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Pollution Regulations

The Refuse Act of 1899 prohibits throwing, discharging or depositing any refuse matter of any kind (including trash, garbage, oil, and other liquid pollutants into the waters of the United States.

The Federal Water Pollution Control Act prohibits the discharge of oil or hazardous substances which may be harmful into U.S. navigable waters. Vessels 26 feet in length and over must display a placard at least 5 by 8 inches, made of durable material, fixed in a conspicuous place in the machinery spaces, or at the bilge pump control station, stating the following:

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 U.S. The prohibition includes any discharge which 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.

Regulations issued under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act require all vessels with propulsion machinery to have a capacity to retain oily mixtures on board and be equipped with a fixed or portable means to discharge these oily mixtures to a reception facility. On recreational vessels, a bucket, oil absorbent pads and heavy duty plastic bag, bailer or portable pump are some suitable means that meet the requirement for retention on board until transfering the oily mixture to a reception facility. No person may intentionally drain oil or oily waste from any source into the bilge of any vessel. You must immediately notify the U.S. Coast Guard if your vessel discharges oil or hazardous substances in the water. Call toll-free 800-424-8802 (In Washington, D.C. (202) 267-3675).

Report the following information:

  • location
  • size
  • source
  • color
  • time observed
  • substances
Discharge of Garbage Prohibited

The Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (MARPOL ANNEX V) places limitations on the discharge of garbage from vessels. It is illegal to dump plastic trash anywhere in the ocean or navigable waters of the United States. It is also illegal to discharge garbage in the navigable waters of the United States, including inland waters as well as anywhere in the Great Lakes. The discharge of other types of garbage is permitted outside of specific distances offshore as determined by the nature of that garbage.

Garbage Type Discharge
Plastics includes synthetic ropes, fishing nets, and plastic bags Prohibited in all areas
Floating dunnage, lining and packing materials Prohibited less than 25 miles from nearest land
Food waste, paper, rags, glass, metal, bottles, crockery and similar refuse Prohibited less than 12 miles from nearest land
Comminuted or ground food waste, paper, rags, glass, etc. Prohibited less than 3 miles from nearest land

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.

United States oceangoing vessels of 40 feet or longer, which are engaged in commerce or are equipped with a galley and berthing must have a written Waste Management Plan describing the procedures for collecting, processing, storing and discharging garbage, and designate the person who is in charge of carrying out the plan.

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