Washington Reminds Boat Owners of Responsibility

Is your boat an environmental stimulus or deficit? In the current economic downturn, some items considered luxuries or non-essential may get set aside or neglected. However, there is a right way -- and a wrong way -- to deal with a boat you can no longer afford.

Every year Washington Department of Ecology gets numerous reports of boats sinking. And when boat's sink, fuel, oil, grease, solvents, and other pollutants often get spilled to state waters. Under state law, the penalty for allowing oil and other petroleum products to spill to water has increased fivefold. A negligent boat owner could face a fine of up to $100,000 a day. Additionally, boat owners are responsible for spill clean-up costs and for the expense of restoring damages done to the environment.

If owning a boat has become unaffordable, Ecology recommends owners consider making needed repairs and putting it up for sale. While the market for new boats may be slipping, boats in good condition may still find a home.

"There is no such thing as a maintenance-free boat of any size," said Ecology's Spills Prevention Section Manager Chip Boothe. "The integrity of a boat depends entirely on a regular program of inspection, maintenance, and repair."

Boothe said the time for a maintenance checkup is now, before launching a boat for the season.

Here are some steps to get your boat ready:

  • Start with a basic tune-up by replacing spark plugs, checking for oil and fuel leaks, and examining the clamps for rust or corrosion. Replace any old, stiff or cracking hoses that might fail. Failed hoses can cause fuel spills, too.
  • Drain used oil using a pump to prevent drips or spills into the bilge. Contain the waste and take the used oil to an oil recycling location.
  • Check the bilge area for oily residue and clean thoroughly with absorbent materials. Never use detergents on oily bilge water. Detergents make the problem worse and it is illegal to discharge the soapy water. Insert an oil-absorbent bilge pillow in the area as a safeguard for future leaks.
  • Check the bilge pump, and make sure both the automatic and manual operation work. Test the warning alarm system.
  • Check the battery for water level and for corrosion on the terminals. Recharge or replace your battery. When replacing batteries, turn the core into the dealer or use a hazardous waste recycling center. (Do not discard batteries into a dumpster. Most batteries contain lead and/or cadmium, both of which are harmful to the environment.)
  • Inspect the cockpit drains to make sure they are clear and will drain rain water or spray from boats or waves.
  • Check fuel tanks for leaks, damage, or corrosion.
  • For major repairs and all bottom paint work, including bottom cleaning, pull the boat out of the water and take it to a permitted boatyard that captures any discharges. Anti-fouling paints contain toxic materials such as copper, zinc, and lead that are harmful to marine life.
  • Check the hull for punctures or cracks and repair.

As little as a quart of spilled oil, diesel, or gasoline can contaminate acres of water and can prove deadly to marine life, particularly in shallow waters. Juvenile fish, shellfish larvae and other essential sea life are extremely sensitive to even small amounts of oil or fuel products.

Ecology encourages boaters to report all fuel and oil spills by calling 800-OILS-911 and the U.S. Coast Guard at 800-424-8802. Reporting is mandatory and fines can increase for failing to notify authorities.

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