Clean Vessel Act Frequently Asked Questions

Is discharge of boat waste a problem?

Most of the areas where boats congregate—harbors, anchorage's, and marinas, are naturally sheltered and semi-enclosed. That means these sheltered areas also are not flushed as well as more open waters. The end result is that most pollution that we put there ends up staying there. Bacteria, chemicals, and nutrients contained in human waste from boats can overload small, poorly flushed waterways and cause local water quality problems. Disease carrying bacteria, viruses and protozoa can enter LIS through the direct discharge of boat waste. Direct threats to human health can arise through ingestion of contaminated water or consumption of fish or shellfish which have ingested these pathogens. Scientists have shown there is more bacteria in the untreated waste discharged by one boat than in the treated waste water discharged by a small city.

What is the Law regarding boat discharges in LIS?

All of Connecticut's waters extending from the Rhode Island state boundary in the Pawcatuck River to the New York state boundary in the Byram River and the shore out to the New York state boundary are designated as No Discharge Areas (NDAs).  Discharge of treated or untreated sewage from any vessel is prohibited.  These NDAs have been approved by the EPA and included in the Federal Clean Water Act under Section 312(f)(3).

What is the Clean Vessel Act?

Congress passed the Clean Vessel Act (CVA) in 1992 after finding that there were an inadequate number of onshore sewage disposal facilities in waters frequented by recreational boats and determining that these vessels may be contributing substantially to localized degradation of water quality. The primary goal of the CVA is to reduce overboard sewage discharge from recreational boats. The CVA provides funds to states for the construction, renovation, operation, and maintenance of pumpout stations for holding tanks and dump stations for portable toilets. Connecticut has an active program to utilize these federal funds to facilitate low cost convenient pumpouts and dump stations.

Under the Clean Vessel Act, $40 million has been distributed to the states over the five-year period between 1993 and 1997. Connecticut’s program has successfully competed for approximately $1.4 million per year of the available funds. This is a users pay, public benefit program, where anglers and boaters provide the financial support for fisheries management, boating access and related projects including the CVA pumpout program. These funds come from taxes paid on fishing tackle and motor-boat fuels under the Federal Aid in Sport Fishing Restoration Program.

The Clean Vessel Act was reauthorized by Congress in 1998 and funded under the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA 21). CVA continues to be funded through the Sports Fish and Boating Trust Fund which is part of the Federal Highway Trust Fund.

As a result of the CVA, boaters can rely on convenient and free pumpout facilities, dump stations, and cleaner waters, resulting in healthier fish and shellfish populations in Long Island Sound and across the country.

How can boaters prevent waste discharges in LIS?

You can do your part to preserve coastal water quality by using land-side facilities, when possible, and by having the appropriate type of waste handling system on your boat.

There are three types of Coast Guard approved marine sanitation devices (MSD's):

  • Type I MSD's treat sewage so that the discharged effluent meets specified standards for bacteria content and contains no visible floating solids.
  • Type II MSD's are similar, but must meet a higher standard of sewage treatment.
  • Type III MSD's retain sewage for shore based disposal or discharge beyond the three mile offshore limit.

Boats 65 feet in length or less may install a Type I, II, or III device. Vessels over 65 feet must install a Type II or III MSD.

A Type III (holding tank) is the system of choice for most boats with an installed head. These will become mandatory as no discharge areas in Connecticut’s harbors are established. Currently Huntington Harbor and Lloyd's Harbor on the north shore of Long Island, and Mamaroneck Harbor in Westchester County, NY are the only Federal, EPA established no discharge areas in Long Island Sound. Within these areas, direct discharge of any vessel sewage, treated or not, is prohibited and waste discharge systems on boats must be wired or locked closed. Long Island Sound will have more no discharge areas in the future.

For smaller craft it makes sense to use a portable toilet with a self contained holding tank. These tanks must be emptied at pumpout stations and dump stations.

- If you have sanitary facilities on your boat use pumpouts and dump stations!! They’re convenient and free of charge. (SeePumpout Map/Directoryfor dump station nearest you. )

- Do your part to ensure a clean and healthy LIS for all to enjoy!

Why should you act now to comply with this law?

First of all, it is the law! Second, it's the right thing to do! All boats built since 1977 with installed toilets must have an operable approved type MSD. Since 1980, all boats (including those built before 1977) with installed toilets must have an operable MSD. Boaters often bypass these systems and discharge untreated sewage directly overboard. Now is the time to stop this practice and use pumpout stations.

The argument that boat sewage is minor compared to other sources of pollution, is a weak argument at best. These facts are clear:

  • Raw sewage from a holding tank is much more concentrated and biologically active than treated sewage released from sewage treatment facilities.
  • There are studies showing that raw sewage from boats contains disease carrying bacteria, which can transmit diseases to swimmers and cause closures of shellfish beds.
  • Government grant money is funding a tremendous increase in the number of pumpout facilities.
  • Most marinas and mooring fields are situated in waters that have slow moving water and are shallow. Thus, boats are concentrated in these environmentally sensitive areas.
  • Government and citizens' groups are working aggressively to contain and prevent all forms of water pollution.
  • Growth in boating is placing an additional environmental burden on crowded recreational waters.
  • Advancing technology has given a wide range of "user friendly" sanitation system options.

Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that Congress is considering proposals that would increase fines for flushing raw sewage and provide states with incentives for enforcing current laws. Clearly, it's time for all boaters to "do the right thing."

What system should you install?

If the boat will be operated in waters designated as "No Discharge", you only have one must retain all sewage, treated or not, for disposal ashore. If you plan extensive cruises outside of Long Island Sound (and outside the 3 mile limit) your best option might be a Type III with the option to pump overboard. A combination of Type I and II (on boats under 65 feet) may be the most versatile system.

Choosing the system that works best will depend on several factors (See Equipment Selection). The answer to a few questions about how the boat is used should help you narrow the choices and determine optimal holding tank capacity:

  • How many people are usually on board for a trip?
  • Is the boat usually used for day trips or for longer periods and overnight cruises? Usually day trips do not generate much solid waste. Overnighting virtually guarantees it.
  • Does the boat anchor out overnight or tie up at a marina? When dockside, will you use the marina toilets?
  • Are pumpout facilities located nearby?
  • What are the boats' design and space limitations for MSD installation?
  • Is the electric power supply adequate for an electrically operated system?

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Content Last Updated on December 17, 2019.