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Garbage and sewage disposal from recreational boats.



The study had four purposes:

1. to collect data on how a random national sample of recreational boaters disposed of wastes during the period from December 1996 to June 1997;

2. to sample boaters' attitudes about controversial issues in marine waste management;

3. to determine if boaters are finding the facilities they need to handle waste disposal as they wish; and

4. to determine if there are significant differences among subgroups of boaters regarding these issues.


Since antipollution and solid waste management regulations were formulated, there has been no national study of compliance by boaters or of boaters' attitudes toward the regulations. Traditionally, boaters have mainly disposed of wastes overboard, particularly organic wastes such as sewage and garbage, which were considered to decompose very rapidly, but also glass, metal, paper, wood, and rope (1,2). This was especially true of boaters in tidal areas or rivers where wastes are "washed away" by the movement of the water or in very large bodies of water such as the Great Lakes or oceans. If the new regulations are to accomplish the goals for which they were enacted, new equipment is needed on board boats; new sewage pump-out, garbage disposal, and recycling facilities are needed on shore; and new attitudes and behavior are needed among boaters.

Regulation of marine pollution from vessels was initiated worldwide with the passage of the agreement known as MARPOL 73/78 by the International Maritime Organization, an agency of the United Nations. Always referred to as MARPOL (for marine pollution), this agreement addresses five specific types of pollution in five sections called "annexes." All signatory nations have agreed, according to the terms of MARPOL 73/78, to implement annexes I and II, which concern pollution from oil and bulk liquids, respectively These two regulations are thus in force internationally. MARPOL annexes III, IV, and V, dealing with packaged hazardous materials, sewage, and garbage respectively, remain optional until ratified by at least 15 nations representing 50 percent of the world's shipping tonnage (2). Only Annex V has been ratified.

Garbage Disposal Regulations

The Plastic Pollution Research and Control Act was enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1987 (1,3,4). MARPOL Annex V, which regulates all garbage disposal from vessels, went into effect internationally on December 31, 1988, after being approved by 15 signatory nations (2,5-8). In the United States, the U.S. Coast Guard has responsibility for developing and enforcing regulations in compliance both with the national Plastic Pollution and Control Act and the international MARPOL Annex V regulations.

The MARPOL Annex V regulations forbid the dumping of plastics anywhere at sea. In lakes, rivers, bays, and sounds and within 3 nautical miles of the shore, it is illegal to dump plastic, paper, rags, glass, metal, crockery, floating dunnage, or food. From 3 to 12 nautical miles from shore it remains illegal to dump plastics, but items in all the other categories listed above may be dumped if they are ground to less than one inch. From 12 to 25 nautical miles from shore, anything may be dumped except plastic and floating dunnage (2,6). Fresh fish wastes from the cleaning of fish are not included in the MARPOL Annex V definition of vessel-generated garbage and therefore are not included in the MARPOL regulations (7). Nevertheless, fish carcasses are seen as both an aesthetic and an oxygen-depletion problem in some areas (2,9).

MARPOL Annex V also requires garbage reception facilities at port facilities including any recreational boating facility that can provide wharfage or other services to 10 or more recreational vessels. The regulations do not, however, spell out what constitutes an adequate garbage reception facility. The U.S. Coast Guard and many states have published manuals of recommendations for operators of recreational boating facilities and fact sheets for boaters regarding MARPOL Annex V regulations (1-4,6, 8-13). The U.S. Coast Guard manual for marina facilities managers promotes the benefits of recycling and distinguishes three categories of wastes: galley wastes, including plastics, papers, aluminum cans, bimetal cans, and food scraps; vessel management wastes such as used oil, batteries, paint, antifreeze, and filters; and recreational wastes such as monofilament fishing line and fish wastes (2). Studies of garbage generated by recreational boats have found that recreational boats produce about 1.4 pounds of solid waste per person per day assuming two passengers per recreational vessel and that about 4 to 6 gallons of reception capacity is needed per person per day in port (14,15). Efforts to reduce garbage disposal by boaters have focused especially on plastic wastes because plastic does not disintegrate and because it constitutes the largest category of trash found - for example, on beach cleanup day in 1988 in all 25 participating states (16). Two sample programs are the Louisiana Sea Grant Program "Cast Your Line ... Not Your Litter" and the New Hampshire "Trashmaster" program, which provided boaters with trash bags for garbage and gave prizes to winning participants (16).

