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The Environment and Your PWC

Most personal watercraft have been designed with environmental impact in mind. PWC in good working order can be expected to have little or no adverse effect on the water, land, shoreline, or animals in the area. Because of very shallow draft (the amount of water displaced by the hull below the waterline), personal watercraft have less impact on waterway bottoms than conventional propeller driven boats. However, PWC operators always need to be a safe distance from shore when exceeding headway speed.

Because of their smaller size and weight, PWC create less wake than conventional boats thereby causing less damage to docks and other personal property. This feature also minimizes erosion of the shoreline and waterway bottoms. However, high-speed/high-RPM operation in very shallow water or near shore can cause significant erosion.

"No Wake Zones" and "Watercraft Exclusion Areas" were created for environmental, safety or social concerns and must be heeded. You can also protect the environment by not littering. Bring back everything that you take out. Litter from paper, plastic, and drink containers has no place on our waters.

Fuel your PWC away from the water if possible. Fuel spills are a significant part of water pollution. Do not overfill your tank. Even the smallest deposit of gasoline or oil into the water is an offense punishable by citation and fines. Any cleaning solutions should be used while your boat is on land to prevent water pollution.

If fueling on the water, make sure the pump nozzle is secure in the fuel tank before you begin to pump. When done, take the nozzle out of the tank slowly and hold the nozzle up so no fuel spills into the water.

Frequent maintenance and repair of your PWC is necessary to maintain safe use in the environment. Training manuals and manufacturer's information booklets also provide information for operators of personal watercraft and suggest other ways riders can protect the environment from harm.

Social Impacts of Your Personal Watercraft

A PWC's "use pattern" carries an environmental impact. Concentrated riding in one area can upset people on the beach. As with all powerboats, noise can be an issue. Remember that noise carries farther on water. Early morning and late afternoons are times when people particularly enjoy peace and quiet. Avoid residential and camping areas and places where people usually go for solitude. When operating a PWC, don't stay in one place - keep moving.

Some things to remember when operating your PWC:

  1. Running your PWC close to shore, the jet drive can disturb the bottom environment by sucking up sand, gravel, plant life and small animal life. The thrust from the discharge can also disturb the fragile environment of the shoreline. This area is used by many aquatic animals for nesting and hatching young and many insects and small aquatic plants that grow here are food for fish and wildlife. Always respect the shore environment and push your PWC into at least waist deep water before starting the engine, then idle out from there.

  2. When approaching the shoreline do so at a right angle or 90 degrees if possible. Idle in then shut off your PWC engine and let the craft drift into shallow water, dismount and push the PWC onto the beach or shoreline. This will not only save the shoreline environment but the fiberglass bottom of your PWC from damage.

Aquatic Nuisance Species

Aquatic nuisance species (ANS) are non-indigenous species that threaten the diversity or abundance of native species or the ecological stability of infested waters, or commercial, agricultural, aquaculture or recreational activities dependent on such waters. Non-indigenous species (NIS) are any species or other viable biological material that enters an ecosystem beyond its historic range. Non-indigenous aquatic species impact biological and economic resources and can also impact human health. Non-indigenous species disturb native species through predation or displacement, clog intake pipes for municipal and industrial water supplies and can pose serious human health risks.

Great Lakes water users spend tens of millions of dollars on zebra mussel control every year. As the zebra mussel spreads to inland lakes and rivers across North America, such as the Mississippi River Basin and Lake Champlain, so do the costs to water users. Zebra mussel infestations cause pronounced ecological changes in the Great Lakes and major rivers of the central United States. The zebra mussel's rapid reproduction, coupled with consumption of microscopic plants and animals, affects the aquatic food web and places valuable commercial and sport fisheries at risk. Other invading species of fish (such as the sea lamprey, ruffe and round goby) can harm native fish.

Non-indigenous aquatic nuisance plants, such as purple loosestrife, Eurasian water milfoil and hydrilla quickly establish themselves, replacing native plants. Environmental and economic problems caused by the dense growth of these weeds include impairment of water-based recreation, navigation and flood control, degradation of water quality and fish and wildlife habitat.

