The Law

It is our goal to make sure a day on the water is fun and doesn’t end in a run-in with the law. Accidental or not, under Federal law (the Oil Pollution Act and the Clean Water Act), it is illegal to discharge any amount of fuel, oil or other petroleum product into the waters of the United States.

By law, any oil or fuel spill that leaves a sheen on the water must be reported to the:

U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802

Even a small spill can quickly result in a large sheen when combined with wind and wave action.  Legally, you are required to report all spills, regardless of amount.  Civil penalties can be imposed against anyone failing to report a spill. 

It is also against the law to use detergents, soaps, emulsifying agents or other chemicals to disperse a spill. These products cause the petroleum to sink, creating even greater environmental damage. While it may only seem like a small amount, it can permanently contaminate bottom sediments. Anyone who deliberately applies soap to disperse or hide a sheen is subject to criminal penalties and high fines.

To increase awareness of the issue, boats 26’ and longer are required to post an oil placard (available at marine supply stores) near the engine.

©2010-2011, BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water