4.2C – Operation and Maintenance – Fuel and Oil Control

Management Measure

Reduce the amount of fuel and oil from boat bilges and fuel tank air vents entering marina and surface waters.

Management Practices

For Marina Owners and Operators

  • If there is a spill, call the U.S. Coast Guard (Telephone: 1-800-424-8802). Contain the spill with absorbent pads or booms, and do not apply any detergent or emulsifier to the oil slick. Dispose of absorbent pads with recyclable oil, or wrap them in newspaper and tie them inside a plastic bag for disposal with your home trash.
  • Initiate an oil absorbent exchange program in which slip holders can exchange used oil absorbents for new ones.
  • Prohibit the use of soap/detergents and emulsifiers to eliminate oil sheen on the waters surface in the bilge of a boat.
  • Provide a collection site for used oily absorbents, used oil, and oil filters.
  • Educate boaters about their boater management practices. If you see any boater operating their vessel in conflict with the management practices below, please make sure they are aware of the proper way to manage their vessel and consider including language in their boat slip contract to make sure they follow proper management practices.

For Boaters

  • To prevent fuel and oil leaks, keep your engine well tuned. Place an oil absorbent pad or pillow under your engine where drips may occur and in the bilge. Check the pads often and dispose of them as hazardous waste at a marina or nearby collection center. Spill-proof your oil changes by using an oil change pump to transfer oil to a spill-proof container. Wrap a plastic bag or absorbent pad around the oil filter to prevent oil from spilling into the bilge. Fill fuel tanks slowly and carefully and use absorbent pads or rags to catch drips and spills. Do not top off or overflow the fuel tank, and leave it 5-10% empty to allow fuel to expand as it warms. If there is a spill, do not use soap or emulsifiers to disperse it. That is harmful to the environment, as well as illegal. Rather, notify the marina and the proper authorities.
  • If the boat has an outboard motor, fill tanks carefully to avoid spilling fuel into the boat and wasting fuel. Mix oil in the fuel according to manufacturer recommendations. Clean any drops off the deck by wiping with an oil absorption pad. Close portable tank fuel vents when the boat is not in use to save fuel from vapor loss, and store fuel only in approved marine containers.
  • If the boat has a built-in fuel tank on board, install a fuel/air separator in the air vent line from the tank to prevent vent spills. Routinely check for and fix fuel leaks. Use a drip pan under the engine. Use a bilge-oil absorbent pillow and dispose of it before it is fully saturated by recycling it with used oil, or use a bilge-maintenance bioremediation pad with natural oil-eating bacteria, which can last much longer than absorbent pads. If the boat is 26 feet or more in length, it is a legal requirement to display a U.S. Coast Guard oil discharge placard on the boat.
  • All boaters should not pump any bilge water that is oily or has a sheen. A drip pan should be used under the engine and routine checks performed for oil or fuel leaks. In addition, avoid the use of bilge cleaners that are detergents or emulsifiers. These chemicals dissolve the oil and fuel in the water so both can be pumped overboard into the water. The bilge may be clean, but the water won’t be.
  • If there is a spill, immediately stop the source, notify the marina for assistance. Contain the spill with absorbent pads or booms, and do not apply any detergent or emulsifier to the oil slick. Dispose of absorbent pads with recyclable oil, or wrap them in newspaper and tie them inside a plastic bag for disposal with your home trash.


  • California Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) includes a Marine Safety Branch, which works to protect marine resources by developing and maintaining spill prevention measures and response plans. The OSPR requires that all marine facilities and tank vessels carrying petroleum product as cargo, as well as all nontank vessels over 300 gross tons, have California-approved oil spill contingency plans.
  • Pacific Oil Spill Prevention Education Team (POSPET) is a forum for information exchange among various stakeholder groups in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California pertaining to oil spills. POSPET has developed a Spills Aren’t Slick campaign and has also been instrumental in promoting the innovative 1-800-OILS-911 spill reporting number in the Pacific states and British Columbia. This easy-to-remember number allows a boater reporting an oil spill to be automatically routed to the correct emergency response call center in any of those jurisdictions. The Pacific States/BC Oil Spill Task Force provides staff support for POSPET and maintains the spill reporting number.

Information Resources

  • BoatU.S. Foundation, "Spill? What Spill? Products that keep fuel where it belongs–in your tank" this article in PDF format describes and reviews 10 fuel spill prevention devices for boaters, including inline fuel-air separators, deck fill-vent combinations (also known as vented fills), and electronic fuel management systems.
  • California Coastal Commission, Oil Pollution Solutions for Boaters: Designing and Implementing Programs to Reduce Hydrocarbon Discharges. This is a manual for government, businesses and individual owners that provides guidance on reducing oil pollution and developing education and outreach programs. It presents an overview of marine pollution and boating in California, information on services marina operators can provide to reduce pollution, guidance on various types of boats and their operation/maintenance needs, and information on the development of outreach programs. Order from the Boating Clean and Green Campaign (Telephone: 415 904 5200).
  • California Coastal Commission, Used Oil and Sewage Related Services provides information on marina-based services by county, mobile environmental services for boaters, and used oil collection centers in California.
  • California Department of Fish and Game, Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR), The Office of Spill Prevention and Response’s Guide to Clean, Green Boating. This is a 4-inch by 6-inch flip guide to oil spill prevention. It includes information about OSPR, the impacts of oil spills, and pollution prevention tips. It also includes rules of the road, navigation tips, information about boating courses, and a space to write notes. Contact California Boating Clean and Green Campaign (Telephone: 415 904 5200).
  • El Dorado Environmental Management Department, Oil Absorbent Pads and Pillow Disposal Sites is a list of marinas participating in Lake Tahoe’s Pollution Prevention Marina Program by collecting absorbent pads and pillows.
  • Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Used Oil and Petroleum Management is a 14-page fact sheet, part of the Florida DEP’s Clean Boatyard Manual, provides guidance for marina owners on proper storage, disposal, spill prevention, and fueling procedures.
  • University of California Cooperative Extension, Marina Pollution Prevention Manual this manual describes important components of pollution prevention at recreational boating facilities. It covers pollution sources, hazardous waste management, spill response, marina staff procedures and training, San Diego County agency and service contacts, and publications for distribution among marina staff, contractors, and boaters.


USEPA. 2001. National Management Measures Guidance to Control Nonpoint Source Pollution from Marinas and Recreational Boating. EPA 841-B-01-005. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC.

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