To avoid the spread of ANS take theses simple steps when taking a boat out of the water.

  • Remove any visible plants, fish or animals.

  • Remove mud and dirt.*

  • Remove plant fragments.*

  • Do not transport any potential ANS, even back to your home. Remove and leave them at the site you visited.

  • Eliminate all water from every conceivable item before you leave the area you are visiting.

  • Remove water from motors, jet drives, live wells, boat hulls, scuba tanks and regulators, boots, waders, bait buckets and floats.

*The larvae (immature form) of an animal can be so tiny that you cannot see it. However, it can live in mud, dirt, sand, and on plant fragments.

Human Waste Disposal

It is a violation of the law to dump or discharge any raw sewage into territorial waters (within the three-mile limit), lakes and the navigable rivers. Recreational boats are not required to be equipped with a toilet. Check with your local marina or park for restroom locations.

A pumpout station like the one shown below is used to pumpout human waste from a vessel's marine sanitation device.

A typical Pumpout Station

Many boats use marine sanitation devices (MSDs) like the one above. The most common is Type III that consists of holding tanks or portable toilets. They only require a small storage space and are simple to operate since the sewage is off loaded on shore and goes directly into a local sewage treatment facility. Type I and II MSDs are usually found on larger boats. The waste is chemically treated to kill bacteria before it is discharged into the sea. Look for the Pumpout Logo (below) for a pumpout station. REMEMBER: Type III MSD must have a closed and secured "Y" valve when operating in Inland Waters. When in doubt check with the U.S. Coast Guard, or local Law Enforcement for rules governing the discharge of sewage.

Pumpout Station Placard

It is illegal to discharge untreated waste into any federally controlled or state waters. Sewage carries disease and is harmful to people, aquatic plants and animals who come in contact with it. Trash thrown into the water can injure or entangle swimmers and wildlife alike. It can also plug or restrict engine cooling water intakes. Pollution of our waters is unsightly and takes away from everyone's enjoyment of the water.

Boat operators need to be aware that the Federal Refuse Act states it is unlawful to throw, discharge, or deposit anything such as trash, liquids, or garbage overboard. Boaters must comply with the following requirements:

  • Holding tanks or potties should be emptied at public pump-out and dump stations.

  • You must immediately notify the U.S. Coast Guard if your vessel discharges oil or hazardous substances in the water. Call toll-free 1-800-424-8802. Report the discharge's location, color, source, substances, size, and time observed.

Disposal of Toxic Substances

Discharge of Oil Prohibited

Coast Guard Oil Placard Aetna Insurance Oil Placard

The placards above tell boaters that they can not discharge oil on navigable waters.

The Federal Water Pollution Control Act requires all boats with engines to have the means to retain oil mixtures onboard.

You are not allowed to discharge oil or hazardous substances into the environment.

No person may intentionally drain oil or oily waste from any source into the bilge of any vessel. 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 transferring the oily mixture to a reception facility.

If, in addition to your PWC, you own a boat 26 feet or longer, you 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.

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

Outboard Emissions

  • Many boats and nearly all older PWC are equipped with two-stroke engines. Conventional two- stroke engines produce roughly 14 times as much ozone-forming pollution as four-stroke engines. Also, 25-30% of the fuel and oil of two-stroke engines is discharged unburned with a portion lingering in the water column for a period of time.

  • New federal emission standards for marine engines are in place. Many manufacturers are already meeting these requirements with clean-burning engines already available. The new technology provides easier starting, faster acceleration, quicker throttle response, improved fuel economy and a reduction in fumes.

Even though boat engines currently in use are not affected by the phase-in, boaters are encouraged to retire them.

Waste Management Plan/Discharge of Trash

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. The captain of the boat is responsible for implementing the plan should a discharge occur.

The Coast Guard advises all boaters of the following:

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


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

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