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How to Bring Your Marina Into The Sustainable Age

Environmentalism is on the rise across the globe, and it’s inspiring to see. Both individuals and businesses are finding their way toward greener and more ethical practices, and that definitely includes marinas.

Since marinas are right up at the water’s edge, the potential for pollutants entering the water is always high—fuel splatter, boat cleaning products, sewage, trash, and other boating byproducts are often carried into the basin waters by rain or even when maintenance hoses down the docks. It’s a very real problem, but more and more responsible marina owners are taking steps to prevent these contaminants from reaching the water, and in turn, making their facility friendlier to the environment. Adding other energy- and water-efficient features and incorporating savvier environmental facets to your marina will cement your commitment even further. Remember, the new generation of boaters (especially millennials and GenZ) tend to be more environmentally conscious than ever—and showing your green side may be just what you need to capture their attention.

To make sure your efforts are effective, get off to a smart start by having a marina-wide meeting with both your staff and regular boating clients. This will get everyone on the same page and allow you to explain the environmental concerns, propose initiatives and listen to feedback that could be valuable to your plan’s development and success.

Here are some key strategies to consider while forging a greener marina path. Once everything is in place, don’t forget to spread the news to potential clients by highlighting your commitment on your website, marina sites, social media and in press releases.

Educate Boaters & Staff on Boat & Engine Maintenance

Education is key when it comes to environmentalism—and you’re in a great position to guide people in the right direction. Here are a few essential nuggets of information to pass down to your staff and clients.

  • Boat owners should have their engines fine-tuned at least once a year by a qualified mechanic; oil leaks should be detected; and fuel lines should be inspected on a regular basis. (For a DYI fuel line check, check out this useful guide). Oil leaks in particular are an enormous concern since just one cup of oil can contaminate the space of an entire football field.
  • Filling inboard fuel tanks have major spill potential—and that’s because people tend to overfill. Both vessel captains and the marina team should understand how to prevent this problem. The U.S. Coast Guard recommends only filling a tank to 90% capacity to account for expansion and avoid accidental spills. Those filling the tanks can also cover the air vent with a rag or the marina can place absorbing mat pads near the tank as an extra buffer (then dispose of them properly). Boaters are also advised to purchase overflow attachments for their fuel tank air vent—these act like fuel/air separators and help contain overflow.
  • If there is an oil sheen or spill, NEVER use dishwashing soaps to break them up—it’s illegal and harmful. Soaps actually add more contaminants to the water and send the oil below the surface where it settles into sediment.
  • Recommend biodegradable, less toxic propylene glycol (PG) antifreeze instead of traditional ethylene-glycol (EG) antifreeze. In case of an accidental spill, PG is far safer for water and wildlife.
  • Promote the use of natural cleaning products on vessels, such as baking soda, lemon juice, white vinegar and borax. And remind boaters, a little elbow grease goes a long way.
  • Guests who bring pets to the marina must clean up after them. Pet waste can wash into the basin and add pollutants to the water.

Marina Must-Haves and Must-Dos

Part of operating a marina with the environment in mind is leaving nothing to chance. You want to address every contingency so your team and boaters have the best chance at eco-friendly success. Here are some things to keep in mind.

  • Have trash bags available to boaters to ensure they can dispose of their on-board trash and bring it back to the marina for trash pickup.
  • Have plentiful trash bins around the marina with signs urging marina patrons to dispose of trash on-shore.
  • Provide doggy waste bags and receptacles to make it easier for guests to clean up after their pets.
  • Have recycle areas clearly designated for plastics, glass, cans, paper and fishing line.
  • Place well-marked signs around the marina (especially by fueling stations) that stress the importance of safe fueling activities. Include a list of precautions boaters should take, and even highlight monetary consequences (i.e. Please Note: Boaters who improperly fuel their vessel may be subject to cleanup costs).
  • Put socks or other berms at the base of fixed oil or fuel equipment.
  • Make sure fuel nozzles are hung vertically to avoid dripping and that no one empties excess fuel in hose on the ground or in water.
  • Marina operators should always be present when a boater fuels their boat so they can access emergency shutoffs immediately, if needed.
  • Report oil spills or hazardous waste concerns (including sewage) immediately to the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802.
  • Replace all incandescent lighting throughout the marina with more efficient LED lighting to save on energy and possibly lower bills. This includes night lighting for docks, safety lights, restaurant lighting and exit signs.
  • Look into adding additional sewage pump-out stations to deter boaters from improperly disposing of waste.
  • Maintain sewage pump-out stations on a regular schedule to avoid any malfunctions, leaks or overflow.
  • Confirm boaters know how to correctly use pump-out stations and that they feel comfortable asking for help when needed.
  • Ensure vessels with portable toilets bring them to shore for safe waste disposal. Inappropriate disposal of fecal matter into the water can stimulate algae production and lower oxygen levels. It can also cause a health-hazard for swimmers and shellfish.
  • Encourage vessel owners to use the marina’s on-shore restrooms and have restrooms regularly cleaned using eco-friendly soaps and cleaners.
  • If financially feasible, equip restrooms and showers with EPA WaterSense®-labeled toilets, urinals, showerheads and faucets to conserve water and potentially lower bills.
  • Advise vessel owners to rinse boats off with fresh water after coming to shore. If they consistently follow this practice, heavy duty cleansers won’t be needed as often. Waxing the boat each year can also prevent buildup on the vessel’s surface.
  • When clients make repairs or cosmetic restorations that includes scraping, painting or plastic mending, vessel should be removed from water. Any work should ideally be done off-shore, preferably in a contained space. A tarp should be placed under work area to collect particles or contaminants, and then disposed of them safely.

Recycle & Reduce Waste

Reducing waste in landfills should be a priority for everyone, and marinas have the power to impact reduction in a big way. Here are a few ideas:

  • Purchase marina products in bulk to minimize packaging
  • Request that on-site restaurants use recyclable carryout containers
  • Have plenty of recycling containers that are clearly marked. Separate receptacles for oil, waste oil, acid batteries, fuel filters and antifreeze are a must.
  • Place instructive signage by docking spaces to ensure boaters know where to find the recycling bins, their benefits, and the consequences of not using them.
  • Launch a recycling collection program for used oil and oil filters instead of dumping them in the landfill. For example, a boat’s used oil can be recycled into motor oil or reprocessed to make fuel. Previously used steel filters are recycled into steel products like cans and automotive parts. To get started, look up recycling centers at

Carefully Select Products Used at Your Marina

The products you sell and food you serve can also put a bold eco-friendly face to your marina—and when you highlight these things on your website and menus, clients and visitors will take notice.

  • Sell environmentally friendly cleaning products at your marina to stop the flow of toxins into the water. Labels with words like biodegradable and phosphate-free are a good choice—and step away from any product that reads “may be hazardous to humans.” If it’s unsafe for humans, it’s unsafe for the environment.
  • Marina on-site restaurants can enhance local relationships and your reputation by purchasing organic, locally sourced food for menu items.
  • Add more vegetarian and vegan options to the marina menus to support lower CO2 emissions and only serve fair-trade, organic coffees and teas.

By incorporating these strategies and other environmental best practices, marinas have an incredible opportunity to keep our waters safe and marine life thriving. And, when you put your facility on the green map, not only will you help the environment, but your new-hued status could noticeably boost your clientele.

What steps has your marina taken towards an environmentally healthier future? Let us know what strategies you follow and if your clients are showing support!

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