Preserving the Environment

Pollution control 

In recent years, there has been a noticeable reduction in the quantity of rubbish and pollution on the sea; this is especially true in harbours. Many places where there was visible rubbish floating have now been cleaned up.

20 years ago, most boats would probably have thrown all their rubbish other than plastics over the side. When one person does this it is not noticeable, but with thousands of boats in use, anything that goes into the water soon builds up. This is still true of biodegradable items like food; even apple cores float around for weeks before rotting away!

As a child, I remember walking on the beach at Deal in Kent and finding piles of plastic cutlery off the cross-channel ferries. Obviously, they threw all the waste food overboard and the cutlery eventually ended up on the beach, over time the quantity built up to surprising proportions. The last time I visited the same beach, there were none.

I also used to carry an air rifle on my boat, which we used to sink the many beer cans floating in the Solent, especially during Cowes week, I can not remember the last time I saw a can floating in the Solent!

These changes have partly come about because of the changes in attitude, but mainly from legislation that has introduced much greater care of the environment. Some countries enforce these rules with considerable force, imposing heavy fines for even quite small pollution events.

It is part of the responsibility of every skipper to ensure that boating activities have the minimal effect of the environment. This can be achieved by following these guidelines:

Dealing with wastes

•  Rubbish

This includes all food, domestic and operational waste produced on board (not sewage).


•  Put no rubbish in the sea.

•  Retain rubbish aboard, until it can be disposed of properly ashore.

There are strict rules on dumping rubbish at sea, backed up by fines.

Good practice:

•  Remove excess packaging before stowing food below.

•  Plan for waste aboard. Arrange a good waste bin, strong and sufficient bags.

•  Recycle if possible.

•  Set an example and expect your crew to take care with waste.

Food waste:

•  Do not dump any skins or peelings in to the sea if they will take a long time to rot.

•  Do not dump any food within 3 miles of the shore (12 in the North Sea or the English Channel).

•  Discharge nothing but washing up water, when in marinas, harbour or anchorages.

Oils and oily wastes:

•  Regulations are aimed at commercial shipping, but leisure craft are not exempt from the same legislation.


•  Prevent any discharge of oil, fuel or similar substance in to the sea.

Good practice:

•  Maintain fuel lines, connections and seals in good condition.

•  Separate the engine and main bilge to minimise the risk of contaminating bilge water.

•  Do not pump water in to the sea if it is contaminated by oils or toxic substances.

•  Absorb spilt oil with pads and dispose of them ashore.

•  Dispose of oil ashore in proper reception facilities.

•  Use biodegradable oils (if possible) and unleaded fuel.

•  Consider the polluting effect of 2 stroke outboards.

•  Avoid spillage when filling tanks.

•  Service engine to minimise exhaust pollution.


It is common practice to use direct-discharge sea toilets, with increased usage of boats and their concentration in certain areas we should be considering fitting holding tanks. In many cases, this will only be feasible when purchasing a new vessel.

•  Do not discharge a sea toilet where doing so would damage the water quality.

Good practice:

•  Use the facilities ashore when possible.

•  Do not discharge toilets in to non-tidal are weak tide areas (locked marinas).

•  Do not discharge near bathing beaches, busy anchorages or shell fish farms.

•  If possible fit and use a holding tank, discharge it in a proper facility or at least 3 miles offshore.

•  Do not empty chemical toilets in to the sea.

Toxic wastes:


•  Antifouling paints and any residue.

•  Old batteries.

•  Cleaning chemicals and solvents.


•  Keep toxic chemicals out of the environment.

•  Do not use TBT based antifouling (it is illegal on yachts).

Good practice:

•  Use the least toxic antifouling that is effective in local conditions.

•  When cleaning off old antifouling, prevent dust and scrapings being dispersed by the wind or water.

•  Encourage your harbour to install a facility that collects residues from antifouling removal.

•  Minimise the use of detergents, if possible use a pressure washer.

•  Dispose of old batteries in a dedicated facility.

Dealing with wastes

•  There are legal requirements placed on anyone who operates a place of landing from the sea regarding waste management. These include:

•  Consulting users about their needs.

•  Preparing for the management of all ship borne waste.

Users can assist by:

•  Telling operators of facilities if they are adequate.

•  Provide feedback.

•  Use the facilities.

Habitat and species protection

The British and European coastline has an abundance of wildlife and law protects large parts of the coast.

Good practice:

•  Learn about the conservation factors relevant to the sub tidal area, the inter-tidal area and the shore of the areas you visit.

•  Be aware of:

•  Statutory management schemes.

•  Local by-laws.

•  Voluntary agreements.

Avoid damage and disturbance:

•  When afloat, stay away from nesting sites and minimise disturbance from wash or noise.

•  Land at recognised points. In remote places avoid damage to wildlife habitats (ground nesting birds) and disturbing vulnerable species.

•  Follow guidelines for minimising disturbance of whales and dolphins ( ).

•  Avoid anchoring or running aground in areas where you may damage seabed species.

The RYA are working hard to promote sustainable use of the marine environment for everyone. RYA Environment pages. is free to use, but if you feel you would like to contribute to the running and development costs you can donate via Paypal:

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