Laws and Regulations

Marinas are subject to a variety of regulations related to land use; pollution control; habitat preservation; and safe and proper use of the state’s waterways. Several federal and state authorities are responsible for oversight of such regulations in Wisconsin.

This section of laws, regulations, and permits is a summary. It is by no means comprehensive, but is meant to provide:

  • An overview of some relevant laws
  • A synopsis of information about permits and licenses
  • An introduction to the responsibilities of certain state agencies

Detailed information on state requirements is found throughout the Wisconsin Clean Marina Guidebook. For additional details on achieving certification in Wisconsin, contact the Wisconsin Clean Marina Program.

Remember to use the Wisconsin Clean Marina Certification Checklist as a guide in completing this Classroom. The checklist will inform you what is required for certification by the Wisconsin Clean Marina program.

Selected State Laws that Affect Marinas

Marine Sanitation Devices

The Federal Clean Water Act and Wisconsin state law (State Statute Sec. 30.71 (2)) require that any vessel with an installed toilet be equipped with a U.S. Coast Guard certified Type I, Type II, or Type III marine sanitation device (MSD).

Vessels 65 feet and under may have any of the three types of MSDs. Vessels over 65 feet must have a Type II or III system. Additionally, Type I and Type II systems must display a certification label affixed by the manufacturer. This is label is not required on Type III systems.

In Wisconsin, Type I and Type II MSDs with “Y” valves that would direct the waste overboard must be secured so that the valve cannot be opened. This can be done by placing a lock or non-reusable seal on the “Y” valve or by taking the handle off the “Y” valve.

Pollution Discharge Elimination

Wisconsin has received delegated authority to administer the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program under the Clean Water Act. The implementation of the program is contained in ch. 283, Wis. Stats., and consists, in part, of the Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program.

Pump-Out Stations

Wisconsin law (s. 30.71 (3)) requires marinas that provide berths or moorings to five or more boats equipped with toilets and that are located on any outlying water to provide pump-out stations. Outlying waters are defined in Sec. 29.001 (63) as Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Green Bay, Sturgeon Bay, Sawyer’s Harbor, and the Fox River from its mouth up to the dam at De Pere.

Wisconsin Litter and Recycling Laws

Wisconsin state laws (s. 287, Wis. Stats., and NR 544 Wis. Adm. Code) prohibit disposal of certain materials in Wisconsin landfills or incineration facilities and require local jurisdictions to mandate recycling of these materials under local ordinance. These materials include major appliances, lead acid batteries, yard waste, waste oil, used oil filters, waste tires, newspaper, magazines, cardboard, and glass/plastic/aluminum/steel food and beverage containers. Local jurisdictions are further required to implement recycling programs.

Disposal of solid wastes from a marine vessel is prohibited in waters of the state (s. 287). Waters of the state include portions of the Great Lakes within Wisconsin’s boundaries (s. 281.01(18)). Because state laws prohibit disposal of waste while on the water, boaters need to comply with state and local recycling requirements when disposing of waste on land (ch. 287, Wis. Stats., and ch. NR 544 Wis. Adm. Code).

Navigable Waters, Harbors and Navigation (Chapter 30, Wis. State Stats)

These Wisconsin rules govern public waters. The program is founded on the Public Trust Doctrine (http://dnr.wi.gov/waterways/shoreland/doctrine.htm), the body of law made by the legislature and the courts that guides how WDNR protects public rights in navigable waters. For projects in or near a waterway or wetland, the WDNR provides step-by-step instructions regarding the permits required to complete your project activities. Each project may involve one or more activities, so please consider this when you are collecting and submitting permit application materials, and planning your project timeline. Marina projects may include dredging, control of aquatic nuisance species, placement of docks/piers, bank stabilization, and marina breakwater structures—just to name a few.

Visit the WDNR’s Activity Index at dnr.wi.gov/topic/waterways to determine which permits are required for your project and how to reach your local WDNR water management specialist.

Water Quality Standards for Wetlands (NR 103, Wis. Adm. Code)

New marinas and existing marinas that have future activities in and adjacent to wetlands may require federal and state permits.

For additional information, please contact your local WDNR water management specialist. For more information on wetlands, refer to: dnr.wi.gov/topic/wetlands.

