Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Marina © Port Washington Marina

Port Washington Marina.
© Port Washington Marina

April 2013

Wisconsin Recreational Boating

Big Business & Growing Green.

Victoria Harris and Jon Kukuk

Wisconsin boasts some of the best boating waters in the country. With more than 800 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, 15,000 lakes and 13,500 miles of navigable rivers and streams, the state is a boaterís paradise. But enjoying that paradise depends on clean water, as essential for a quality boating experience as it is for other human and aquatic life uses. Wisconsinís marinas and the Wisconsin Marine Association (WMA) recognize that environmental protection is in their best interest.

With support from the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program, the WMA and the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute are helping marinas and boatyards stay shipshape while keeping Wisconsinís boating waters clean and healthy. Together with a host of partners, they launched the Wisconsin Clean Marina Program in 2010. Marina and boatyard managers who adopt practices that minimize water pollution and protect fish and wildlife habitat can be certified as "clean marinas," receiving recognition for their good stewardship.

Whether cruising, sailing, trolling, paddling or rowing,Wisconsinites love to boat. Approximately one in 10 Wisconsin residents owns a boat. Of the 12.7 million boats registered in the United States in 2009, Wisconsin had more than 626,000, or 5 percent of the total. Wisconsin ranks fifth in total boat registrations in the United States behind Florida, California, Minnesota and Michigan.

The WMA has identified more than 250 boating facilities in Wisconsin including public and private marinas, yacht clubs, parks and dockominiums. Marinas and boatyards are valuable parts of waterfront communities. They provide essential marine services, offer public access to the water, act as harbors of refuge for vessels in distress and generate substantial economic benefits for their communities.

According to a 2003 report by the Great Lakes Commission, money spent by Wisconsin boaters on Great Lakes trip expenses such as fuel, food and refreshments surpassed $1.5 billion in 1999. Average boater trip spending ranged from $75 to $275 per day. Boaters spent an additional $963 million on boat repairs, upgrades and insurance. These expenditures supported 36,000 jobs in the state, creating $825 million in personal income. These numbers donít even include the additional jobs and economic benefits generated from boating on inland lakes or rivers.

While marinas contribute many millions of dollars to Wisconsinís economy, they can also be sources of water contamination. Chemicals carried by stormwater runoff from boat storage and repair areas, toxic metals from antifouling paints, petroleum drips and spills from fuel docks, solvents, detergents, antifreeze, sewage, fish waste and litter can all be released into the water. Even small releases from the growing number of marinas and boats can add up to serious pollution potential. Marina construction and maintenance dredging can destroy aquatic habitat. In addition, boaters may advance the spread of aquatic invasive species and diseases by transporting aquatic hitchhikers from one lake to another via boat trailers, live wells or bait buckets.

The Wisconsin Clean Marina Program encourages marine businesses and recreational boaters to protect water quality by engaging in environmentally sound operating and maintenance practices. The WMA administers the program. UW Sea Grant provides educational materials and training on "best management practices" that reduce pollution. A Technical Team of marina managers, UWExtension specialists, marine consulting engineers and resource agency staff advise the program.

This partnership began in 2008 with funding from the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program. UW Sea Grant brought the partners together to develop criteria for Clean Marina certification and produce a Wisconsin Clean Marina Best Management Practices Guidebook and Clean Boater Tip Sheets. The guidebook outlines practices required by law as well as practices recommended for siting and designing new or expanding marinas, stormwater management, vessel maintenance, petroleum control, sewage handling, waste disposal, marina management and boater education. The guidebook was updated in 2012 and is available on the programís website, Wisconsin Clean Marina Program

To enter the Wisconsin Clean Marina program, marinas and boatyards sign a pledge and participate in training sessions. Facility managers conduct self-assessments using the guidebook and a checklist of required and recommended best management practices. Not only must marinas and boatyards comply with all applicable regulations, they also must document that they have gone above and beyond by adopting all the Clean Marina program "required" practices and at least 50 percent of the "recommended" practices. UW Sea Grant and Technical Team advisors provide guidance along the way. Once all the necessary improvements are made, the facility requests an onsite inspection from members of the Technical Team. Facilities that meet the required criteria and pass inspection may become certified as a Wisconsin "Clean Marina."

In the three years since the Wisconsin program began, 173 marina personnel have attended Clean Marina training sessions. Nineteen marinas have become certified, adopting more than 440 new practices. Eleven more have signed pledges and are taking steps toward certification.

Wisconsin waters have benefitted from the hundreds of actions taken by marinas and boatyards to reduce pollution and protect aquatic habitats. A national survey of certified clean marinas shows that the participating businesses are benefitting, too. Marinas can improve their bottom line by reducing hazardous and solid waste generation and disposal, recycling shrink wrap and antifreeze, minimizing spill cleanup costs, and receiving discounts on insurance premiums. Theyíve also discovered that boaters are willing to pay a little more to dock their boats at a "clean marina."

The Wisconsin Marine Association hopes to grow the Clean Marina Program and promote the recreational boating industry in Wisconsin. WMA is the voice of its members in working with government agencies and national and local organizations on issues affecting recreational boating. The association has grown significantly, bringing in new members from other industry sectors such as manufacturers, boat dealers and accessory suppliers. In just three years the WMA has gained national recognition. Several of its members serve on the boards of national boating trade groups.

