Clean Boating

Clean Boaters

Clean Boater programs are popping up across the country in recognition that responsible boating practices are important for water resources protection.  There are many aspects of clean boating that apply to motor boaters and sail boaters, with some applying even to paddlers. One of the most fully developed clean boater initiatives in New York is that of the Lake George Association.  Much of the information below is adapted from their on-line resources cited at the end of this article.    

Sailboat on Cayuga Lake

Your Cayuga Lake Clean Boater Pledge Do your part! Seal your commitment by taking the Cayuga Lake Clean Boater pledge.  Pledge to:

  • Identify opportunities and implement practices to prevent pollution associated with your boating activities such as: fueling, cleaning and washing, sewage handling and maintenance.
  • Ensure that all passengers aboard your vessel follow the guidelines and maintain a clean boating environment.
  • Keep fuel, sewage, plastic, trash, fishing line, and invasive species out of the water
  • Clean your boat responsibly
  • Dispose of all wastes properly
  • Promote clean boating habits to fellow boaters
  • Take satisfaction in knowing that you are doing your part to keep Cayuga clean.

 (adapted from Lake George Clean Boater Pledge)

Keep Your Bilge Clean

  • Keep engines properly tuned and operating at peak efficiency.
  • Transfer and remove fluids with care, using funnels, pumps, and oil-absorbent pads to catch drips and clean up spills.
  • Never discharge or pump any bilge water that is oily or has sheen into or near the water – it is against the law.
  • Place oil absorbent pads in the bilge to catch oil. These products absorb petroleum products but not water.
  • Recycle used oil, filters, and absorbent pads as per product instruction.
  • Trailer your boat to an area that provides containment before draining bilge water or removing boat plugs.

Monitor Fueling

  • Never smoke while approaching the fuel dock or while fueling.
  • Secure boat to dock. Stop all engines and turn off all electrical switches. Close all doors, windows, and hatches.
  • Use an absorbent pad or fuel bib around the nozzle and fill spout and attach a container or bib to the external vent to catch any splash-backs, drips, or overflows. Clean up any spilled fuel with absorbent cloths.
  • Fuel slowly and carefully. Never prop a fuel trigger or leave unattended when filling your gasoline tank.
  • Know your fuel tank capacity and allow 5 to 10 percent for fuel expansion. Listen to hear when the tank is getting full and slow the fuel delivery rate as it nears capacity. If a marina attendant is filling up your tank, let them know how much your tank holds.
  • Ventilate engine compartment before starting engine.
  • Fill portable gas tanks on shore where spills are less likely to occur and easier to clean up.
  • Inspect fuel lines regularly. Replace those with dry, cracked or soft spots.

Take Action if a Fuel or Oil Spill Occurs

  • Stop the source.
  • Notify the marina office. If you believe a large spill has occurred, call the NYS Spill Hotline: 1-800-457-7362
  • Clean up the spill with absorbent pads or contain with booms.
  • Never use soap to disperse a fuel or oil spill. It is harmful to the environment and against the law.

Reduce Fuel Consumption

  • Keep the engine tuned to assure better gas mileage. Change the fuel and oil filters on a regular basis.
  • Balance your load. A balanced boat can get on plane quickly, reaching the desired speed with less plowing.
  • Slow down. Operating at wide-open throttle can increase fuel consumption by 50% or more over mid-range speeds. “Trimming” the boat reduces the amount of wetted surface while maintaining speed at reduced RPMs thereby saving fuel.
  • Watch your weight. The lighter the boat and its load, the less horsepower required to propel it, allowing greater fuel economy.
  • Avoid excess idling. Whenever you have to stop, turn off the ignition.
  • Check your propeller. A damaged prop will waste fuel. Keep propeller blades clean; replace or repair props that have damaged blades.
  • Keep your boat bottom clean. Growth on your hull increases drag.

Reduce Emissions

  • Keep the engine well-tuned and maintained.   
  • Use the gas to oil ratio recommended by the engine manufacturer. Too much oil can foul spark plugs and too little can lead to increased engine wear or even failure.
  • Use premium two-cycle engine oil. Premium oils improve engine performance and reduce pollution because they burn cleaner, contain more detergents, and prevent formation of carbon deposits.
  • Use gasoline with the octane level recommended by the engine manufacturer.
  • When it is time to buy a new engine, select a fuel efficient, low emission model.
  • Install a fuel/air separator along your vent line. These devices allow air, but not fuel, to escape through a vent opening.

Keep Boating Waters Free of Litter and Fish Waste

  • Repackage food and supplies in reusable containers at home.
  • Bring back what you take out.
  • Stow loose paper, plastics, and other items to prevent blowing out.
  • Keep trash containers handy. Dispose of trash properly.
  • Purchase products in recyclable packaging, like aluminum, and recycle.
  • It’s your responsibility to inform all visitors on your boat where to put trash.
  • Retrieve trash floating in the water and dispose of it at the marina.
  • Clean fish at home or use a cleaning station. Wrap fish waste before placing in a trash container.

Manage Sewage Waste Properly

  • Plan ahead: use onshore restrooms when possible.
  • Keep your marine toilet properly maintained.
  • Always use a marina pump-out service.
  • Empty portable toilets at dump stations or in bathrooms or at home.
  • Establish a regular maintenance schedule for your Marine Sanitation Device based on manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Use safer enzyme-based products to control odor and reduce solids in your tanks.
  • Dispose of your pet’s waste properly.

Remove Boat from Water for Repairs and Cleaning

  • Do boat repairs and cleaning at the boat yard or at home where wastewater and refuse can be collected and disposed of properly.
  • Rinse your boat with fresh water after each use to minimize the need for soaps and scrubbing.
  • Use phosphate-free, chlorine-free, and nontoxic cleaning products.
  • Wax your boat – a good coat of wax prevents surface dirt from becoming ingrained.

Prevent the Spread of Aquatic Invasive Species When Boating

  • For a good summary of this issue, visit:
  • NY Department of Environmental Conservation has adopted new regulations requiring removal of all animal and plant matter and draining boats, holding wells, and equipment before launch and after launch and apply to all DEC boat launches, fishing access sites, and any other DEC lands where watercraft such as boats, kayaks, and canoes can be launched. Here is the link to the regulations: 

Clean Marinas

  • An important companion to efforts by boaters themselves is environmentally responsible management by marinas. New York Sea Grant Extension offers a Marina Best Environmental Management Practices website aimed at minimizing sources of pollution (see link below).  As a consumer, you can expect the facilities you patronize to be part of protecting our great resources.  


Lake George Association (undated) Lake George Clean Boater Program.

Tennessee Valley Authority (undated) Tips for Clean Boating.

Boat U. S. Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water (undated) Clean Water.

New York Sea Grant (undated) Marina Best Environmental Management Practices.