Small Spills Aren’t Slick

Casey Pond Dredge Sinking

Along with summer boating season comes an increased risk of smaller oil spills from recreational boats, which account for 75 percent of the oil dumped into local waters. The Washington Sea Grant Small Spills Prevention Program provides boaters with the knowledge and tools they need to stop oil pollution at the source.

Every drop counts!

Small spills introduce persistent, toxic oil into our waters. Even trace amounts of oil can damage marine life at fragile stages and threaten the vitality of aquatic ecosystems. Cumulatively, small spills can undermine jobs and recreational pursuits that depend on clean water. A single pint of oil spilled into the water can cover an entire acre of the water’s surface. 

Certain compounds from oil – like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)—persist in the environment and can work their way through the food web. This means the toxins from oil spills are absorbed by smaller animals and accumulate in larger animals. Even the smallest amount of oil can cause nerve and respiratory damage in marine animals, including Washington’s endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales. 

HOW TO Prevent Spills:
  • To prevent spills while fueling, wrap an absorbent pad around the nozzle end or plug inside the nozzle end. 
  • When fueling, use an absorbent pad or suction cup bottle under the vent(s) to capture fuel spurts from the vent.
  • Do NOT top off fuel tanks. Keep bilge area as clean and dry as possible. Use absorbent pads that repel water but absorb oil.
  • Dispose of oil-soaked absorbents as a household hazardous waste if possible. Otherwise, wrap the absorbents in newspaper, place in a plastic bag, and place into the garbage.
  • Fit a tray and absorbent pads underneath the engine to collect drips and drops, which can greatly reduce cleaning time later.

Join the Clean Bilge Project and keep our waters clean!

Get FREE small oil spills prevention materials

Contact Washington Sea Grant Boating Specialist, Aaron Barnett: (206) 616-8929 or

Get free small spills prevention materials, which include an absorbent fuel bib and a small absorbent pillow designed for placement alongside bilge pumps to prevent oily discharge from entering the water. It also keeps your engine area cleaner!

Report all spills

In the event of a spill, immediately notify the U.S. Coast Guard: (800) 424-8802 and Department of Ecology: (800) 258-5990. Stay on the scene, turn off ignition sources, and DO NOT attempt to contain the spill with soaps or dispersants.

Thank you for doing your part to keep our waters clean!

Learn more:

WSG produced in partnership with Puget Soundkeeper and the Washington Department of Ecology, a comprehensive handbook (left), Pollution Prevention for Washington State Marinas. This 72-page, full-color, interactive handbook provides a comprehensive guide for marina managers and staff, as well as boaters, to reduce water pollution from their facilities.

Check out the recent Coastal Cafe Podcast episode to learn more about the Washington Department of Ecology’s Oils Spill and Preparedness division.


Visit us on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram to learn more. Ask us questions and get the latest news on the Small Spills Prevention Program. Use the #CleanBilgeProject hashtag to follow the conversation.

Small spills bib
An oil sheen appears along the shore of the Kalamazoo River in August 2012. In July 2010, more than 800,000 gallons of tar sands oil entered Talmadge Creek and flowed into the Kalamazoo River, a Lake Michigan tributary. Heavy rains caused the river to overtop existing dams and carried oil 30 miles downstream.
Mystery Bay_1

The Small Spills Prevention Program is managed by Washington Sea Grant with support from Washington Department of Ecology and distributed with help from Washington’s District 13 Coast Guard Auxiliary.