Sewage Disposal Regulations

Regulations and standards for the Clean Water Act of 1972 are set by U.S. EPA. Standards for marine sanitary devices are developed and enforced by the U.S. Coast Guard in compliance with the Clean Vessel Act of 1992. International agreement on sewage disposal from marine vessels has not been reached.

In the United States, recreational boats are not required to have toilets (17). Ira toilet with plumbing is installed, however, it must be one of the three types of marine sanitary devices approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. Type I marine sanitary devices macerate so that there are no visible floating solids and are certified to reduce fecal-coliform bacteria to less than 1,000 fecal coliform per 100 milliliters (mL). In actual practice, most Type I marine sanitary devices appear to far exceed the minimum standards. Neale has commented on two Type I devices that have consistently tested above minimum standards: Lectra/San EC has been reported to produce effluent with fecal-coliform counts of between 0 and 20 per 100 mL in ocean salinity, and the Groco Thermapure fecal-coliform count has been reported as 0 per 100 mL (18).

Boats over 65 feet long are required to have either Type II or Type III marine sanitary devices. Coast Guard-approved Type II marine sanitary devices are certified to reduce effluent below 200 fecal coliform per 100 mL, generally require more electricity, and are typically used on larger vessels. Treatments that eliminate coliform bacteria are assumed also to eliminate the bacteria and viruses that cause waterborne diseases, although the approval process does not specifically test for these organisms (9,19).

Type III marine sanitary devices are not designed for overboard discharge of sewage within 3 miles of U.S. territorial waters. Devices of this type may recirculate or incinerate the sewage. Usually, however, they are designed to empty raw sewage into holding tanks. The sewage is held until the tank can be pumped out at a marina treatment facility or until the boat goes beyond territorial waters (5,17,20).

In the United States, disposal of raw, untreated sewage is forbidden in the Great Lakes, in all navigable rivers, and within 3 miles of the coasts. State rules may be more stringent than the federal rules and may include no-discharge zones and special rules for house boats. In 1989, Delaware enacted legislation requiring marinas to provide adequate sewage pump-out stations for docked vessels and stating that "all tidal waters in Delaware are considered 'no-discharge' zones" (21). At that time, only one marina in Delaware had a pump-out facility for boaters (21). Across the country, use of facilities typically has been mandated before the facilities were available, and in many areas adequate facilities remain unavailable today.

Porta-potties are not subject to marine sanitary device regulations, but they are subject to rules prohibiting disposal of raw sewage as well as no-discharge zones. Chemicals are nearly always used in both porta-potties and holding tanks, but these chemicals are designed to break down solids and to deodorize wastes rather than to meet standards for bacterial count. Therefore the contents of porta-potties and holding tanks are both considered raw sewage.

The creation of no-discharge zones makes it illegal to discharge effluent from the sanitizing on-board treatment systems of Type I and Type II marine sanitary devices. Legally, the raw sewage carried by the Type III devices must be disposed of by pump-out within territorial waters as required by the Clean Water Act of 1972. In many situations, boaters cannot get to working pump-outs before their tanks are full, so the emphasis on Type III marine sanitary devices and pump-outs appears in many cases to be working against cleanup of pollution from recreational boats. Spills of raw sewage have also been associated with the use of Type III devices. While Type I and Type II devices require more space than Type III devices, the Type Ill devices require large holding tanks, so boaters often must choose between installing a sanitizing toilet or having a holding tank large enough to function legally within no-discharge zones (18,22).

