May 23, 2023
Mobile pumpout boats provide options for recreational boaters while improving water quality
Amazon Prime, Uber Eats, Instacart: All of these services get delivered directly to you these days. Now, pumpout services for your boat are joining that list. Options for recreational boaters to pump out boat sewage safely and efficiently are expanding throughout the Puget Sound. Traveling “pumpout boats” that come to where the boaters are is a service that more and more marinas and ports are supporting and expanding upon.
The grant-funded boats keep an estimated 8-10,000,000 gallons of sewage out of Puget Sound annually, protecting shellfish beds and improving overall water quality.
A steady increase in recreational boating around Puget Sound since the pandemic is one reason that Washington State Parks Clean Vessel Act Program (CVA) is making it a priority to help fund and coordinate with ports and marinas as they add more mobile pumpout boats to meet the growing need for vessel sewage disposal options. Catherine Buchalski Smith, manager of the Washington CVA Program, explains, “Washington State Park’s Clean Vessel Act Program is working closely with ports and marinas to increase pumpout options throughout Puget Sound and the Salish Sea.” The CVA program funds infrastructure and also educates boaters on the importance of safe and legal sewage disposal through Pumpout Washington, an educational outreach program run by Washington Sea Grant, with funding from the Washington State Parks CVA Program. The program improves stewardship practices that protect the quality of local waterways.
Boaters have a strong interest in using mobile pumpout boats, because the boats come to them, making it easy to do the right thing – and pumpout their sewage rather than dump it overboard. “This type of service is especially helpful in those beautiful and remote areas with high boating activity that may not be near a marina with a pumpout station, like parts of the South Sound or the San Juan Islands” says Buchalski Smith. Area ports and marinas are equally motivated. For example, the newest port to take action is the Port of Port Townsend. “The Port is excited to launch a new pump out boat, in partnership with State Parks, to both provide a service desired by boaters and help keep the waters of Port Townsend Bay clean,” explains Eron Berg, executive director for the Port of Port Townsend.
Additionally, the Port of Lopez started an all-volunteer pumpout boat program in 2022 with a goal of expanding service beyond Fishermen’s Bay, and nearby Roche Harbor now has two pumpout boats to serve the masses of boaters. Port Ludlow maintains a wood and all electric pumpout boat through a partnership with the Northwest School for Wooden Boat Building. Executive Director of the school, Betsy Davis, sees the arrangement as a win-win. “We really appreciate the learning opportunities that this project is providing to our students,“ she says.
Meanwhile, Kitsap and Pierce County continue to expand service throughout south Puget Sound. Last year, Pierce County added a second vessel to provide mobile pumpout service to address the increase in demand in south Puget Sound waters. They are piloting a program this June through September to serve Blake Island, Liberty Bay, Eagle Harbor, Illahee State Park, Fort Ward, and Port Madison.
To make it easier for boaters to find a nearby mobile pumpout boat, Washington State Parks recently partnered with Washington Sea Grant to develop a Pumpout Boat Tracker, a GIS map that locates mobile boats in real time. This tool is still in its early development stages and boater feedback is actively being solicited to help improve the tool.
Pumpout Washington keeps boaters informed of updates on pumpout locations, instructs boaters how to effectively pump out, and provides free tools for efficient pumping. But that isn’t the only resource available to boaters. The Washington Department of Ecology’s “Pump Out Don’t Dump Out” campaign educates boaters on how to use the “Y-valve”, a device required by law on boats with installed toilets that diverts waste to a holding tank. Ecology’s program provides education to properly use a Y-valve, making it easier for boaters to comply with the Puget Sound No Discharge Zone (NDZ) ruling. Justine Asohmbom, Puget Sound Education Coordinator adds, “At the Department of Ecology, we’re thrilled that boaters are beginning to implement use of the Y-valve. Their efforts support the NDZ program and ultimately improves water quality for boaters and wildlife.” The NDZ ruling now applies to all boats in Puget Sound and certain adjoining waters where boaters may not release treated or untreated sewage from Type I and Type II marine sanitation devices (MSDs). You can learn more about it here.
Washington Sea Grant and Washington State Parks CVA Grant Program also promote Pumpout Nav, a free phone app, a convenient tool helping boaters to keep Washington’s waters healthy and their holding tanks empty. The app allows boaters to find one of nearly 200 pumpout and dump stations in Washington, as well as hundreds of pumpouts in California and Oregon. The app is available for both iOS and Android. Also among the tools offered to boaters is the free pumpout adapter, an easy screw-in nozzle that keeps sewage from spilling over.
As the boating season gets underway, an increased concern for not only sewage spills, but also small oil spills, 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, including a free Small Oil Spills Prevention pillow, a small absorbent pillow that is placed alongside bilge pumps to prevent oily discharge from entering the water and a fuel bib, an absorbent pad that fits snuggly on the fuel nozzle of a boat. The Small Spills Prevention Program is managed by Washington Sea Grant and Washington Department of Ecology.
Find a full list of mobile pumpout boats, pumpout stations and the Pumpout Washington Tracker information on the new Pumpout Washington website: pumpoutwashington.org.
To give feedback on the Pumpout Washington Tracker, contact Aaron Barnett, Washington Sea Grant boating specialist at firstname.lastname@example.org. For program information or free materials contact Aaron, Bridget Trosin, Washington Sea Grant coastal policy specialist at email@example.com or Ashley Seydel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The CVA program is part of the Clean Vessel Act of 1992 supported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Sportfish Restoration Fund from special taxes on recreational boats, fishing gear and boat fuel. In Washington the program is managed by Washington State Parks. Washington Sea Grant provides small oil spills bibs and pillows as well as pumpout adapter kits to individual boaters, marinas, yacht clubs or other organizations that serve recreational boaters.
Washington Sea Grant, based within the College of the Environment at the University of Washington, helps people and marine life thrive through marine research, technical expertise and education supporting the responsible use and conservation of coastal ecosystems. The National Sea Grant College Program is a federal-state partnership of 33 programs nationwide within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce. www.wsg.washington.edu.
Join the conversation: @WASeaGrant and Facebook.com/WaSeaGrant.