Tips & Hints For Preventing or Dealing With Oil and Fuel Spills

Oil spill prevention kit

Free Small Oil Spill Prevention Kit Contents

Yes recreational boaters on average behave responsibly, but accidents do happen and nobody wants to see an oil spill gathering around their boat in the marina.   Small Oil Spill Kits are being given out free to help boaters keep the water clean and to raise awareness of the need to be always vigilant.

To help boaters prevent oil spills, Free Small Oil Spill Prevention Kits are being given out by the Washington Sea Grant Program, U. S. Coast Guard and the U. S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.

The free Small Oil Spill Prevention Kits have a Bilge Sock to put in the bilge to soak up any oil or fuel spills that make it into the bilge.  There are also gloves and a trash bag and information on how to avoid a fuel or oil spill and what to do if you have a spill or see one.

How do you get a free Small Oil Spill Prevention Kit?  This year the Washington Sea Grant Program has joined forces with the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary to widen the distribution network.  The Spill Prevention Kits will be available at some public events from the Auxiliary (the Neighborhood Night Out at the Shilshole Marina, August 4, 2015 is the next event).  The Auxiliary will also be giving the kits out as part of their Vessel Safety Exam program as well as reaching out to boating groups the Auxiliary has been working with as well as new groups and venues.

What to do in the case of a spill.

  • Stop what ever is causing the spill if possible to do so safely (bilge pump, fueling nozzle etc.)
  • Extinguish all ignition sources.
  • If the spill is gasoline, notify the fuel attendant at once then move out of the area
  • Fuel Docks should have an emergency pump shutoff in case of a pump or hose problem
  • Notify the proper authorities at once (Coast Guard and state spill response office)
  • Contact the marina staff and or your state environmental agency for help (most if not all marinas and fueling stations have some sort of spill response kits on site, many are trailers)
  • Do Not Use Detergents!! (Dish soap or related)
  • Attempt to minimize the damage using containment booms or oil absorbing pads.
  • Do not do anything that might start the spill on fire.
  • Have a supply of absorbent pads to clean up any spills
  • Collect and dispose of oily absorbent pads (not in the regular garbage!!)

Who to call?

The law requires you to call both the Coast Guard and your state response center.  Failure to call can subject you to very large fines and penalties.  Two other useful offices and organizations are also listed.

  • 800-424-8802 National Response Center (U.S.C.G.)
  • 800-889-8852 If you are in Canada
  • 800-258-5990 Washington State Emergency Operations Center
  • 206-217-6002 U.S. Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound if you are in Puget Sound
  • Your local Fire Department, all Fire Departments are trained in HazMat spills and cleanup

Using detergents will break up the fuel or oil and let the spilled product sink into the water column where it can linger for many years and cause long term damage, especially in closed waters.  You want the spill to remain on the surface where it can be cleaned up using traditional methods (sorbents, boom/skimmers, etc.). All applications of any chemical countermeasures require strict government permitting and is not used on recreational boat spills in closed waters..

When fueling use an absorbent pad to catch any drips, this keeps drips off the water and your boat.  Most fueling stations are now providing an absorbent pad for you to use, many places cut the pads into quarters since usually only a few drops of fuel will drip from the nozzle.  Be sure to place the absorbent pad on the nozzle when you lower the nozzle to the fuel fill and when removing the nozzle from the fuel fill to catch any fuel drops.

Also when fueling place a No Spill bottle over the fuel air vent.  The No Spill bottle attaches with suction cups over the fuel air vent.  Make sure the No Spill bottle is attached to the boat with a piece of small line, sometimes the suction cups fail and the bottle can fall into the water with any fuel in it and dump the fuel into the water.

The Oil Spill Prevention Kits are being given out for free and are funded from the state of Washington with a small marine tax and administered by the Washington Sea Grant program.

The start of the program goes back over 20 years when Eric Olsson was working with Harbormasters, the U.S. Coast Guard and Marina Operators in Puget Sound to improve spill prevention with the marinas and boaters.  Eric got a call from the Blaine Marina Manager, seems a boater had the poor form to discharge some oily waste into the marina just before a Coast Guard patrol entered the marina and found the oil spill.  The Coast Guard for some reason was not amused and actually somewhat irritated and they wanted to know what the marina was going to do to prevent future spills.

Eric and the Marina Manager discussed various options and it soon became apparent that a few signs would not work and that a more aggressive and pro-active approach would be needed.

Eric put together a Spill Kit with a Bilge Sock, educational materials and other items. the kit was quite similar to the ones still being distributed today to boaters.  Eric and the marina personnel hand delivered a kit to each boater in the marina and the Spill Kit program was off and running.

