Reducing Contamination from Oil, Fuel and Bilges

It is a fact that petroleum products are harmful to the environment. They disrupt the cycle of coral reefs, suffocate fish by clogging their gills—resulting in their death—and impede the photosynthesis process of marine plants leading to their end. Large oil spills and toxic waste indirectly affect both humans and areas that are nowhere near the spills by depleting oxygen from the water.


Substances such as DDTs, and pesticides gather in the fatty acids of animals causing the reproductive systems of many species, especially mammals, to fail. If not done with care farming, forestry and mining lead to sediments being deposited into water tables that drain into the oceans harming plant and animal life in both fresh and saltwater.

It is impossible to imagine the effect we have on the world’s waterways. You must see it first hand to really understand what all the debris we are dumping into the water is having. The sea creatures that are being affected are eating the debris thinking it is sea life, they know nothing of our world and what we are doing to theirs. The effects of marine pollution are many on both human and marine life.


Marine engines, automatic bilge pumps, poor fuel handling and preventable accidents cause a great deal of petroleum pollution.

North American waters are being polluted by hydrocarbon and oil products at a rate 15-times greater than that of the Exxon Valdez spill. As much as a billion litres of these substances per year is entering both fresh and salt water. It is estimated that as much as 30% of the fuel and oil used in two-stroke engines ends up in the water, these engines are one of the chief causes of the devastation of all forms of aquatic life.


Exhaust contamination from two- and four-stroke engines is due to the fact that most of these motors do not have emission control systems. A good portion of the estimated three million pleasure craft in Canada use two-stroke engines. Collectively, this is a great concern. Thankfully, marine designers and builders around the world are developing better four-stroke engines, fuel efficient tow-stroke engines and fuel injection systems which will greatly reduce the amount of oil and fuel entering the water and contribute less exhaust emissions into the air.

Bilge Pollution Reduction

Bilge contamination ranges from engine oil and anti-freeze to transmission fluids and more. Automatic bilge pumps, using various forms of bilge cleaners, discharge these fluids overboard creating a detrimental effect on the ecosystem. These cleaners breakup or emulsify the marine fluids into very small droplets; these droplets mix into the water source much more easily, spreading over a larger area and damaging all life they come into contact with. Absorbent bilge pillows, designed to absorb petroleum products and repel water, are extremely useful.

Minimize pollution from bilges and protect the environment while fuelling

  • Keep engine(s) in good condition with no leaks from hoses, seals, or gaskets.
  • Use trays or buckets under the engine when changing fluids to catch leaks or spills.
  • Run automatic bilge pumps with fresh water and only when necessary.
  • Use bilge cloths or pillows to absorb oily residue and dispose of them in the approved onshore garbage containers.
  • If gas or propane fumes are present, disembark everyone and ventilate thoroughly.
  • Use bio-bilge or enzyme cleaners as a last resort when cleaning bilges.
  • Use your marina or yacht club’s bilge pump-out service.
  • Attach an oil-absorbent filter to the bilge pump’s overhead discharge hose.

It is the law

  • Do not to make any spills when refueling your boat.
  • Deal with any spill quickly and effectively.
  • Always have a competent partner to help you fuel, be alert and pay attention.
  • Have cloths at hand for cleaning spills: one for filling and one for the fuel tank vent.
  • Fuel portable tanks on shore, (this is a fire regulation) if you do spill fuel ashore you will be able to clean it up quickly and easily.
  • For an engine with mounted tanks, take it ashore to refuel. Use a funnel for filling and have cloths at hand.
  • Know your tanks capacity and pre-determine the amount you will need.
  • Keep fuel gages accurate and functioning properly.
  • Don’t over fill the tank. Place your hand over the vent line to check for escaping air; you will feel an increase when the tank is nearly full, stop fueling.
  • Install an anti-surge valve in the fuel vent in order to help prevent fuel from leaking overboard.