October 17, 2018

The Clean Boater Guide

Download an Adobe Acrobat version of the Clean Boater Guide

Long Island Sound has been designated by Congress as an estuary of national significance.  It is a highly productive ecosystem with a great diversity of aquatic plants and animals that inhabit it for part of all of their lives.  It is also the greatest source of recreational activity in southern New England, generating $5 billion per year in revenue.  Improvement in water quality is essential to the continued presence and health of marine life and for the economic growth of the region.

The Sound serves as habitat for migratory bird and fish passage and as spawning grounds and nurseries for all marine life.  Tidal wetlands, rocky intertidal areas, mudflats, beaches, dunes, the water itself and the sediment floor of the Sound are the feeding, nesting, nursing, and hiding places for all the types of wildlife that visit and live here.  These areas are easily damaged by toxics, sewage, and garbage from a variety of human activities, including boating.

What problems specifically  concern boaters?

  • Toxic chemicals
  • Sewage
  • Garbage and marine debris

Toxic Chemicals

Toxic chemicals are used in all aspects of boating activities.  We all use them, often without realizing it, with products like chlorine bleach, ammonia, cleaning solvents, metal-based bottom paints, and polishes.  The use of toxic chemicals is often more habit than necessity.  The good news is that safe, effective substitutes and alternative cleaning methods do exist.

How do toxic chemicals get into Long Island Sound?

  • Stormwater runoff from pesticide and fertlizer applications, car engine fluids, earth-moving activities, and any other material dumped on land or water
  • Industrial pipes
  • Sewage pipes
  • Maintenance activities in marinas and on boats

According to the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, stormwater runoff from marinas is twice as toxic – gallon for gallon – as runoff from metal industries, and ten times more toxic than runoff from any other industrial source, including rubber, plastic, and bulk petroleum facilities.

Chemicals of Concern

1. Copper-based anti-fouling paints 5. All purpose cleaners
2. Teak cleaners 6. Bilge water fluids
3. Antifreeze (ethylene glycol) 7. Waste oil
4. Fuel 8. Batteries

About Discarding Unused Chemicals

All unused, leftover chemicals in the list above are hazardous or otherwise regulated wastes.

Use the phone numbers in the Waste Disposal  section on the end-flap of this manual to contact your town for household hazardous waste collection schedules and locations.

Also contact the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, Hazardous Materials Compliance Unit toll free at 1-888-424-4193 for information about disposal of specific chemicals and hazardous materials.

Anti-Fouling Paint

Environmental Impact – Almost all commercially available paints contain elemental copper or cuprous oxide (a copper compound) which is toxic to marine life and absorbed by edible fish and shellfish.

Minimize the amount of copper that sheds from your bottom paint into the environment.  Read the product label:  Avoid copper (cuprous oxide) concentrations in excess of 50% per gallon.  Higher concentrations are not any more effective or potent at cooler latitudes like New England.

“Ablative”or “soft” paints slough or shed into the water as the boat is moving.   This action repeatedly exposes a fresh layer of copper, which deters shell organisms (barnacles, mussles) from attaching to the hull.  Because these paints wash off the hull over time, they reduce the need to sand and strip old paint.  Hard scrubbing when cleaning underwater will release toxic clouds of copper into the water, and prematurely erode the anti-fouling capacity of the paint.  Cost range: $80 to $120 per gallon. Recommendation:  Use soft brushes, diapers, or the soft side of a strip of carpet when cleaning  to reduce excessive copper shedding.  Rub softly.  Consider using hard, non-shedding paints.

“Hard”, non-ablative, or “contact leaching” paints create a porous, hard shell coating which prevents attachment by shell organisms.  These paints leach copper into the water at a slower and steadier rate than the ablative or soft paints.  They are abrasion resistant, but require more preparation for repainting than ablative paints.  These paints can be sanded to an ultra-smooth, hard finish.  Some teflon non-ablatives contain only 25% copper. Recommendation:  Use tarps or plastic sheets to contain paint chips and solvents when stripping the hull.  Prepare all surfaces using a dustless sander (bag attachment) and keep a vacuum handy.  Dispose of the chips and dust at your municipal hazardous waste dropoff location.

Polyurethane, wax, or non-metallic epoxies are far less toxic to marine animals than anti-fouling paints.Recommendation:  Use on rack-stored or frequently hauled boats.

Non-copper based Teflon and silicone paints are not toxic to marine animals.  Barnacles may grow on these finishes, but will fall off when the boat is moving.  These paints are very expensive.  Range: $160 to $600 per gallon. Recommendation:  Use these paints if you can afford them. Save all leftover paint in a sealed container for disposal at a hazardous waste collection location.  See the end-flap of this manual for contact information.