Puget Soundkeepers are also giving out their own Spill Prevention Kits.  They will be on the water giving the kits out during SeaFair.

Caution when using a Bilge Sock or other absorbent material in the bilge.  The Bilge Sock or other materials (pads etc.) need to be secured so they will not interfere with the bilge pump operation, some bilge pumps have external float switches and the Bilge Sock could jam the float and prevent the bilge pump from operating properly and turning on.

Kit Contents:

  • USCG Oil spill reporting procedures brochure
  • Spills Aren’t Slick spill prevention brochure
  • Washington State Derelict Vessel program information brochure
  • Best Management Practices brochure
  • Oil Absorbent Bilge Sock
  • Oil Absorbent Pads
  • Nitrile gloves
  • Trash bag for disposal of oily products

Several mechanics I have talked with over the years recommend that you put Oil Absorbent Pads under your engine just in case something goes wrong, the pad is ready to catch the oil or fuel before it goes very far.  The pads being white also make it easier to see a small drop of pollution or other issue such as rust or corrosion flaking off the engine.

Can’t find a kit and want to make your own Bilge Sock?

oil spill prevention bilge sock

Making your own Bilge Sock, starting

Take a standard Oil Absorbent Pad, fold it in half length ways, loop a short length of small line around the folded pad (see the picture), looping the line this way makes sure the pad will not fall off the line and get lost in the bilge if a knot slips.

DIY Finished Oil Spill Prevention Kit

DIY Finished Oil Spill Prevention Bilge Sock

Then roll up the Oil Absorbent Pad and tie a couple of pieces of small stuff around the rolled up Oil Absorbent Pad and you now have your own custom Bilge Sock ready to stop pollution in it’s tracks.

See below for Guides to help prevent oil spills, some of these are included in the Small Oil Spills Prevention Kit, they are included for those of you that don’t get a Spill Prevention Kit or do not live in Puget Sound or Washington State.

  • 2015 Boaters Guide, produced by Puget Soundkeepers and Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission 60 pages of clean boating information including locations of pumpout stations in Puget Sound (PDF 2.1MB)
  • Best Management Practices, two page guide produced by Puget Soundkeepers tips on clean boating (PDF 505KB)
  • Pollution Prevention, two page guide produced by U.S. Coast Guard, Sector Puget Sound.  The legal aspects of oil spills and who to contact in case of a spill (PDF 420KB)
  • Washington State’s Derelict Removal Program, information about the program that is helping to remove derelict and sunken vessels.  Washington State also has a Vessel Turn-in Program for Derelict Vessels under 45 ft in length when the owner can not afford to deal with the vessel, the conditions are several to qualify but better than abandoning the vessel. (PDF 1.46MB)
  • SPILLS aren’t SLICK, Guide to prevention of oil spills and what to do if an oil spill does happen, also a resource guide to groups in the Pacific Oil Spill Prevention Education Team (POSPET) covering British Columbia, Oregon, Washington and California. (PDF 1.13MB)
  • Best Management Practices, One page summery poster, suitable for posting at your marina, fuel dock or the bulletin at work.  (PDF 1.03MB)

I want to extend a special thanks to Aaron Barnett and Eric Olsson at the University of Washington Sea Grant Program, Andy Gregory of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and LTJG Trevor Siperek, U.S. Coast Guard, Sector Puget Sound, Incident Management Division for helping with this article and giving permission to include the handouts and their work for making the Small Oil Spill Prevention Kits possible.

Thanks for your interest in and support of Boating Safety

– c / m –

This entry was posted in Boat Maintenance, Boating Safety and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Tips & Hints For Preventing or Dealing With Oil and Fuel Spills

  1. Doug Bostrom says:

    A must have: fuel tank vent whistle. One of these installed low in a fuel tank vent line will significantly reduce chances of a spill when refueling, particularly for a crew who harried or distracted.

    When the whistle stops, the tank is full.

    Google “Green Marine Fuel Whistle.”

    • captnmike says:

      Good point – Thanks for the suggestion

      My fuel tank is translucent and easy to get to and one gallon per inch of height – so for me I can send a crew member down to watch the tank, or I can check the height and watch the number of gallons into the tank (leaving some air at the top)

  2. spill kits says:

    These are good suggestions that should be followed not just by boat owners, but with other individuals who have problems in chemical spills, thank you for the guide in making bilge socks.

    • captnmike says:

      you are welcome, I wanted to make it easy for someone that wanted to do the right thing with the DIY sock – not always easy for the average boater to find the bilge socks in a store. I think we gave out over 1,000 kits last year – and raised the awareness of many people

  3. Pingback: Tips for Preventing Small-Vessel Oil Spills | NOAA's Response and Restoration Blog

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