Clean Boating Tips to Help Save Ocean Wildlife

clean boating

Photo credit: Saving Ocean Wildlife

Did you know that more than 87 million people participate in recreational boating across the United States each year?  In California, there are more than three million boaters. That is a minimum of three million “actions” on the water and that is just counting one boat trip per boater! Each individual action adds up to a significant impact upon the ocean environment and ultimately the quality of life for all of us, including ocean wildlife. People are always asking the team at Saving Ocean Wildlife (SOW), how can I as just one individual reduce that impact, improve our experience on the water, and support a healthy aquatic habitat?

Here are ten actions YOU can take to make a positive difference:

1. Refuse, Reuse, Recycle, Responsible Disposal

Please consider not buying or using plastic. Just refuse to use plastic when possible. This is the first and best step towards reducing toxic, plastic pollution in the environment. Never throw any trash such as cigarette butts, fishing line, or any other garbage into our waterways. Take advantage of shore-side facilities to recycle plastic, glass, metal, fishing line and paper.

2. Prevent oily discharge from the bilge

Keep your engine tuned and your bilge clean and dry to help prevent fuel and oil leaks. Always place an oil absorbent pad under the engine and in the boat bilge. Check the absorbents often and dispose of them as hazardous waste at a marina or nearby collection center. It is illegal to use soap to disperse petroleum spills.

3. Spill-proof your oil changes and fueling

If you change your boat engine oil, be sure to use a closed system (such as a portable oil-change pump) available at marine supplies stores and always have an oil absorbent handy. Do not top-off or overflow your fuel tank and leave 10% of your tank empty to allow fuel to expand as it warms. Use absorbents to catch any overflow fuel. Dispose of saturated absorbents and fuel bibs at a hazardous household waste facility. Recycle your used oil and oil filters.

4. Minimize boat cleaning and maintenance in the water

Save maintenance projects for the boatyard. When performing work on the water, clean your boat with water-based, biodegradable, phosphate-free cleaning products that are labeled as less toxic.

5. Water washdowns

Scrubbing your deck and hull without soap can keep your boat clean and have no harmful impact upon the environment.

6. Non-toxic bottom paints

Use non-copper antifouling bottom paint that can be found at all marine stores. Utilize hull cleaning companies that implement green management practices such as monitoring their divers and using non-abrasive scrubbing agents.

7. Dispose of hazardous waste properly

Dispose of paints, batteries, antifreeze, cleaning products, oil, oil filters, and other hazardous wastes at a hazardous waste collection facility or event.

8. Remove wastewater and sewage at pump-out stations

It is illegal to discharge untreated sewage anywhere within the three-mile territorial limit including lakes, rivers, reservoirs or coastal waters. Use sewage pump-outs, dump stations, or even call a mobile pump-out service.

9. Do not spread aquatic invasive species. Clean, drain, and dry your boat

Examine your boat and equipment for any visible mud, plants, or animals before transporting equipment. Never release plants or animals into the water unless they came out of that exact same body of water. Never release plants or animals into storm drains. Clean and dry all equipment.


10. Use non-toxic sunscreens

Keep harmful chemicals off your body and out of the water by using nontoxic sunscreen.

THANK YOU for being a clean and safe boater!  The ocean animals appreciate it!

Do you have any other suggestions to help us share best practices for boaters?

Please send them to us at

FREE Ocean wildlife guide!

Click here for your free guide to learn about the animals and find out which are endangered.


Report Ocean Animals Dead or in Distress
If you see it, PLEASE say it! Use our handy reporting tool any time you come across a dead or distressed ocean animal. This will immediately notify NOAA so they can get the appropriate organization involved to help remove or free the animal in need!


Ten Personal Actions You Can Take
Whether it is through a donation of time, money or resources or picking-up plastic trash, here are ten ideas for your personal action plan to save ocean wildlife!

Please donate to help save the animals.



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