Causing an oil spill is an unfortunate incident that regretfully happens to far too many boaters. Knowing what to do is important in this situation. Oil and fuel spills are dangerous as they pollute the water and can kill wildlife, negatively affecting the ecosystem. There are specific steps you should take whether the spill happens at sea, the fuel dock, or marina.
First of all, the best scenario is prevention. Fuel your boat in a safe and responsible manner. Use an oil-only absorbent pad when fueling. Avoid using a hands-free clip while you fuel. Never walk away from your fueling hose. Monitor closely for possible leaks and overfilling.
Try to avoid topping off your tanks to the extreme. Fuel can expand with rising heat temperatures, or rough seas can cause the fuel to spill out of the vent. When you are finished fueling, make sure to hang the nozzle vertically, so the fuel does not drip out. Also, regular maintenance and inspection of your boat’s fuel tanks, fuel lines and the engine compartment are essential to preventing oil spills.
If a spill does occur, you should first find the source of the spill and stop it immediately. If in port, at a marina fuel dock, inform staff immediately. They can assist you and provide absorbent pads and booms (you should carry absorbent pads on your boat at all times). Absorbent materials are hazardous waste, so be sure to dispose of them properly. You need to call the U.S. Coast Guard at 1800-424-8802. This step is essential whether you are at a marina, fuel dock, or underway. Under federal law, you are liable for penalties for causing a hazardous spill. You should not try to clean up the spill yourself. The U.S. Coast Guard, marina or fuel dock will assist you or do the job. Do not use detergent or soap as doing so can make the situation worse. The spill may seem to disappear, but soap just breaks it down and can make the spill more difficult to clean. Remember, prevention is always best.