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Clean Boating Tips for Petroleum Control


Petroleum in or on the water is harmful, and in some cases fatal, to aquatic life. Floating petroleum reduces light penetration, affects the exchange of oxygen at the water's surface, and contaminates the microlayer. The microlayer is the uppermost portion of the water column—home to thousands of species of plants, animals, and microbes that attract seabirds from above and fish from below. Pollution in the microlayer can poison much of the aquatic food web.

The Law

The Federal Water Pollution Control Act (also called the Clean Water Act) prohibits the discharge of oil or oily waste upon or into the navigable waters of the United States or the waters of the contiguous zone if such discharge causes a film or sheen upon, or discoloration of, the surface of the water or causes a sludge or emulsion beneath the surface of the water. Violators are subject to a penalty of $5,000 from the U.S. Coast Guard. State law also prohibits the discharge of oil. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality may impose additional fines.

Fueling Practices

Gas or diesel may be spilled while fueling—as backsplash out the fuel intake or as overflow out the vent fitting. Spills harm aquatic life. Follow these tips to avoid problems.

  • Fill tanks to no more than 90% capacity—gas from cool storage tanks will expand as it warms up.
  • To determine when the tank is 90% full, listen to the filler pipe, use a sounding stick, and know your tank's volume.
  • Rather than filling your tank upon your return to port, wait and fill it just before leaving on your next trip. This practice will reduce spills due to thermal expansion because some fuel will be used before it warms up.
  • Fill portable tanks on shore where spills are less likely to occur and are easier to clean up.
  • Use oil absorbent pads to catch all drips.
  • Slow down at the beginning and end of fueling.

Pollution Emergencies

Call the Michigan Pollution Emergency Alerting System (PEAS) at 1-800-292-4706.