Aquatic Plant Management (NR 107, Wis. Adm. Code)

Some marinas may choose to conduct chemical treatment for management of aquatic plants or control of other aquatic organisms. Permits are required for such activities.

For additional information, please contact your local WDNR water quality biologist. For information on aquatic plant management, see dnr.wi.gov/lakes/plants.

Criteria for Dredging Projects – Sediment Sampling and Analysis, Monitoring Protocol and Disposal (NR 347, Wis. Adm. Code)

The purpose of NR 347, “…is to protect the public rights and interest in the waters of the state by specifying definitions, sediment sampling and analysis requirements, disposal criteria and monitoring requirements for dredging projects…” NR 347 requires the collection of information on a given project including, where necessary, collection and analysis of sediment from the project site. Over time a marina may be impacted by depositional sediments and have the need to dredge to accommodate their patron’s boat slips, or other areas within the marina. Note: Chapter 30 rules also apply to dredging projects (refer to Ch 30 Section mentioned previously).

For information on dredging issues, see: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/waterways/construction/dredging.html.

General Solid Waste Management (NR 500, Wis. Adm. Code)

The solid waste program strives to ensure proper management of solid waste and works with local governments, private industry, other organizations and individual citizens to increase waste reduction, reuse and recycling. It is also used in determining dredge spoils disposal (refer to NR 347 Section previously mentioned).

For additional information, please contact your local solid waste specialist, see: http://dnr.wi.gov/staffdir/_newsearch/contactsearchext.aspx?exp=solid+waste+requirements.

For additional information on general solid waste management, refer to: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/waste/solid.html.

Hazardous Waste Management: General (NR 600, Wis. Adm. Code)

These Wisconsin rules govern hazardous waste management and may also be used in determining dredge spoils disposal. Refer to Criteria for Dredging Projects – Sediment Sampling and Analysis, Monitoring Protocol and Disposal, page 7, of this section.

For additional information, please contact your local WDNR hazardous waste specialist, see: http://dnr.wi.gov/staffdir/_newsearch/contactsearchext.aspx?exp=hazardous+waste+requirements.

For information on hazardous waste management, see: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/waste/hazardous.html.

Environmental Protection, Investigation, and Remediation (Spills) (NR 700-750 Wis. Adm. Code)

These Wisconsin rules govern what happens when petroleum products are released into the environment.

For additional information, please contact your local WDNR spills coordinator.

For information on spills/environmental protection, investigation, and remediation, please refer to the following website.

Deleterious Substances (Chapter 29.601 (3), Wis. State Stats)

Wisconsin law states that no person may throw or deposit, or permit to be thrown or deposited, into any waters with jurisdiction of the state any lime, oil, tar, garbage, refuse, debris, tanbark, ship ballast, stone, sand (except where permitted by s. 30.12(3)(a)l.), slabs, decayed wood, sawdust, sawmill refuse, planing mill shavings or waste material of any kind, or any acids or chemicals or waste or refuse arising from the manufacture of any article of commerce, or any other substance deleterious to game or fish life.

For more information, contact your local conservation marine warden: http://dnr.wi.gov/emergency/.

Environmental Permits and Licenses

The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES)

Perhaps the most notable goal of the NPDES was the elimination of discharge of pollutants into navigable waters by 1985. This goal was not realized, but it remains a principle for establishing permit requirements. The act had an interim goal to achieve “water quality which provides for the protection and propagation of fish, shellfish, and wildlife and provides for recreation in and on the water” by July 1, 1983. This is more commonly known as the “fishable, swimmable” goal. Discharges incidental to the normal operation of recreational vessels are exempt from obtaining a NPDES permit. These discharges include graywater, bilge water, cooling water, weather deck runoff, oil water separator effluent, or effluent from properly functioning marine engines.

For more information visit the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) wesite.

The Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) Stormwater Discharge Permit Program

By its authority given by the Clean Water Act, the WDNR developed the WPDES Stormwater Discharge Permit Program, which is regulated under the authority of ch. NR 216, Wis. Adm. Code. The WPDES Stormwater Program regulates discharge of stormwater in Wisconsin from construction sites, industrial facilities, and selected municipalities.

Marinas and boatyards are included in the water transportation category, which requires stormwater permit coverage (Tier 2 Industrial Stormwater Discharge permit) if they are involved in maintenance, rehabilitation, mechanical repair, painting, cleaning, fueling, and lubrication to the extent that these activities have the potential to contaminate stormwater. The stormwater permit does not cover non-stormwater discharges of wastewater, such as hull cleaning wash water.

