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It's the Law

As a boater, it’s your legal responsibility to help protect the Massachusetts aquatic environment.

Discharge of Sewage and Waste

Massachusetts law states that it is unlawful to discharge raw sewage or other refuse into Massachusetts waters. If you have a recreational vessel with installed toilet facilities, it must have on board an operable marine sanitation device (MSD) that is self-contained and incapable of discharging directly into the water.

All installed MSDs must be U.S. Coast Guard–certified.

Marine Sanitation Device (MSD)

Types of MSDs

There are three types of MSDs.

Types I and II MSDs treat waste with special chemicals to kill bacteria before the waste is discharged. Types I and II MSDs with Y valves that would direct the waste overboard must be secured so that the valve cannot be opened. This can be done by placing a lock or non-reusable seal on the Y valve or by taking the handle off the Y valve.

Type III MSDs provide no treatment and are either holding tanks or portable toilets. Collected waste should be taken ashore and disposed of in a pump-out station or onshore toilet.

No Discharge Areas (NDAs) in Massachusetts

It is illegal to dump both treated and untreated sewage in these NDAs:

  • South Cape Cod and Islands—the coastal waters south of Cape Cod and surrounding Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, including Aquinnah, Chilmark, West Tisbury, Tisbury, Oak Bluffs, Edgartown, Falmouth, Mashpee, Barnstable, Yarmouth, Dennis, Harwich, Chatham, and Nantucket
  • Mount Hope Bay—the coastal waters of Mount Hope Bay, including the Taunton River up to the Center/Elm St. Bridge on the border of Dighton and Berkley, as well as the Lee and Cole Rivers up to their respective Route 6 bridges.
  • Outer Cape Cod—the coastal waters off Chatham, Orleans, Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro, and Provincetown, including Nauset Harbor.
  • Upper North Shore—the coastal waters of Gloucester, Rockport, Essex, Ipswich, Rowley, Newbury, Newburyport, Salisbury, including the Merrimack River in Amesbury, West Newbury, Merrimac, Groveland, North Andover, Haverhill, Methuen, and Lawrence.
  • Pleasant Bay (Brewster, Orleans, Harwich, and Chatham) and Chatham Harbor
  • The coastal waters of Revere, Saugus, Lynn, Nahant, and Swampscott, including the Pines and Saugus Rivers
  • All of Cape Cod Bay
  • Boston Harbor—the coastal waters of Winthrop, Chelsea, Everett, Boston, Quincy, Milton, Weymouth, Braintree, Hingham, and Hull, including the Charles River in Watertown, Newton, and Cambridge
  • Salem Sound—the coastal waters of Manchester-by-the-Sea, Beverly, Danvers, Salem, and Marblehead
  • The coastal waters of Cohasett, Scituate, and Marshfield(PDF, 322 KB)
  • The coastal waters of Plymouth, Kingston, and Duxbury
  • All of Buzzards Bay
  • Waquoit Bay in Falmouth
  • The Coastal waters of Harwich
  • Three Bays/Centerville Harbor in Barnstable
  • Stage Harbor in Chatham
  • The Coastal waters of Nantucket from Muskeget Island to Great Point, including Nantucket Harbor

Please Pump Out

Boaters can help reduce water pollution by pumping out their sewage. Pump-out stations provide wet vacuums that draw sewage out of a boat’s holding tanks for proper disposal.

Pump-out stations allow boaters to comply with the Federal Clean Water Act, which prohibits the discharge of untreated sewage in coastal waters within three miles of shore.

  • With the assistance of federal funding, the number of pump-out stations (and pump-out boats) has increased significantly. Boaters have responded by using them, which already has improved coastal water quality.
  • Pump-out stations also are available in the seven No Discharge Areas (NDAs) in Massachusetts (see above).
  • Locations of No Discharge Areas and pump-out stations are subject to change. Please check online at or call 617-626-1200.

Use the pump-out stations to keep sewage out of our fishing and swimming areas.