Paradoxically, pump-out facilities are not required by Coast Guard regulations at marinas or fuel-dispensing facilities, even in no-discharge zones. Their availability is largely a matter of state legislation and federal encouragement, sometimes with funding assistance from the government for the creation of pump-out facilities, combined with demand by boaters. For the past 25 years, boaters often have been caught in situations where they are legally required to hold their wastes on the vessel until they can be pumped out at a shore facility - and there is no shore facility within 30 or more miles of where they customarily operate. Since many sailboats and trawlers on which boaters spend extended periods of time travel at a maximum speed of 5 to 8 knots, reaching a pump-out facility has often been seen as impractical if not impossible. In many circumstances, this dilemma has led either to illegal dumping of holding tanks within the 3-mile limit, use of porta-potties that are then carried ashore and emptied in toilets (sometimes with disastrous effects on marina septic systems), or reversion to the use of a bucket. Marinas usually charge for the use of their pump-out facilities, although there have been articles urging marinas to offer pump-outs as a free service (23).

Size of Boats in Survey

Boat Length Frequency Percentage

Less than 20[feet] 23 boats 9.9
20-29[feet] 105 boats 45.3
30-39[feet] 78 boats 33.7
40-49[feet] 20 boats 8.6
Over 50[feet] 5 boats 2.0

Mean Percentage of Time Spent in MARPOL Annex V Regions


Five hundred questionnaires were mailed to a random sample of members of a national boaters' association. This method was chosen for several reasons:

1. to obtain a nationwide sample that would include representative geographic distribution of boaters from east and west coasts, the Gulf coast, the Great Lakes, and other inland waters;

2. to include representative sampling of both power and sail boaters; and

3. to determine how garbage and sewage disposal are being handled by boaters who have passed courses in boating safety and seamanship and who belong to at least one national boating organization - in other words, by a sample of "serious" boaters who are apt to spend significant amounts of time aboard; and

4. to sample boaters who are apt to have boats of the size to have galleys and heads - i.e., who have meal preparation and toilet facilities on their boats.

Region Mean Percentage

Inland waterways: lakes, rivers, bays, sounds 67.6
Near coastal: within 3 miles of ocean shore 17.5
3-12 nautical miles from shore 8.5
12-25 nautical miles from shore 2.8
More than 25 miles offshore 2.9

Sampling all registered boaters would not have been appropriate for this study because many registered boaters have small day-use craft such as canoes, bass boats, personal watercraft, and water-ski speed boats, which are not relevant to a study of garbage and sewage handling aboard boats.

The questionnaire had four sections: Demographics of the Respondents, Disposal Overboard, Holding Tanks/Pump-Out Stations, and Garbage and Trash Disposal Ashore. A stamped envelope was provided for return of the anonymous questionnaire. A separate form was provided on which respondents who wished to receive a copy of the survey results could write their mailing addresses.


Two hundred and thirty-five of the 500 mailed questionnaires were received by the boaters, completed, and anonymously returned, giving an overall response rate of 47 percent. There was no follow-up to the initial mailing. In the tables presented in this paper, numbers and percentages reflect the number of valid responses for each portion of the questionnaire; that number is sometimes less than the total number of returned, well-completed [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 3 OMITTED] [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 4 OMITTED] questionnaires. The most frequent reason for invalid responses is that respondents sometimes tried to improve the accuracy of their responses (e.g., by circling both 3 and 4 on a five-point scale to indicate an answer of 3.5 or by giving two answers and explaining that the answer depended upon circumstances).

Sample Demographics

Respondents ranged in age from 17 to 86 years, with 5.3 percent of respondents below 40 years of age, 17.6 percent in their 40s, 30 percent in their 50s, 27.8 percent in their 60s, 15.9 percent in their 70s, and 3.5 percent in their 80s. Eighty-five percent of the respondents were men; 15 percent were women. Ninety-one percent identified themselves as owner and captain or co-captain, five percent as first mates, and four percent as "other."

The distribution of main boating locations for these boaters was Great lakes, 18 percent; other freshwater lakes, 18 percent; Fast Coast above Florida, 40 percent; West Coast, seven percent; and Florida and Gulf States, 17 percent.

