Clean Boating on the Bay

Aug 1, 2010
Deb Self, Executive Director
by Deb Self, Executive Director

Summertime is here and if you’re like me, you’re spending more time on the water with longer, warmer days. As Bay Area residents flock to recreational hotspots along our shorelines, they may be unaware that their boating plans can have an impact on the Bay’s environment. Whether you’re in a motorboat or sailboat your vessel can contribute to water pollution in the Bay, where hundreds of small releases of oil, sewage, and cleaning fluids into the water can cause problems for fish and other marine life. Busy boatyards conducting routine maintenance and repairs can also contribute harmful dust, toxic paint, and polluting chemicals to the water. 

So we’ve compiled some tips to help make your summer boating adventures a little greener:

Fueling Up and Cleaning Up




  • To prevent diesel spills into the water, never top off your fuel tanks, and use oil absorbent pads to surround the fuel nozzle every time you fuel up.  These pads also come in handy to clean up spills during routine maintenance work. Put an oil absorbing sponge in your bilge to remove oil, and discard oily bilge at a pump-out station.
  • Cleaning your vessel after every use is important for boat maintenance.  Avoid commercial cleaners that contain phosphates, ammonia, or bleach. Often vinegar, baking soda or just plain water can do the job with a little elbow grease. 
  • Make sure to store all cleaning products in air-tight containers to prevent evaporation and spills.
  • Empty marine sanitation devices at designated facilities designed to take human waste to sewage treatment plants. It is illegal to dump wastes into the Bay and Delta. For pump-out locations, visit or call 1-800-ASKFISH.
  • Report oil, diesel and chemical spills promptly to 1-800-424-8802 and 1-800- 852-7550. Even a small amount of oil in the water can harm fish and birds by depleting oxygen in the water and by coating feathers making birds unable to keep warm. Diesel fuel is highly toxic and burns birds that come in contact with it. Do your best to prevent leaks and spills, and if you do have an accident, report the spill immediately so that appropriate steps can be taken to protect the Bay’s wildlife. Don’t use detergents to disperse diesel or oil spills.

Repairs and Maintenance




  • Hazardous wastes that can be generated during boat maintenance include used oils, oil filters, antifreeze, lead batteries, transmission fluids, paints, stains and varnish. These products must be disposed of at a hazardous waste facility. Never dump unused chemical solvents or cleaners on the ground, down a storm drain, in a trash can or directly into the Bay.
  •  For locations, visit or call 1-800-CLEANUP.
  • Use drip pans, funnels, and absorbent pads to prevent spills.
  • Conduct routine engine maintenance and repair or replace deteriorating gaskets, lines and hoses immediately to reduce the risk of leaks. 

Hull Painting




  • When re-painting, remove old hull paint away from the water, under cover if possible. Always use a bag attachment for the sander to collect dust.
  • Look for truly non-toxic or “fouling release” paint that prevents organisms from staying on the boat during high speeds, or that allow organisms to be easily removed by regular gentle in-water cleaning.
  • Avoid hull paints with copper, zinc, bisphenol-A or other toxins that leach into the water harming marine organisms.  
  • Wax fiberglass hulls often to prevent dirt from becoming ingrained, thus requiring less effort/chemicals to clean.

All boatyards should have waste collection and treatment systems, so save large cleaning and maintenance jobs for when your boat is out of the water. And check to see if your boatyard is implementing best practices such as berms and storm drain covers to protect the Bay. Rainwater can flow across the yards and carry pollution directly into the water or into open storm drains. Copper, lead and zinc metal flakes are common pollutants found in runoff from boatyards and can be toxic to wildlife.

Baykeeper has been using green products on our boat for the past decade. We do not endorse specific products, but we do use non-copper anti-fouling hull paint and environmentally safe cleaners without phosphates, chlorine, formaldehyde and other toxic components. While the epoxy can be somewhat difficult to apply, the results are excellent – with regular, gentle hull cleaning. To learn more about Baykeeper’s efforts to educate boaters, marinas and boatyards to protect the water quality of the Bay, please visit

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