Removing Oil from Bilges Without Causing Contamination

Removing Oil from Bilges Without Causing Contamination

Pollution in marinas and yacht clubs is a serious environmental concern. Point-source pollution like fuel and oil discharges or sewage leaks can harm sensitive aquatic ecosystems. Discharges also represent a significant risk exposure for marina owners. Other sources of pollution, particularly non-point sources such as bilges pumped overboard, can be just as devastating to the environment. While many marina insurance policies include some form of pollution coverage, prevention is the key to mitigating risks. Prevention of oily discharges from bilges protects marina owners from liabilities just as it protects the environment. In this guide, we will help give you the tools to prevent oily bilge discharges.

Bilge Pollution: A Hidden Source

Oily bilges are considered a significant environmental risk. The potential for oil-contaminated water to be pumped overboard from boats moored at marinas looms large over marina operations. Referred to as non-point pollution sources, or those without a single identifiable source, bilge wastes can harm delicate wildlife and plant communities along America’s coastlines.

Sometimes referred to as oily wastes, the fluids that accumulate in boat and yacht bilges is often a combination of seawater, freshwater, petroleum products, chemicals, and metals. Bilge pumps are triggered when accumulation of fluids in bilges reaches a predetermined level. To avoid contamination during bilge pumping, boat owners and marina staff must implement preventative measures.

Preventing Oil Discharges from Bilges

The aquatic environment in the United States has been threatened by many factors. Boat traffic entering and exiting marinas is only one of numerous potential threats. Boat owners have an obligation to keep pollution discharges from harming ecosystems, and this calls for a comprehensive prevention plan.

The first preventative step is to regularly inspect all engine lines and hoses, including clamps or other fittings holding them in place. Small oil leaks from damaged or ruptured hoses can cause accumulation of oily wastes in bilges. Leaking engine gaskets or components can also lead to oil contamination. By spotting issues before they can cause a pollution discharge event, boat owners can take an active hand in protecting the environment. During maintenance such as oil changes, using a closed vacuum pump and oil catch container can prevent oils from contaminating bilges. The waste oil should be disposed at an oil recycling or collection center.

It is inevitable that some oil will leak from engine components. Oil absorbent pads or socks can be placed in bilges to capture any leaks before they can be pumped overboard. Some boaters leave these pads in place during operation. As with waste oil, absorbent pads or materials must be disposed of properly.

For larger boats with deep bilges, pump out services can prevent the need for overboard discharges. For smaller boats, inline bilge filters can separate petroleum contamination from bilge water, making it safer to pump overboard when needed. As with any filter, a regular schedule of inspection and replacement is warranted.

Finally, if an oily bilge is pumped overboard, it is imperative that these discharges are reported. State and federal laws vary; marina owners can assist boaters by posting emergency contact numbers in prominent locations within the marina facility. Containment of spills should be attempted until regulatory authorities respond to the report. Marina owners face many risks in their operations, and marina insurance, pollution insurance, and other types of insurance coverage do their part to help mitigate those risks. Prevention of oil spills can save the environment from harm while protecting marina owners from liability claims and regulatory penalties.

About Merrimac Marine Insurance

At Merrimac Marine, we are dedicated to providing insurance for the marine industry to protect your clients’ business and assets. For more information about our products and programs, contact our specialists today at (800) 681-1998.