The respondents were distributed among four boater styles as follows: recreational powerboater, 66 percent; recreational sailboater, 23 percent; cruising powerboater, six percent; and cruising sailboater, five percent. Cruising was defined as spending periods of at least one month living aboard, whereas recreational was defined as spending periods of less than one month aboard. In other words, recreational boaters are mainly day or weekend boaters who occasionally spend more extended vacation periods aboard. Cruisers regard the boat as home for periods of more than a month at a time.

The respondents were active in a number of boating organizations: 98 percent were members of the United States Power Squadron, 79 percent were members of the Boat Owners Association of the United States (BOAT-US); 16 percent belonged to the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, 72 percent belonged to a local yacht club or boaters' association, and 23 percent belonged to boat brand associations. The sizes of boats owned by the respondents are given in Table 1.

Waste Management Regions

Table 2 shows the mean percentage of time respondents spend in the various internationally defined MARPOL Annex V waste management regions.

Disposal Overboard

Respondents were asked to estimate how often specific categories of wastes get dumped overboard from their boats according to the following scale:

0 = never (zero percent of the time).

1 = rarely (one to 20 percent of the time).

2 = sometimes: (21 to 40 percent of the time).

3 = about half the time: (41 to 60 percent of the time).

4 = often: (61 to 80 percent of the time).

5 = usually or always: (81 to 100 percent of the time).

Table 3 gives the percentage of respondents who chose each of these ratings for particular types of waste. Table 4 shows how the rate of disposal overboard varies by main locale of boating.

Cruisers (long periods aboard) and recreational boaters (short periods aboard) tended to jettison different categories of wastes over board. Cruisers had higher rates of overboard disposal of food, fish parts, all categories of sewage, paper, and bimetal cans. Recreational boaters had higher rates of disposal overboard of styrofoam containers, plastic containers, plastic wrap, plastic-coated paper or cardboard, and aluminum cans. With respect to total disposal overboard, the mean total of all ratings was 17.6 for cruising sailors, 12.3 for cruising powerboaters, 7.7 for recreational sailboaters, and 5.7 for recreational powerboaters.

Responses to Question: "What Percentage of Time Does the Head Empty
into a Holding Tank or Porta-Potty?"

Always 70.8%
Most of the time except for emergency dumping 7.2%
Sometimes - e.g., when not underway 6.2%
Occasionally - e.g., at marinas 6.2%
Never 9.1%

Disposal frequencies also differed by location as shown in Table 4, although the unequal numbers of respondents from different locations make statistical tests of significance inappropriate.

Analysis of the percentage of time spent in MARPOL Annex V regions also suggests some interesting patterns. Cruising sailors spent the least time in inland waters and the most time beyond the 3-nautical-mile territorial limit. The time cruising sailors spent more than 25 nautical miles offshore was more than four times that spent by any of the other three groups, so the most disposal overboard was by the group that spent the most time outside of regulated waters.

Holding Tanks and Pump-Out Stations

Table 5 indicates what percentage of the time marine heads are emptying into a holding tank or a porta-potty is being used. Note that Type I and Type II marine sanitary devices are not required to empty into a holding tank except in no-discharge zones. Devices of these types are designed to meet Coast Guard specifications for destruction of fecal coliform prior to overboard discharge.

Use of Pump-Out Facilities

The questionnaire asked the following question about use of pump-out facilities: "If you use a porta-potty or holding tank, what percentage of the time is the holding tank or porta-potty emptied at a port pump-out facility?" Among the 186 boaters who responded to this question, the mean rate of use of pump-out facilities was 75 percent. The percentage of respondents who said that they used pump-out facilities zero percent of the time was 12.4, and the percentage who said that they used pump-out facilities 100 percent of the time was 56.5. The remaining respondents were spread out all along the scale. The standard deviation was 38.8. Both median and mode were 100 percent. The use of pump-out facilities differed by main boating location; it was highest for boaters who boat predominantly in the smaller freshwater lakes (98.9 percent) and the Great Lakes (93.9 percent), next highest on the East Coast above Florida (71.8 percent) and on the West Coast (73.8 percent) and lowest in Florida and the Gulf area (49.8 percent).

