petroleum hydrocarbons and heavy metals into the water column in both particulate and dissolved forms. Pollutants are generated when lubricating oil is injected into the cylinders of a running engine and contaminants from smoke emissions can also dissolve into the water column, therefore inhibiting the growth of aquatic organisms.

Bilge Pumpout and Vessel Sewage

Bilges present many potential pollution problems because they are located at the vessel's gravitational low point and accumulate engine oil, fuel, and rotten food waste. Because odors in the bilge are very strong, potent, and often toxic, solvents and detergents are used as bilge cleaners. These cleaners can damage the environment when pumped overboard. Sanitary waste resulting from Vessel Sewage Pumpout is a significant pollutant of lakes, rivers, and coastal waters. It contains bacteria and viruses that can cause a variety of diseases, such as typhoid, hepatitis, cholera, and gastroentitis. Pumpout systems at marinas can help to keep contaminants out of the water and ensure proper disposal into an inland sewer system.


The Topic Hub™ is a product of the Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange (P2Rx)

The Marinas & Small Boat Harbors Topic Hub™ was developed by:

Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association
Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association
Contact email:

Hub Last Updated: 1/29/2010