Section 2: Services and Education

Keeping sewage out of the water is imperative to maintaining and improving water quality. In Section 1 of Sewage Handling, we covered pump-out facilities and sewage handling infrastructure. Building upon what was covered in Section 1, this section offers an overview of Marine Sanitation Devices (MSDs), how to handle graywater, and why and how to educate boaters about preventative methods related to sewage release.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you should be able to:

  • Understand the differences in marine sanitation devices and their appropriate use.
  • Develop contract language to help implement sewage handling best management practices.
  • Educate boaters about the important connection between water quality and marine sanitation devises using signs, tip sheets and posters.

Best Management Practices

Understand Marine Sanitation Devices (MSD)

In order to ensure sewage is managed properly boaters and staff must be familiar with the basic equipment. MSDs are classified as any equipment designed to receive, retain, treat, or discharge sewage, and any process to treat such sewage installed onboard a vessel.

Sanitation systems consist of an installed head (toilet), a waste-treating component, and/or a holding tank. There are three different types of marine sanitation devices (MSDs) that can be certified by the U.S. Coast Guard to meet federal regulations (33 CFR Part 159), each having its own design, certification, and discharge criteria.

  • TYPE I: A flow-through discharge device that produces effluent having a fecal coliform bacteria count not greater than 1,000 per 100 milliliters and no visible floating solids.  This type of device is typically a physical/chemical-based system that relies on maceration (process of reducing waste to slurry) and chlorination. Type I MSDs are issued a Certificate of Approval. (Illegal in no discharge zones.)
  • TYPE II: A flow-through discharge device that produces effluent having a fecal coliform bacteria count not greater than 200 per 100 milliliters and suspended solids not greater than 150 milligrams per liter. This type of device is typically a biological or aerobic digestion-based system. (Illegal in no discharge zones.)
  • TYPE III: A device that prevents the overboard discharge of treated or untreated sewage or any waste derived from sewage. This type of device is typically a holding tank and may include other types of technology including incineration, recirculation, and composting.

Marine Sanitation Device

Diagram of a Marine Sanitation Device (courtesy of Michigan Sea Grant).

In No Discharge Zones (NDZs), it is illegal to use flow-through Type I and Type II devices; these MSDs must be adapted so that waste is stored in a holding tank and later removed from vessels. Both Type I and II MSDs must have a “Y” valve that may be secured to direct waste to a proper onboard holding tank. Approaches to securing the “Y” valve in Type I and Type II devices vary by state; see the State Laws page for specific requirements.

Note: Boaters using portable toilets can also use pump-out stations and are subject to the same regulations that prohibit the disposal of sewage into the Great Lakes. See Section 1 of this Unit for more information.

Offer MSD Inspections

  • Check boats to ensure they have proper and functioning marine sanitation devices (e.g., check “Y-valve,” conduct dye test. Regional Best Management Practice
  • Offer to inspect patrons’ MSDs annually to ensure that their “Y” valves are secured to prevent illegal discharge or, only for marinas outside NDZs that do not otherwise prohibit discharge of treated sewage in the marina, that their Type I and II systems are functioning properly.
  • If the marina is outside an NDZ, encourage boaters to run dye tablets through their Type I and II systems outside of the marina. If a system is operating properly, no dye will be visible. Maintenance is required if dye can be seen in the discharge.

Encourage Compliance

  • Include information about MSD requirements and sewage laws in contracts for slips, rentals, transients, and live-aboards. Regional Best Management Practice
    • In the contract, state that failure to comply with MSD laws and marina policy will result in expulsion from the marina and forfeiture of fees.
    • Include contract language allowing operator to board and inspect vessel if sewage discharge is suspected. Regional Best Management Practice
    • For sample contract language see: Resources and Tools: Contracts. For information on enforcing your contracts see: Marina Management and Boater Education Unit.
  • If a tenant is discharging raw sewage, report him or her to the state environmental agency. Provide as much information as possible including: name of owner, boat and location.

Handle Graywater Properly

Graywater is the wastewater from the sink and shower. (Sewage is called blackwater.) Graywater can contain detergents, soap, other chemicals, and food wastes. When it is released in the environment, it can pollute water, promote algae growth, and reduce oxygen levels as bacteria break down wastes and algae. Help your customers reduce the effects of graywater by taking the following steps:

  • Educate customers about the effects of graywater and steps they can take to help reduce them.
  • Discourage the discharge of graywater waste in your marina as a condition of your lease agreements. Regional Best Management Practice
  • Encourage eco-friendly, non-phosphorous detergents. Regional Best Management Practice
    • Discourage your customers from using dish soaps to clean dishes on board their boats. If soap is necessary for hard-to-clean jobs, use low-phosphorus, biodegradable soaps in moderation.
    • Sell only low-phosphorus detergents and biodegradable soaps and shampoos in your ship store.
  • Consider providing shoreside laundry and dishwashing facilities for boaters and encouraging their use. Regional Best Management Practice
  • Encourage customers to use the showers and restrooms provided by the marina when at the docks instead of their onboard showers.

Educate Boaters

As the generators and conveyors of sewage, boaters and employees need to be educated about the effects of sewage and its proper disposal.

  • Use your ship store to provide environmentally friendly treatment products for heads and holding tanks.
  • Allow boaters to participate in optional MSD inspections to provide a learning opportunity.
  • Photocopy sewage handling tip sheets for distribution to your customers. See Resources and Tools: Tip Sheets.
  • Use signage and other outreach materials to relay important information about sewage handling. This list provides a summary of signage mentioned throughout this Unit.

Pump-out Station

    • Provide information about the appropriate use and cost of the pump-out station, hours of operation, and where to call for service if the system is out of order.
    • Post signs that are visible from the channel so that passing boaters are aware of the facility. If you do not have a pump-out system, post directions to the closest public pump-out.

Proper Use of Shoreside Restroom

    • Post signs prohibiting the discharge of head waste and direct people to use shoreside restrooms.
    • Post signs in the restrooms informing patrons not to place anything other than waste and wastepaper in the toilets.

NOTE:  If you use a septic system, a variety of outreach materials (door hangers, guides, brochures, etc.) are available, see: Septic Systems: Local Outreach Kit (EPA).

Discourage Discharage of Graywater

    • Post signs that discourage discharge of graywater and direct patrons to shoreside dishwashing areas; encourage patrons to use minimal amounts of detergents and to use bleach-free, non-phosphorous detergents. Make sure they are available if you carry such products in your store.

No Dumping

    • Post signs in various locations prohibiting employees and customers from dumping any of the following materials down toilets, sinks or storm drains:
      • Cigarette butts, paper towels, tissues, disposable diapers, feminine hygiene products, coffee grounds and cat litter.
      • Any chemicals or solvents, such as pesticides or paint thinner.
      • Fats and oils.
      • Starter enzymes or yeast. These products can damage the system by causing the infiltration bed to become clogged with solids that have been flushed from the septic tank.
      • Any medications. Dispose of medications and personal products in the trash after removing labels, wrapping the material in plastic bags and taping shut the plastic bag.

Boaters aren’t the only sources of waste. For information on managing pet and wildlife waste, see: Waste Management and Recycling Unit.

Next: Unit Review