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A Legal Perspective Environmental Considerations Touch Many Aspects of Boat Maintenance

August 1, 2016

As a kid, I remember regularly seeing Pennant sloops, Dragon one-designs, Lyman cruisers, and other wooden boats that we don’t see much of anymore these days. Now, when we spot one of these classics hidden away on an Upstate lake or in the vintage boats section of marine classifieds, it can stir many memories. They’re a connection to the past, speaking of an era when it took tremendous effort and time to get a boat ready from one season to the next. Although fiberglass construction, aluminum spars, and maintenance-free composites have made things simpler in this vein, working on boats of any kind in marinas or boatyards today has become more complex in terms of environmental and industrial hygiene considerations.

 

There are regulations and guidelines that address a wide range of activities, from the capture of paint dust to the disposal of toxic paints. But regardless of whether such regulations were in place, most boaters I know have great respect for marine ecosystems. After all, the fishes, mammals, birds, and other wildlife that don’t have a say in the matter deserve not to have their homes used as collection basins for toxic substances.

 

The hierarchy of laws and guidelines in this area is covered on the federal level, with additional legislation at the state and municipal levels. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provides management actions for facilities that operate on the water or at the water’s edge. While regulations and guidelines can vary in scope and stringency from state to state, some of the important issues commonly addressed across the board include setting tarpaulins underneath boats to catch toxic materials that could otherwise find their way into groundwater, using vacuum equipped sanders to capture dust, exercising care in cleaning paint brushes, and properly disposing of solvents and other harmful substances.

Some marinas and boatyards also implement comprehensive in-house policies, where vessel owners must follow certain rules when it comes to the disposal of various solid and liquid waste streams that include shrink wrap, zinc anodes, batteries, solvents, waste oil, hydraulic fluids, and other materials. Some facilities also require key employees to have familiarity with EPA and OSHA regulations governing boat-related work.

 

We live in a world where we now know so much more about the hazards of many different waste streams, from the household level to the industrial level. Although people may not have given as much thought of these issues in the days of wooden runabouts with lapstrake hulls, there is greater awareness today about the environmental impact of all our activities. In the era of big fins and big chrome, the average driver wasn’t really thinking in terms of “carbon footprints” or how catalytic converters and hybrid cars could someday reduce air pollution.

 

On the household level, most people didn’t think of the mercury thermometer in their kitchen drawers as a small reservoir of a heavy metal that could pose health hazards. It was just something sitting there, like those funny hand pump contraptions in the tool shed for spraying clouds of pesticides with five and six-syllable compounds no one without a degree in organic chemistry could pronounce. But the more society learns about the environmental, safety, or health consequences of certain products or activities, whether in the realm of boat maintenance at a marina or in the realm of lithium-ion batteries carried aboard commercial airliners, the more our laws and day-to-day policies will reflect the shift in that awareness.

 

Tim Akpinar is a New York based maritime

attorney and has taught law at SUNY

 Maritime College.

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