Congratulations, Washington Boaters!

Twenty-fourteen was a record year for the Washington State Parks Clean Vessel Program and Washington Sea Group’s Pumpout Washington campaign. They helped boaters and marinas divert nearly 6.1 million gallons of onboard sewage from the state’s lakes and straits to safe treatment — 400,000 more than in 2013. The 2015 tally — 8.4 million gallons of raw sewage collected — made 2014 look like a warmup. Now WSG Boating Program Specialist Aaron Barnett and his pumpout partners intend to blow away that record in 2016. At the same time, WSG, the Washington Department of Ecology, and the U.S. Coast Guard have set similar high goals in a parallel campaign to prevent oil spills from small vessels.

Low fuel prices and increased boating activity doubtless contributed to 2015’s pumpout surge, but Al Wolslegel, the Clean Vessel Program’s manager, sees other reasons as well. “Our educational outreach has increased awareness of the impact on the environment,” he says, “and pumping out has become the correct thing to do. Boaters are taking advantage of the increase in the number and reliability of pumpouts. Marina owners and managers are more aware of federal grant funds to install pumpouts and the operation and maintenance assistance that goes with them.” Also, five pumpout boats launched in recent years have brought mobile service to previously underserved waterways, from Semiahmoo to the Snake River. The first sponsored service, operated by Terry Durfee on Lake Washington, collected 210,000 gallons from more than 1,000 boaters in 2015.

Wolslegel and Barnett each visited 60 to 70 marinas last year to promote pumping out. In February, Barnett gave out 900 hands-free pumpout adapters at the Seattle Boat Show and marveled at how many attendees “gave positive feedback after they’d had a chance to use the adapters for a season or two.” To date he and his volunteers have delivered adapters to more than 9,000 of the state’s 20,000 eligible boaters.

Building on that momentum, Pumpout Washington has set an ambitious target for 2016: to divert a whopping 10 million gallons of sewage. This year has Barnett also hopes to deliver 1,000 small-oil-spill cleanup kits, containing absorbent “ bilge socks” and “bilge pillows” for removing oil from bilge water, to Washington boaters. Key to reaching that goal is a partnership piloted last year with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. When Auxiliary members perform courtesy vessels inspections, a popular service for boaters, they’ll also deliver spill kits, pumpout adapters, and a pep talk on why and how to use them.

The spill campaign gains new urgency from a somewhat surprising finding. As Captain Joe Raymond, the Coast Guard’s Seattle sector commander, puts it, “Recreational boats and fishing vessels are the leading source of known oil spills in Puget Sound.”

That means boaters have a key role to play in protecting the Sound and other vulnerable waters. Barnett has five short words to say to them: “Keep up the good work!”