Vessel sewage regulations coming into force this May

Mike Richards

Georgia Strait Alliance

Monday, April 23 2012

As Transport Canada’s Regulations for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships and for Dangerous Chemicals comes fully into force on May 5 this year, many boaters are scrambling to be able to comply because this law will apply to all “ships,” including small ones.
The intent of the sewage division of the regulations is to eliminate the discharge of raw sewage from vessels in areas of ecological sensitivity, including bays and anchorages, and/or when there could be human health risks like shellfish beds and anywhere people swim. Untreated sewage potentially has a number of well-documented, serious environmental and health risks, not to mention the “yuck” factor. Most boaters care deeply about clean and healthy water and are fully supportive of sensible solutions. A challenge occurs particularly when we are congregated in confined areas, marinas and anchorages.
Although the regulations are made up of government legal speak, what they essentially mean for small boats is that raw sewage cannot be discharged within three nautical miles of land and treated sewage cannot be dumped within one nautical mile of land. The requirements for treatment are high and most pleasure and small commercial craft will not be able to install a treatment system that will be able to comply and will probably need a holding tank if they have a marine toilet. Fines are applicable and will be enforced by designated officers including the RCMP. Potentially a composting toilet or porta-potty may work for some to fulfill the intent of the regulations, but read the fine print of the legislation before installing one. While a good number of boats already have holding tanks many more have yet to put one in.
The best solution for many boaters is to install a holding tank with a deck fitting and an overboard discharge so that sewage can be off-loaded at a sewage pump-out station or beyond the three miles when a pump-out is not available. The nearest pump-out for Gabriolans is Nanaimo where there is a free service operated by the Port Authority. (pictured to the right) It’s easy to get to and simple to operate.
If you are boating in waters that are less than six nautical miles between shores like in the Gulf Islands there is provision in the regulation to discharge in the deepest, fastest flowing water furthest from land but only if there is no pump-out station available. One of the challenges for B.C. boaters is the lack of available pump-outs, but they are slowly increasing and can often be found in a few destinations along your route.
More federal and provincial funding for these services is still desperately needed so we can have a system similar to our fellow boaters across the border. Some areas of the Gulf Islands now require a pump-out service before any marina redevelopments are allowed. Saanich Inlet has a mobile service which works well.
Georgia Strait Alliance is a not-for-profit citizens group made up of many boaters and has been one of several organizations that has been advocating for sensible solutions to the vessel sewage issue for well over a decade. We feel that although this legislation is not perfect it is still better for human and environmental health than what we have had in the past and encourages all boaters to do their part. The full legislation can be found at More information, including a current list of pump-out stations and useful tips, can be found on Georgia Strait Alliance’s website at