FWC News Release
Contact: Joy Hill, 352-732-1225 or 352-258-3426


In this day of water woes and wars, it is hard to believe that some boaters dump raw sewage overboard right into Florida’s precious waterways.

But the sad reality is some still do, even though the law says sewage from boat toilets must be treated before being dumped, or it must be held in an on-board holding tank until it can be pumped into a U.S. Coast Guard-approved pump-out station.

“Most marinas have pump-out facilities so there is little excuse for not complying with the law,” said Officer Mark Tharp, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officer who patrols the St. Johns River and routinely checks boats for compliance.

Personnel from Crystal Cove Marina and Acosta Marina, both in Putnam County, recently reported raw sewage dumped in the water to FWC and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) officers. Tharp, three other FWC officers and a DEP officer then teamed up for Operation Overflow 3.

Officers inspected marine sanitation devices (MSD) onboard vessels at the two marinas. They were looking for properly installed and maintained devices. What they found were more boats in violation of the law than in compliance. Out of 20 inspections, officers cited nine boaters for MSD violations, issued two warnings for the same, and arrested one boater on an unrelated, outstanding warrant.

“Both Crystal Cove and Acosta marinas are very proactive in educating boaters about the laws pertaining to dumping raw sewage. Unfortunately, however, this non-compliance occurs more often than most people probably realize,” Tharp said. “Simply put, it’s against the law to dump raw sewage into our waterways. In fact, in some waters it’s also against the law to dump treated sewage, yet some boaters continue to ignore the law.”

Since 1994 boaters have been prohibited from discharging untreated sewage into freshwater or within coastal saltwater limits. Coastal limits are nine nautical miles on the Gulf and three nautical miles on the Atlantic Ocean.

No Discharge Zones prohibit boats from discharging treated or untreated sewage into water bodies. In these waters, an overboard discharge valve must be closed and secured so no wastewater can be dumped. An open or unsecured valve is a violation that carries about a $250 fine.

FWC officers check the MSDs on boats all year long throughout the state, but the heaviest boat traffic in some areas is during the fall, when vessels are migrating south for the winter, and again in the spring when they’re heading back north.

During last year’s fall migration, FWC Officer Clay McDonough organized special details to check MSDs on boats traveling through the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) in Flagler and Volusia counties. The detail included officers in boats as well as in the air. As part of the checks, McDonough dropped harmless green dye into the toilets and flushed to see if toilets were dumping directly into the water. Officers in the air could clearly see the bright green dye flow freely from the boats with open valves. The operators of those vessels got $250 tickets.

“We cited around 40 vessels during two details on the ICW last fall,” said McDonough. “Even though compliance improved compared to 2006, it’s still not good.”

The following crafts are required by law to have a working toilet on board when in state waters:

  • Any vessel 26 feet or longer with an enclosed cabin and berthing facilities.
  • Any houseboat, defined as a vessel used primarily as a residence for a minimum of 21 out of 30 days in a county of this state, and this residential use prevents it from being used as a means of transportation.
  • Any floating structure with enclosed living space with berthing facilities or work space with public access.

All marine sanitation devices must be U.S. Coast Guard-approved. All waste from portable toilets must be disposed of in an approved waste-reception facility or pump station. Restroom toilets at marinas or elsewhere are not approved reception facilities, become some of the chemicals used in portable toilets do not break the waste down to acceptable levels, nor do they kill disease-causing organisms.

The Department of Environmental Protection’s Web site has more information about MSDs and how raw sewage impacts human health and the environment at www.dep.state.fl.us/law/grants/cva/cva_faqs_boaters.htm