4.2D – Operation and Maintenance – Topside Boat Cleaning and Maintenance

Management Measure

For boats that are in the water, perform topside cleaning and boat maintenance operations to minimize, to the extent practicable, the release to surface waters of harmful products such as cleaners, solvents, paint sandings, and paint flakes.

Management Practices

Boat Cleaning

For Marina Owners and Operators

  • Consider providing a designated landside area (with signage) for boat maintenance and repair. Preferable maintenance areas are indoors on impervious pavement or concrete. If outdoors, prevent runoff into the marina.
  • Encourage boaters to use the inside areas for any boat maintenance, especially sanding. If an inside area is not available, make sure sanding is done within spray booths or tarp enclosures. Ensure paint drippings, sandings and paint chips are collected immediately and disposed of in a manner consistent with state policy.
  • Include a list of rules for do-it-yourself projects and in-water permitted boat maintenance activities; these could be specified in boaters slip lease agreement..

For Boaters

  • Use "nontoxic" and "phosphate-free" products. While "biodegradable" products are desirable, they are not necessarily nontoxic. If possible, avoid those that warn "do not get in the eyes" or "always wear gloves", such bleach, ammonia, lye, or petroleum distillates (see Management Measure 4.2I).
  • Use only as much cleaner as you need to avoid having to dispose of leftover cleaning supplies. If you do have leftovers, give them to another boater or start an exchange program at the marina for cleaners, paints, varnishes, and other materials. Always keep caps on bottles while cleaning to prevent spills.
  • Wash decks and hulls frequently with fresh water, because this will reduce the need for cleaning products. When cleaners are necessary, use them sparingly. While washing, try to avoid washing dirt, paint chips, and solvents into the water by washing boat hulls above the waterline by hand. Clean boat bottoms ashore, over hard surfaces or over a tarp to contain debris. Whenever feasible, remove boats from the water and clean them where debris can be collected and disposed of in the trash.
  • Thoroughly wash off your boat with high-pressurized, hot water if taking it from one body of water to another. This will help minimize the spread of exotic and invasive species (see Management Measure 4.2I).

Boat Maintenance

For Boaters

  • Whenever possible, hull work should be done inside or under cover where rain cannot wash dust, dirt, paint chips, oil, and solvents into the water.
  • Prevent pollution from engine maintenance by tuning your engine regularly per the manufacturer’s recommendation. This helps your engine operate cleanly and more efficiently. Frequently inspect fuel lines for leaks or potential leaks such as cracks and loose connections, and repair them immediately. Frequently wipe the engine to keep it clean. Engine parts should be cleaned on land over a leak-free container, not over the water, with minimal amounts of engine-cleaning solvents.
  • Change oil and transmission fluid with a spill-proof pump or vacuum tank. Slip a plastic bag over the oil filter before removing it. Wipe up oil drops immediately with an absorbent pad. Keep used oil separate from other wastes and recycle it. Use antifreeze and coolants that are less toxic to the environment. Propylene-glycol-based antifreeze (with a pink color) is less toxic than the blue-green antifreeze.
  • Prevent pollution from sanding and painting by doing all hull scraping, sanding, and chemical stripping onshore over a drop cloth to catch all debris. Prepare the surface with dustless sanders to keep you, the air, the ground, and other boats clean. Be sure to use only legal bottom paints, and depending on boat use, consider a hard non-ablative paint that might last longer. If possible, switch to long-lasting and low-toxicity or non-toxic antifouling paint. New environmentally friendly alternative paints are being developed, so ask around for the latest and best. Leave paint cans open to thoroughly dry out before throwing them away.

Information Resources

  • California Coastal Commission, Clean Green Boat Maintenance is a pollution prevention boat maintenance checklist for contractors and the general public.
  • Earth 911, Clean Boating Information provides a database of boating-related recycling and disposal locations in California along with tips and suggestions for clean boating and links to other clean boating programs in California and beyond.
  • University of California Cooperative Extension, Selecting Underwater and Topside Maintenance Services for Your Boat, this fact sheet provides guidance on the selection of a professional maintenance service that will follow environmentally sound procedures.


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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