Around nine out of every ten recreational boats in the US has an engine that uses oil and burns either gasoline or diesel fuel. But what happens when engine oil or fuel accidentally gets into the bilge, or worse yet, the water? The BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water recently tested oil spill products and found that many claiming to remove or render harmless spills of oil, gas, or diesel don’t deliver on their promises. The full report and video can be found at BoatUS.org/findings/53.
In addition to Duke University Marine Laboratory testing, the BoatUS Foundation also attempted to simulate the use of oil spill products in the bilge.
'While we did find three products that worked well, many products were ineffective, highly toxic, and were not legal for the average boater to use,' said BoatUS Foundation Vice President Susan Shingledecker. 'Foundation Findings #53, Which Oil Spill Products Work Best,' partnered with Duke University Marine Lab to look at 21 spill response products and offers these six tips for boat owners:
• Boaters should be skeptical of false oil spill product claims, including wording such as: 'EPA-classified for use in US waterways' (The EPA does not classify products recreational use); 'Easily dispersed and collected'; 'Meets clean-marina criteria' (Clean marina programs do not set oil spill product criteria); or 'Simply sprinkle on and watch it disappear' (You may be watching for a very long time).
• Sock it to me: 'Contained' products like sorbent socks, pads and pillows that encapsulate oil are the practical answer for most boating needs. In addition to soaking up any drops in the bilge, most can also be easily used on open water (outside the bilge) to help minimize contamination while awaiting a professional spill response. Ensure they are secured under the engine, check them often over the summer, and dispose of properly.
• Granules and liquids: Under US law, only 'professionals' may legally use many oil spill remediation products, and any products applied on open water (outside your bilge) must be completely removed after they finish working, making the use of granules and liquids nearly impossible. Inside the bilge, products touting 'natural microbes' that break down the oil can take much longer to see results than other adsorbent products. Loose, granular products can impede automatic bilge pumps.
• Technically speaking: The US Coast Guard requires boaters to report any spill that creates a sheen on the water to the National Spill Response Center at http://www.nrc.uscg.mil/ (800-424-8802).
• Never use dish soap: While squirting dish soap on oil sheen may seem to make it go away, it only sinks the fuel causing bottom sediment contamination.
• Gas spills: Because of the risk of explosion, do not try to contain a gasoline spill – leave the area, notify marina staff immediately or call 911.