Environmental Mandates

Environmental Laws & Regulations

There is a growing problem of garbage and pollution in our coastal waterways. The current situation is highly alarming since water pollution can affect boating equipment, humans, and marine life and destroy the beauty of the country’s waterways. 

Fortunately, several environmental laws and regulations explain how marine activities affect the environment. These laws will give boaters a greater understanding and awareness of their responsibilities in complying with environmental laws and regulations. Violations of these laws and regulations may result in fines, jail time, and civil penalties.

Here’s a breakdown of some environmental laws and regulations operators should know.

Pollution Regulations (33 CFR 151/155)

In accordance with MARPOL 73/78, throwing, discharging, or depositing refuse matter of any type into US waters is prohibited.


The presence of plastic in the ocean poses a significant threat to marine life since many species mistake plastic and other waste for food. Many birds and other animals get tangled up in fishing lines, nets, or plastic rings. Federal and state laws prohibit throwing or dumping anything into US waters.

a fisherman aboard a boat in polluted water

As part of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (MARPOL ANNEX V), garbage discharges are limited from boats. Dumping plastic trash in the ocean or navigable US waterways is illegal. Garbage disposal is also prohibited in all navigable waters of the United States, including the Great Lakes and inland waters. Depending on the type of garbage, other types may be discharged outside certain distances away from shore. 

Based on the kind of garbage, here are the appropriate discharge regulations: 

Garbage Type Discharge
PlasticsDischarge is prohibited everywhere.
Comminuted food waste, rags, paper, etc.It is illegal to discharge less than three miles from land.
Food waste, rags, paper, metal, bottles, pottery, etc.It is prohibited to discharge less than 12 miles from the nearest land.
Packing materials, lining, and floating dunnageIt is prohibited when discharge occurs less than 25 miles from the nearest land.

The following are other best practices and tips for boaters to respect and care for the environment:

  • Keep the engine clean to reduce air pollution.
  • Make sure the paint you use is marine-approved.
  • Ensure the bilge is clean, and do not dump oily water overboard.
  • Instead of detergents, use bilge absorbents.
  • Keep your speed down for better fuel economy.

Waste Management Plans: What Is Out There? 

A waste management plan is required for vessels over 40 feet long, engaged in commerce, or equipped with a galley and berthing in the ocean. There should be a plan for collecting, processing, storing, and dumping the garbage. A specific crew member must also carry out the waste management plan.

Displaying Information Placards 

Law requires some watercraft to display placards that provide information regarding environmental regulations. Consider a vessel with a machinery space greater than 26 feet in length. In that case, it is necessary to display an informational placard that measures at least five by eight inches and is made of durable metal. Placards should be displayed at the control station for the bilge pump or in a conspicuous location within the machinery area. 

The statement should include the following information:

“Discharge of Oil Prohibited– The Federal Water Pollution Control Act prohibits the discharge of oil or oily waste upon or into any navigable waters of the United States. This prohibition includes any discharge that causes a film or discoloration of the surface of the water, or causes a sludge or emulsion beneath the surface of the water. Violators are subject to substantial civil and/or criminal sanctions, including fines and imprisonment United States vessels of 26 feet or longer must display in a prominent location, a durable placard at least 4 by 9 inches notifying the crew and passengers of the discharge restrictions.”

A 4×9 durable placard that informs crew and passengers of discharge guidelines should also be placed in a prominent location on US boats that are 26 feet or longer.

Aquatic Nuisance Species

Typically, aquatic nuisance species spread between waterways by hitching a ride on vessels or trailers, such as zebra mussels, quagga mussels, milfoil, and hydrilla. The proliferation of these organisms leads to the displacement of native species and the destruction of the aquatic environment when transplanted into new waters.
Boater’s Tip: If you are a boater, you may see different names for non-native species threatening the aquatic environment. The terms “aquatic nuisance species” and “aquatic invasive species (AIS)” are some examples of such species. It is crucial to avoid spreading non-native species wherever you are boating, regardless of what they are called. By doing so, you can protect the waterways and the native species that inhabit them.



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