Teak Cleaners

Environmental Impact – All abrasive teak cleaners are toxic to marine life.There are three reasons to maintain teak: optimize appearance, eliminate mold and mildew, and replenish natural wood oils.  Action upon the first reason is optional, the last two essential. Here are steps to take for the least impact to the environment: A little dirty, no mildew – Scrub lightly using a Scotch-Brite type pad with Murphy’s Oil type soap.  Don’t scrub hard.  Heavy scrubbing will damage the wood grain and seam compound. Dirty, some mildew – Step 1:  Use a one-part teak cleaner and scrub lightly with a bristle brush in the direction of the wood grain.  While rinsing, rub the surface with bronze wool in the direction of the grain.  This opens the wood pores to remove all the cleaner and makes it easier to apply oil protectant.

Step 2:  Apply a light coat of teak oil to replenish natural oils that have evaporated or were removed during cleaning. Heavily soiled, mildew – Try a one-part cleaner first on a one square foot area.  If it doesn’t do the job, use a two-part cleaner.  Two-part cleaners are both acid-based and highly caustic.  This is bad for the teak and very toxic to marine life.  But they make the dirtiest teak look new.  Use them sparingly – they will roughen the teak surface and damage the seam compound if used too often.  When washing off the cleaning residue, use a lot of flowing water. Seal any unused containers and take them to the next local household hazardous waste collection day for disposal.


Environmental Impact – Ethylene glycol-based antifreeze is toxic to marine life, propylene glycol is not. Use propylene glycol-based antifreeze for flushing the cooling system and winterizing your engine.


Contact your town recycling office for information about antifreeze disposal. (See Oil Recycling section on the end-flap for more information)

Note on propylene glycol antifreeze:  Do not use propolyne glycol-based antifreeze for normal engine operation.  Propolyene glycol does not contain the rust inhibitors needed to protect internal engine parts during normal operation.  Ask a mechanic if you are unsure about which product to use. Contact CTDEP at 888-424-4193 if you have questions about antifreeze.


  • Environmental Impact – Gasoline is toxic to marine life, especially fish larvae near the water surface.  It will also eventually damage the gel coat on your boat.
  • Several products can prevent fuel spills when topping off:
  • In-line Fuel/air separator.  Easy to install in the vent line.  Cost $35-$50.
  • Fuel Catch Cup.  Installs underneath the fuel overflow vent.  Cost $15-$25.
  • Oil absorbent pads can be used to mop up overflows.

General Purpose Cleaners

Environmental Impact:  Most commercial cleaners contain ingredients that are toxic to marine organisms like fish, lobster, and crab larvae that are floating near the water surface in spring and early summer.

Traditional Product Alternative
Bleach Borax or hydrogen peroxide
Scouring powders Baking Soda
Floor cleaner One cup white vinegar in two gallons water
Window cleaner One capful vinegar in one quart warm water
General cleaner Bicarbonate of soda and vinegar; or lemon juice with borax paste
Head cleaner Baking soda with a brush
Shower cleaner Baking soda and a scouring cloth
Chrome cleaner/polish Cider vinegar to clean and baby oil to polish
Aluminum cleaner Two tablespoons cream of tartar to one quart hot water
Brass cleaner Worcestershire sauce with equal parts salt, vinegar and water
Copper cleaner Lemon juice and salt
Fiberglass stain remover Baking soda paste
Drain opener Dissasemble; use plumber’s snake; flush weekly with boiling water
Mildew remover Make paste of equal parts lemon juice and salt or vinegar and salt
Interior wood polish High quality almond or olive oil

Bilge Water Fluids

Environmental Impact – Oil and engine fluids discharged with bilge water (engine oil, fuel, antifreeze, transmission fluid) are toxic to marine life and absorbed by edible fish and shellfish.  A single quart of oil can cover a water surface area equivalent to three football fields.


  • Install an oil/water separator in your bilge discharge line.  The part costs about $75.
  • Install a manual bilge shutoff switch on automatic systems to prevent oil discharge.
  • Place oil absorbent pillow cylinders or pads in the bilge – a $10 pillow will absorb up to 2 quarts oil.  A couple of 2ft by 2ft flat oil pads ($1.50 per pad) will protect the bilge during oil changes and can be used to clean up small leaks or spills.  Keep several of each type of pad on hand.  Seal the used pillows/pads in two thick (1 mil each), clear plastic bags – one bag inside the other – and prominently affix “CONTAMINATED OIL” on the bag.  Then store in a cool place away from heat sources until the next household hazardous waste collection day.
  • Purchase bilge products that contain oil-eating enzymes where available – Bio-Bilge or Greenway products are examples.
Special notes on product claims:
  1. It is illegal to use dish liquids or any products labeled “surfactant” to break up oil or fuel spills.  The surfactants emulsify or break up the oil into smaller units, which simply allows it to spread over a wider area.  The emulsified oil will also sink into the water column where it can do more harm to marine life than if the oil was not emulsified.
  2. Boat cleaning products labeled “biodegradable” are still toxic when introduced to marine waters.  “Non-Toxic” is the claim to look for.  Biodegradable means the chemicals are eventually broken down by bacteria.  They can do great damage to marine life before they biodegrade.