The commitment of the WMA and marine businesses to Wisconsinís waterways shows great promise for improving our water resources, sustaining the recreational boating industry, and helping Wisconsinís economic recovery. You can lend your support by patronizing marinas flying the Clean Marina flag and by adopting clean boater practices.


Much of the population generated at marinas, boatyards and launch sites comes from individual boater activities and "do it yourself" boater maintenance. Here are some "best management practices" you can use to protect water quality and aquatic resources. Check out the series of Clean Boater Tip Sheets on the wisconsincleanmarina.org website and do your part to keep Wisconsin waters clean and healthy.


  • Always use "marine" propylene glycol anti-freeze (pink or blue) rather than the more toxic, green ethylene glycol. Although propylene glycol is safer, it still can be harmful to fish and other aquatic life.
  • It is illegal to "blow out" antifreeze into the water. Flush and collect anti-freeze from the engine and holding tanks prior to launch each season and recycle or dispose properly.


  • Ask if your facility has a collection area for boat maintenance waste (used oil filters, waste oil, anti-freeze, lead-acid batteries, etc.). If not, take them to a household hazardous waste facility or used oil recycling center.
  • Pre-clean engine parts with a wire brush to eliminate the need for solvents. Use volatile organic compound-free (VOC-free) solvents.
  • Parts cleaning should be done in a container or parts washer where the dirty fluids can be collected and recycled, not in the bilge or over open ground or water.
  • To catch the oil spilled during filter changes, slip a plastic bag over the filter and then remove it. Drain filters for at least 24 hours, and take to an oil recycling or hazardous waste center.
  • Keep an oil absorption pad in the bilge or below the engine.


  • Most antifouling paints contain toxic metals designed to inhibit biological growth. Avoid cleaning your hull when it is in the water.
  • Switch to longerlasting, harder or nontoxic antifouling paint.
  • Perform repairs and maintenance in designated work areas, away from water. Work indoors or under cover whenever wind or rain could carry dust and paint into the environment.
  • Use dustless vacuum sanders and place a drop cloth under the hull to collect paint chips, dust and drips.


  • Have a trained attendant supervise or fuel your vessel.
  • Never leave the fuel hose unattended.
  • Fill tanks to no more than 90 percent capacity ó fuel from cool storage tanks will expand as it warms. Donít top off your tank. It will cause a spill.
  • Slow down at the beginning and end of fueling. To prevent overfilling, be aware of your tankís volume and listen to the filler pipe. You can feel and hear air escaping from the vent as the tank approaches full.
  • Remove portable tanks from your boat and fill them at the pump in a collection pan, where spills are less likely to occur and easier to clean up.
  • Use an absorbent pad or place a spill collection bottle under the fuel vent to collect accidental overflow.


  • If you see or experience a spill, stop the spill at the source and contact the marina staff immediately.
  • All marinas should have spill kits. Clean up drips and spills with an oil absorbent pad, boom or pillow.
  • Immediately notify the marina and the Coast Guard if you cause a spill ó itís the law. Call the National Response Center at (800) 424- 8802.
  • Do not use emulsifiers or dispersants (soap) to treat or disperse a spill; this is prohibited by federal law and may result in a significant fine.


  • Clean as much of your boat as you can before launching it for the season. Wash on land where the water can be collected and treated or soak into the ground. Donít wash your boat on a paved surface that drains into a storm sewer or lake.
  • A good coat of wax prevents surface dirt from becoming ingrained.
  • While on the water, wash your boat above the waterline by hand with a sponge and plain water. Do not use cleaning solvents on your boat when it is in the water.
  • Use natural cleaners, such as lime juice, borax and baking soda. See the Boater Tip Sheet titled "Nontoxic Cleaning Alternatives." Or choose cleaning products that are environmentally friendly (e.g., nontoxic, biodegradable and phosphate-free).
  • Avoid detergents that contain phosphates, ammonia, sodium hypochlorite (bleach), chlorinated solvents, petroleum distillates or lye.


  • Prevent the spread of invasive species and fish diseases by not transferring water, fish, fish eggs or other aquatic organisms between waterways.
  • At the boat launch, inspect your boat, trailer and equipment and remove any plants, sediment and animals.
  • On land, drain all water from the motor, live well, bilge and transom well.
  • Empty your bait bucket into the trash, not the water.
  • After leaving the launch wash your boat, tackle, trailer and other equipment with hot (104o) tap water or a high-pressure sprayer. Or, allow your boat and other equipment to dry thoroughly in the sun for at least five days before moving to another body of water ó some invasive species may not be visible to the naked eye and can survive for long periods of time out of water.
  • If you have used your watercraft where a fish disease called viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS) has spread (check with your local DNR), disinfect your boat before moving to an uninfected lake.


  • If trash blows overboard, retrieve it. Consider it "crew overboard" practice.
  • Never toss fishing line or cigarette butts overboard. They are made of plastic.
  • Choose reusable tarps or recycle your boat storage shrink wrap.
  • Clean your fish at a fish-cleaning station ó not at the dock.


Victoria Harris and Jon Kukuk Victoria Harris is a water quality specialist at the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute. Jon Kukuk is Wisconsin Marine Association, Chairman and Nestegg Marine owner.