Responses to the Statement: "Pump-Out Facilities Are Available at
All Gas Docks in My Area"

True 13.9%
Mostly true 24.5%
Somewhat true 25.9%
Mostly false 21.8%
False 13.9%

Table 6 gives boater's ratings of the availability of pump-outs nationwide.

Attitudes Toward Pump-Out Facilities

Respondents rated the five statements about pump-out facilities in Table 7 on a five-point Likert scale in which 1 = strongly disagree, 3 = neutral or not sure. and 5 = strongly agree.

It is evident that the majority of boaters in this sample regard pump-out stations as desirable and that they support their use, but that many boaters find that not enough facilities are available to promote compliance with discharge regulations. Boaters from all locations agreed that shore pump-outs are better for the environment than the discharge of raw sewage, but boaters differed by location about the current availability of pump-outs, with the Great Lakes reporting the best availability and the Florida/Gulf area reporting the least availability (Table 7).

Recycling: Garbage and Trash Disposal Ashore

Boaters were asked to estimate how often various categories of trash are separated from the garbage on their boat for recycling.

It is clear that the majority of respondents fall at one end or the other of the recycling continuum (Table 8). Many respondents wrote that to recycle they must carry their recyclable materials home with them since most marinas provide no containers for recycling. Obviously this solution works only for recreational boaters since for cruisers the boat is home for long periods of time.

Recycling: Attitudes and Experiences

Boaters were asked to indicate their degree of agreement or disagreement with six statements about recycling attitudes and experiences on a five-point Likert scale (Table 9). Table 10 indicates that recreational boats do not have the equipment to grind garbage as required by MARPOL Annex V when 3 to 12 miles offshore, but that 27 percent of the boats in the survey do have macerators for grinding sewage and preventing floating solids.

Additional Comments

Boaters were asked to write in additional comments about any of the items. The largest number of written comments expressed frustration about insufficient and inadequate pump-out facilities in certain areas of the country and about the lack of recycling programs in most marinas.

A large number of respondents also commented that recreational boaters are regarded as "fat cats" and are being "picked on" disproportionately with respect to the release of sewage and garbage while large cruise ships, agriculture, industry, and municipalities contribute more to water pollution problems than do small recreational boats:

* "The government is over-regulating the little guy because they cannot do anything about the big violators. I obey the law, but I don't agree with it."

* "The regulations concerning recreational marine sanitary devices are another example of government bureaucracy swatting flies with a sledge hammer."

* "Most pleasure boaters I know are extremely conscious of the environment and the dangers to wildlife of jettisoning trash overboard. But I still feel that a Type I with macerator should be an acceptable substitute for a holding tank."

* "The dumping of plastics and plastic-coated papers overboard is very harmful to fish and wildlife, as is the dumping of metals. The impact of discharge from an MSD [marine sanitary device] is negligible compared with other sources of pollution."

* "Type I MSDs that sanitize sewage before it goes overboard should be legal everywhere. The growing number of no-discharge zones is discouraging boaters from spending the money to obtain Type I MSDs such as the Lectra/San. These devices should be allowed everywhere and encouraged. Otherwise more boaters will utilize legal solutions that do more harm to the environment such as having no toilet at all and using a bucket or eliminating directly into the water. There's no law against that."

Discussion and Recommendations

This random national sample of recreational boaters does appear to have generated responses from representative proportions of boaters of various types and from various locations. From boater registration statistics we know that there are more recreational boats on the East Coast than on the West Coast, that there are more powerboaters than sailors, and that there are more day or weekend recreational boaters than extended-time-aboard cruisers. With respect to the total boating population, this sample did underrepresent younger boaters and smaller boats, which are less apt to have the cooking and garbage-making [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 7 OMITTED] [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 8 OMITTED] facilities and toilets that were the subject of this study (24). The other way in which this sample of boats may be somewhat atypical is that members of national boating organizations would be expected to have a high sense of responsibility and a high awareness of regulations. Therefore, the data reported here probably represent the high end of the scale regarding compliance with garbage and sewage disposal regulations. Other methods of drawing a national sample might show lower compliance. With respect to sewage disposal, the biggest difference between this sample and a random sample of all boaters would be that a random sample would include more boats that do not have any kind of marine sanitary device aboard.