As a condition of the stormwater permit, marinas must develop a site-specific Stormwater

Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) and implement best management practices (BMPs) to ensure that stormwater leaving the marina property will not harm the quality of surrounding waters. An example of a SWPPP is provided in the Wisconsin Clean Marina Guidebook: Appendix III of the Wisconsin Clean Marina Guidebook and in the Resources and Tools section of this Classroom.

For more information on the Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) Stormwater Discharge Permit Program, see: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/stormwater/.

The General Permit for Wastewater from the Outside Washing of Vehicles, Equipment, and Other Objects (WI-0059153-2) from the WDNR

This general permit is intended to cover a variety of facilities that wash equipment, vehicles and other objects outside and cannot direct the wastewater to sanitary sewage facilities. This permit contains BMPs designed to prevent degradation of surface waters and/or groundwater. Each facility is required to meet the applicability criteria and implement the BMPs contained in the permit.

See: General Permit for Wastewater from the Outside Washing of Vehicles, Equipment and Other Objects (WI-0059153-2) from the WDNR: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/wastewater/GeneralPermits.html.

The General Permit for Wastewater from Carriage and Interstitial Water from Dredging Operations (WI-0046558-5) from the WDNR

This permit is intended to cover dredging operations where carriage water or interstitial water from sediment dredging projects is discharged to surface waters or seepage systems.

 See: The General Permit for Wastewater from Carriage and Interstitial Water from Dredging Operations (WI-0046558-5) from the WDNR:

Soil Erosion and Stormwater Management

Under NR 216, Wis. Adm. Code, landowners of construction sites with one acre or more of land disturbance are required to obtain construction site permit coverage to address erosion and stormwater. Landowners need to submit an application called a Notice of Intent (NOI) to request coverage under the Construction Site Stormwater Runoff General Permit No. WIS067831.

See: Soil Erosion and Stormwater Management: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/stormwater/construction/.

Pesticide Application Business License from Wisconsin DATCP

This license is required for marinas that apply anti-fouling paint to boats for hire.

Pesticide Applicator License from Wisconsin DATCP

This license is required for individuals who apply a restricted use pesticide or are applying an antifouling paint for hire (regardless if the paint contains a restricted-use or nonrestricted-use pesticide).

More information on the licensing requirements and process:

State Agencies

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR)

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) is dedicated to the preservation, protection, effective management, and maintenance of Wisconsin’s natural resources. The WDNR is responsible for implementing the laws of the state and, where applicable, the laws of the federal government that protect and enhance the natural resources of our state. It is the one agency charged with full responsibility for coordinating the many disciplines and programs necessary to provide a clean environment and a full range of outdoor recreational opportunities for Wisconsin citizens and visitors. See: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services

The Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services promotes the health, safety, and welfare of the public and the environment through effective and efficient regulations, education, and enforcement. The Department of SPS is responsible for petroleum tank standards for both underground and aboveground tank systems, Wisconsin’s tank registration database, Wisconsin’s fund for reimbursement of environmental cleanup costs (PECFA), and for the oversight of cleanups at petroleum tank discharges that do not include high risk factors. See: http://dsps.wi.gov/Home.

Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP)

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) is the agency responsible for ensuring food safety and animal and plant health; protecting water and soil, and monitoring fair and safe business practices. DATCP licenses and certifies those who apply pesticides and works to ensure that pesticides are properly handled, stored, disposed of, and used according to the label. In addition, DATCP is also responsible for Wisconsin’s Public Warehouse Keeper’s Program. Marinas are required to be licensed if they provide boat storage, outdoor or indoor. See: Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.


Source: Wisconsin Clean Marina Program Guidebook, 2010.


Wisconsin Clean Marina logoParticipants in the Wisconsin Clean Marina Program voluntarily pledge to protect and improve Wisconsin’s waterways by reducing or eliminating releases of harmful substances and phasing out practices that can damage aquatic environments.

The program began in 2010. To date, there are 19 certified clean marinas and an additional 13 marinas have pledged to work toward certification. Two marinas have changed ownership and are being recertified, showing continued commitment to keeping Wisconsin waters clean.