Waste Engine Oil (not from bilge)

Oil is toxic to all marine life in Long Island Sound.  One quart will put a sheen on the water surface equal in area to three football fields. See the fold-out end flap of this manual for your town’s oil recycling contact information.

Engine Batteries

Batteries of all kinds corrode easily around salt water.

Recommendation:  Clean battery terminals with baking soda, rinse with fresh water, then coat the terminals and cable ends with petroleum jelly.  Do not allow the batteries to freeze.

Save all used batteries for disposal at a local hazardous waste collection location.  See the end-flap of this manual for contact information.


More than 2 million gallons of untreated boat sewage is dumped into western Long Island Sound each year.

Human health impact:  Human sewage contains viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens that can be easily transferred to swimmers and enter the digestive systems of shellfish.  When the shellfish are harvested, the pathogens are transferred to humans.  According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, dumping a single 20-gallon sewage waste holding tank has the same environmental impact as discharging two thousand gallons from a sewage treatment plant.

Recommendation:  Contact a holding tank pumpout boat or use a dockside pumpout facility.  Use the pumpout location map at the back of this manual.

Marine Sanitation Devices – Maintenance

Type I – Macerates the solids, treats the waste with disinfectant (generally chlorine), and is then discharged.  The disinfectant container is quickly depleted with regular use; if it is, you are dumping raw sewage.  Get a replacement container from the device manufacturer or Ship’s Store.

Type II – Sewage solids are separated from the wastewater and held for disposal at a dockside facility.  The liquid residual is discharged.  Periodically refill the depleted disinfectant container.

Type III – Premanently installed holding tank.  The only chemical needed is a deodorizer.  A formaldehyde-based chemical works fine.

Garbage and Marine Debris

According to the US Coast Guard, recreational boaters dump 422,000 tons of garbage into US waters every year.  This amounts to an average of one pound of garbage dumped per boater for each trip on the water.

Economic and environmental impact:  Marine debris, especially plastic, cause serious damage to engine water pumps and propellers.  Plastic is ingested by marine mammals and blocks their digestive systems, causing death by starvation.  Leatherback and Loggerhead turtles visit the Sound every year to feed on jellyfish.  Turtles ingest plastic bags because in the water they closely resemble jellyfish.


  • Purchase products with minimal packaging.
  • Retrieve items that blow overboard or you see in the water, especially plastic bags.
  • Keep all light-weight items in closed containers.
  • Treat the Sound like a National Park – carry out everything you carry in.

Waste Oil/Hazwaste Disposal

DO NOT mix engine oil with any other liquid

Report all oil or fuel spills to the Coast Guard:

Radio VHF Channel  16 or phone 1-800-424-8802

Engine Oil Recycling Locations

Darien – Dump Transfer Station, 126 Ledge Road.  Residents only.  Take oil in sealed containers to the Scale House.Hours:   Mon-Sat  7-2:45pm 656-7346
Fairfield – Town Dump.  Residents only.  Bring oil or antifreeze in cleaned, sealed containers (milk jugs are fine, NO bleach/chlorine containers)Hours:   Mon-Fri.  7-3pm     Sat.  7-noon 256-3023
Greenwich – Holly Hill Lane Resource Recovery Station. Residents only. Pour oil into cleaned, sealed plastic containers (milk jugs OK).  NO bleach or chlorine containers.  Resident dump permit required. Obtain application and permit at Holly Hill Station.  Permit issued at the time of oil drop-off. Hours:  Mon-Fri  7-3pm       Sat  7-noon 622-0377
Norwalk – Volk Central Fire Station, Connecticut Ave.  Residents only.  Used oil, diesel, oil filters, antifreeze, car-size batteries from residents.  Bring liquids in cleaned, sealed containers – NO bleach/chlorine containers. Liquids – 50 cents/gallon   Batteries – $1 each Hours:  1st and 3rd Sat. of month    9 – noon , 2nd and 4th Wed. of month   3 – 7pm 854-7847
Stamford – Brewer’s Yacht Haven accepts used oil from customers.  They may accept oil from non-customers – call first. 359-4500
Stamford – Transfer Station, Magee Avenue.  Residents only.  Pour oil into clean, sealed containers (cleaned milk jugs OK, NO bleach/chlorine containers) or a reusable oil change container. Hours:  Mon-Fri   8-3:30pm 977-4140
Westport – Transfer Station, Sherwood Island Connector.  Residents only.  Bring in cleaned, sealed containers (milk jugs OK) marked “ENGINE OIL”. Hours:   Mon-Fri.  7-3pm     Sat.  7-noon 341-1793
Westchester County – Contact the County Household Chemicals Hotline. 914-637-3037