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Environmental Issues and Pollution Claims

MARINE SANITATION DEVICES (MSD)Environmental Issues and Pollution Claims

MSD regulations have been in effect for all vessels since January 30, 1980 pursuant to Marine Sanitation Device Standard–Establishment of Drinking Water Intake No Discharge Zone(s) Under Section 312(f)(4)(B) of the Clean Water Act; Final Rule.

Thus, according to the Clean Water Act a vessel that operates in U.S. territorial waters (generally, within three miles from shore) and has installed toilets must be equipped with an MSD. This includes fishing vessels, U.S. and foreign flag merchant vessels and recreational boats. The MSDs (Type I, Type II, Type III) are designed to meet different needs and effluent level requirements. Since portable toilets can be moved on and off a vessel, they are not considered installed toilets; therefore, vessels that have portable toilets are not subject to the MSD regulations.

Types of Marine Sanitation Devices

Sewage Treatment Device Vessel Length Standard
Type I- Flow-through device (maceration and disinfection) equal to or less than 65 feet in length The effluent produced must not have a fecal coliform bacteria count greater than 1000 per 100 milliliters and have no visible floating solids.
Type II- Flow-through device (maceration and disinfection) greater than 65 feet in length The effluent produced must not have a fecal coliform bacteria count greater than 200 per 100 milliliters and suspended solids not greater than 150 milligrams per liter.
Type III- Holding tank any length This MSD is designed to prevent the overboard discharge of treated or untreated sewage.
  • Type I MSDs rely on maceration and disinfection for treatment of the waste prior to its discharge into the water.
  • Type II MSDs are similar to the Type I; however, the Type II devices provide an advanced form of the same type of treatment and discharge wastes with lower fecal coliform counts and reduced suspended solids.
  • Type III MSDs are commonly called holding tanks because the sewage flushed from the marine head is deposited into a tank containing deodorizers and other chemicals. The contents of the holding tank are stored until it can be properly disposed of at a shore-side pump out facility.
  • (Type III MSDs can be equipped with a discharge option, usually called a Y-valve, which allows the boater to direct the sewage from the head either into the holding tank or directly overboard. Discharging the contents directly overboard is legal only outside the U.S. territorial waters which is 3 or more miles from shore.)

Florida Law Regarding MSDs Florida has its own “more stringent” laws regarding MSDs. Florida Statute 327.53 Marine sanitation states:  (1) Every vessel 26 feet or more in length which has an enclosed cabin with berthing facilities shall, while on the waters of the state, be equipped with a toilet. On a vessel other than a houseboat, the toilet may be portable or permanently installed. Every permanently installed toilet shall be properly attached to the appropriate United States Coast Guard certified or labeled marine sanitation device.

(2) Every houseboat shall be equipped with at least one permanently installed toilet which shall be properly connected to a United States Coast Guard certified or labeled Type III marine sanitation device. If the toilet is simultaneously connected to both a Type III marine sanitation device and to another approved marine sanitation device, the valve or other mechanism selecting between the two marine sanitation devices shall be set to direct all sewage to the Type III marine sanitation device and, while the vessel is on the waters of the state, shall be locked or otherwise secured by the boat operator, so as to prevent resetting.

(3) Every floating structure that has an enclosed living space with berthing facilities, or working space with public access, must be equipped with a permanently installed toilet properly connected to a Type III marine sanitation device or permanently attached via plumbing to shoreside sewage disposal. No structure shall be plumbed so as to permit the discharge of sewage into the waters of the state.

(4)(a) Raw sewage shall not be discharged from any vessel, including houseboats, or any floating structure in Florida waters. The operator of any vessel which is plumbed so that a toilet may be flushed directly into the water or so that a holding tank may be emptied into the water shall, while the vessel is on the waters of the state, set the valve or other mechanism directing the sewage so as to prevent direct discharge and lock or otherwise secure the valve so as to prevent resetting.  (b) All waste from Type III marine sanitation devices shall be disposed in an approved sewage pump out facility.  (c) All waste from portable toilets shall be disposed in an approved waste reception facility.