To test hypotheses about differences among subgroups such as power versus sail, recreational versus cruise, or Great Lakes versus Florida, different sampling procedures would be needed to obtain more equal numbers. Nevertheless, the mean differences between subgroups obtained in this national sample give clues to probable differences that are worth exploring further. It is common knowledge among boaters who have operated in different parts of the United States that in the Great Lakes pump-out facilities are available and their use is enforced, whereas in many parts of Florida, functioning pump-out facilities are scarce and their use is rarely enforced. The data from this study confirm this commonly held impression.


The data and comments from this study indicate that boaters would like to see more recycling facilities at marinas, especially if recyclable wastes can be commingled. In the limited space aboard a recreational vessel, it is difficult to have many separate containers. Corral-Verdugo's finding of low correlations between self-reports and observed practice of recycling suggests that additional studies should be carried out (25).

Boaters have many of the qualities of environmentally conscious citizens and successful recyclers: love of the water and a desire for clean water in which to operate, generally high income and education, love of nature, time spent outdoors, and so forth (26-29). They clearly are asking for a "removal of barriers" to environmentally supportive behaviors in asking that recycling bins be available at more marinas; that there be some consistency among marinas about which wastes can be recycled so they know what to separate out as they travel (e.g., up and down the intracoastal waterway); and that they be allowed to commingle, at least to the extent of allowing all metal cans together and all colors and types of glass and plastic (29). At present many cruising boaters have stopped separating recyclables; they have repeatedly found that they end up putting the recyclables in the garbage because no recycling facility is accessible to boaters. Many short-term boaters wrote comments about carrying recyclables home for curb-side collection.

Some publications geared toward marina management have, however, warned of costs and problems in the implementation of the "best management practices" developed by the state of Rhode Island and the Coastal Resources Center to guide marine facilities in compliance with U.S. EPA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) regulations for nonpoint-source pollution. One of the nine areas of best management practices is development of marina recycling programs (12,13). Olsson warns marinas to be very careful when implementing recycling, recounting experiences such as that of the Port of Anacortes, which was fined by U.S. EPA after providing a waste-oil recycling tank for marina tenants: Someone dumped oil contaminated with PCBs, which were found by the disposal company and reported to U.S. EPA. The Anacortes marina was held liable for the contents of the contaminated recycling container (30).

In the Rhode Island study, it was found that recycling raised the cost of garbage disposal for marinas: $32.00 per week for recycling glass, "tin," and plastics as opposed to $5.12 per week without recycling. The authors also found that boaters requested commingled collection bins because of the space problems posed by on-board separation. Among educational programs for boaters, posting signs was most effective, distributing literature was second, and workshops were least popular and least effective in changing boaters' behavior (12).

Disposal Overboard

Boaters still retain something of their traditional maritime ethical perspective that it is worse to dump things that don't break down readily in the marine environment (plastics, metal, and glass) than to dump "biodegradable natural wastes" such as sewage, food, fish parts, and paper.

The data also suggest that the amount of overboard disposal still occurring differs by geographic area. Overall, overboard disposal is clearly much less than it was when pump-out stations and regulatory legislation did not exist. The rate of disposal overboard by this sample of boaters is very low. Over 90 percent of boaters report never having dumped waste containing plastics, paper, cardboard, metal, glass, or ceramics; only 65 percent of boaters, however, report never having dumped waste containing raw fruits, vegetables, and fish parts. Fish parts and chemically treated sewage are the only categories of waste that more than five percent of boaters dump overboard 80 percent or more of the time. The data from this study do not clearly differentiate how many of the boaters who regularly pump sewage over-board have Type I or Type II marine sanitary devices, which are legal everywhere except in designated "no-discharge zones," where they have to be sealed off. The "urine/feces directly overboard" category is clearly raw sewage. Macerated sewage generally, but not always, comes from Type I or Type II devices. The term "chemically treated sewage" is too vague to distinguish between treatments that destroy fecal coliform in Type I and Type II marine sanitary devices on the one hand and, on the other hand, deodorizing chemical treatments used in porta-potties and holding tanks. The latter do not destroy fecal-coliform bacteria and may, in fact, introduce additional toxins into the water if discharged overboard, spilled, or leached from marina facilities. Future studies should clearly identify the type of marine sanitary [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 9 OMITTED] device aboard each vessel in the study.

It would be interesting to compare the very low overboard disposal rate of this sample of boaters with other samples selected according to different criteria and to use a different rating scale that would enable more differentiation at the low end of the scale. It appears very likely that the rates of overboard sewage and food disposal might be higher for a sample predominantly of cruising boats whose main area of boating is in or near Florida and the Bahamas, where facilities are less developed. Also, the five-point rating scale used in this study made it impossible to distinguish between a dumping rate of one percent and a rate of 19 percent, both of which would receive a rating of 1. More useful data would be generated if boaters were asked to estimate the percentage of time they dispose overboard.

Whereas newspapers are the most collected materials nationwide, the most common categories of vessel-generated recyclables are probably aluminum cans, glass, plastic, and bimetal cans (29). Boaters tend to carry minimal amounts of paper and cardboard aboard to reduce risk of roach infestations, to moisture-proof the contents, and to condense stores to fit into small spaces. Cardboard and paper packaging are usually disposed of where the boaters shop and the contents are repackaged for the boat. Reading material on boats mostly consists of books that are swapped for reuse at marina leave-one-take-one book exchange shelves, rather than newspapers.


At Dinner Key Marina, a huge recreational boat facility owned by the city of Miami, modern piers provide a pump-out connection at every slip. Nevertheless, at the time of this survey, not one boater could be found who was using this expensive facility, which required that the boat owner provide a connector between the fitting on the pier and the deck fitting on the boat. The marina staff were unsure about where such fittings could be obtained. There was no store within walking distance of the marina at which the connector could be purchased. This situation is unusual. It is not unusual, however, to find nonfunctioning pumps at pump-out facilities. The absence of shore pump-out facilities also remains a common problem, and facility availability varies greatly from one part of the country to another. In the future, deck fittings leading to holding tanks will be standardized in size and color. On boats today, however, there is no standardization, so pump-outs and boat fittings do not always mesh.

If compliance rates are to increase much further, action is needed on two fronts. One is provision of better facilities in areas that are lacking, and the other is convincing boaters that boat wastes really do present a hazard. At present, many boaters are obeying the law but do not believe that the law is justified. The fact that boaters are much more careful about dumping plastic and other nonbiodegradable wastes than they are about dumping sewage and food may partly have to do with how smelly the wastes are to carry aboard. From the boaters' comments, however, it seems that many of them do not believe that boaters are major contributors to water pollution. A significant number of safety-conscious and environmentally aware boaters believe that the regulations and potential fines they face are unfair compared with those applied to other, more major, nonpoint sources of pollution. These boaters are not convinced that the discharge of recreational boat sewage significantly affects water quality. More education, based on actual research, may be needed on issues such as the following:

1. Organic wastes may decrease the available oxygen in the water and lead to death of sea life (5). How much do recreational boats contribute?

2. Nutrient-enriched waters may be subject to algal infestations of epidemic proportions such as the Pfiesteria piscicida organism whose toxin was discovered in 1991 by Burkholder and Miller and which has been wiping out fish populations in certain rivers in North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland. Pfiesteria is believed to be the cause of neurological disorders in fishermen with high exposure to the infected water (31-33). Are recreational boats a major source of nutrients where Pfiesteria and other algal blooms are occurring?

3. Increasing the number of disease organisms in the water can lead to epidemics of gastroenteritis, hepatitis, typhoid, or cholera when shellfish or swimming areas are affected (5,9,18,20,31). Again, boaters want evidence that their wastes are having a major impact. This link has been very difficult to establish since all waterways receive runoffs from many sources.

Percentage of Boats with Waste-Handling Equipment

1. Macerator for grinding sewage before flushing 27.2%
2. Mechanical trash compactor 1.7%
3. Mechanical can crusher 1.3%
4. Permanently installed recycling bins 1.3%
5.Trash grinder 0.0%

As stated above, boaters do see water pollution as a problem, but many do not believe that they are a main cause of the problem. Boaters who have Type I or Type II marine sanitary devices definitely do not believe they are the problem. They argue that legislators and environmentalists need to be more aware of modern technology and the resultant differences between effluents from Type I and Type II marine sanitary devices and raw sewage (18,22). The studies cited for the issues listed above do not state that boaters are a major source of water pollution; they simply state that every little bit of pollution counts, and that boaters contribute something to the problem. Horse, pig, poultry, and other livestock farms; lawns and golf courses; streets; animal wastes; septic tanks; municipal waste treatment facilities; and landfill leachate are other major nonpoint sources of bacterial contamination that have resulted in the closing of many shellfish areas (20,32,33).

Cases in which raw, unmacerated high-coliform sewage is still being discharged from boats may result from simple ignorance (28). This problem resembles the problem of homeowners who lack awareness about household wastes and the problem of the pervasive belief that "one can of oil on the ground can't hurt" (34-36). In other cases, as reported here, boaters are aware but may be unable to comply because sufficient, functioning pump-out facilities are not available.

Sustainable changes in the behavior of boaters requires that boaters be fully informed of the true impact of boat wastes on the environment and that regulation of boat wastes be perceived as appropriate to the degree of damage that violations cause (37).

Some states are seeking, or have obtained, permission from U.S. EPA to declare all waters in those states no-discharge zones. No-discharge zones should be given much more careful consideration. Criteria should be developed by U.S. EPA for the conditions under which no-discharge zones may be approved (18,22). At present, no such criteria exist. Charts that list the contributions of the three types of marine sanitary devices to fecal-coliform counts are misleading. Type III marine sanitary devices are listed as contributing zero fecal coliform to the environment on the assumption that holding tanks are always being used, that the tanks are always being emptied into shoreside pump-out receiving facilities, that no accidental spillage occurs during pumping of the raw sewage, and that no sewage leaches from the pumped-out wastes into the surrounding waters. These assumptions are not justified according to data from this study and other reports. Furthermore, the emphasis on no-discharge zones ignores the environmental impact of the deodorizing and decomposing chemicals used in Type III marine sanitary devices and porta-potties to make on-board storage of sewage bearable. These chemicals interfere with the functioning of septic systems and may contribute toxicity problems of their own. More study is needed to make the charts accurate.

"Problem or Solution?" by Neale and an earlier article by Ross provide an excellent account of the arguments made by many of the respondents in this study about the advantages of Type I and Type II marine sanitary devices over pump-outs (18,22). Neale argues that the no-discharge zones, with their reliance on Type III marine sanitary devices and pump-out facilities, ignore new technology and often lead to an increase both in illegal dumping of raw sewage and in exposure of boaters and marina personnel to raw wastes in no-discharge zones. He also points out some of the misunderstandings and political and economic factors contributing to the proliferation of applications for no-discharge zones (18).

Acknowledgements: This research was conducted with the assistance of a Faculty Fellowship awarded to Patricia Baasel-Tillis in 1997 by Ohio University and a Scholarly Activity Award granted to Joan Tucker-Carver by the Dean of the College of Health and Human Services at Ohio University in 1996-1997.

Corresponding Author: Patricia Baasel-Tillis, School of Health Sciences, 407 The Tower, Ohio University, Athens, OH 45701. E-mail: or

Editor's Note: Copies of the complete questionnaire used in this study may be obtained by writing to Patricia Baasel-Tillis.


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* Note: All references with NSGD numbers may be obtained from the National Sea Grant Depository. Pell Library Building, University of Rhode Island Bay Campus, Narragansett, RI 02882. E-mail: Web site address: http//
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Author:Tucker-Carver, Joan
Publication:Journal of Environmental Health
Date:Nov 1, 1998
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