(5) Every vessel owner, operator, and occupant shall comply with United States Coast Guard regulations pertaining to marine sanitation devices and with United States Environmental Protection Agency regulations pertaining to areas in which the discharge of sewage, treated or untreated, is prohibited.

MSD Requirements for HOUSEBOATS in Florida The ‘Florida Clean Vessel Act’ requires all boats in state waters defined as ‘HOUSEBOATS’ to direct sewage to a Type III holding tank only. A ‘HOUSEBOAT’ is not permitted to discharge treated waste from any USCG approved Type I or II MSD overboard.

What is a Houseboat? A ‘HOUSEBOAT’ is defined as: Any vessel used primarily as a residence (without using the vessel for transportation purposes) for a minimum of 21 days during any 30 day period in a county of this state, and this residential use of the vessel is to the preclusion of the use of the vessel as a means of transportation Section 327.02 (12).

In other words: If you use your boat as the equivalent of a floating condominium or a house (residence), the state defines by virtue of this type of use, the boat to be a ‘HOUSEBOAT.’

A Boat is not a Houseboat:

  • When the boat is being used as a means of transportation.
  • If the boat is moved periodically or routinely within 21 days in a county of this state, the boat is not a ‘HOUSEBOAT’ although captain and crew may be living aboard.
  • If the boat crosses over a county line within 21 days, by virtue of using the boat as a means of transportation, it is not a ‘HOUSEBOAT’ although captain and crew may be living aboard.
  • If the boat is not lived on for 21 consecutive days during any 30 day period, whether or not it is used for frequent or infrequent transportation, it is not a ‘HOUSEBOAT.

In other words: You or your crew may live aboard your boat in a county of this state but must use the boat as a means of transportation during every 21 day period to avoid ‘HOUSEBOAT’ classification. Movement of the boat during the course of recreational pursuits, to fuel docks or even to any random destination away from the anchorage or dock would indicate the boat is not just used primarily as a residence or as a residence or as a ‘HOUSEBOAT’ and make the boat exempt from ‘HOUSEBOAT’ classification.

Boats which are not defined as ‘HOUSEBOATS’ may legally use a USCG approved Type I or II Marine Sanitation Device instead of holding tank within the navigable waters of Florida with the exception of any Federal No Discharge Zones. Florida currently has one No Discharge Zone in Destin Harbor. Discharge of untreated waste is prohibited in all state waters and is a violation of both state and federal laws.

Additionally, boaters in South Florida and in other parts of the United States need to be aware that there are many no discharge zones, which strictly prohibit any discharge of human waste.

Violation of MSD Laws

(6)(a) A violation of this section is a noncriminal infraction as provided in s. 327.73. Each violation shall be a separate offense. The owner and operator of any vessel shall be jointly and severally liable for the civil penalty imposed pursuant to this section.  (b) All civil penalties imposed and collected pursuant to this section shall be deposited in the Marine Resources Conservation Trust Fund and shall be used: to implement, administer, and enforce this act; to construct, renovate, or operate pump out stations and waste reception facilities; and to conduct a program to educate vessel operators about the problem of human body waste discharges from vessels and inform them of the location of pump out stations and waste reception facilities.

(7) Any vessel or floating structure operated or occupied on the waters of the state in violation of this section is declared a nuisance and a hazard to public safety and health. The owner or operator of any vessel or floating structure cited for violating this section shall, within 30 days following the issuance of the citation, correct the violation for which the citation was issued or remove the vessel or floating structure from the waters of the state. If the violation is not corrected within the 30 days and the vessel or floating structure remains on the waters of the state in violation of this section, law enforcement officers charged with the enforcement of this chapter under s. 327.70 shall apply to the appropriate court in the county in which the vessel or floating structure is located, to order or otherwise cause the removal of such vessel or floating structure from the waters of the state at the owner’s expense. If the owner cannot be found or otherwise fails to pay the removal costs, the provisions of s. 328.17 shall apply. If the proceeds under s. 328.17 are not sufficient to pay all removal costs, funds appropriated from the Marine Resources Conservation Trust Fund pursuant to paragraph (6)(b) or s. 328.72(16) may be used.

Florida Statutes 327.73 Noncriminal infractions.–

Any person cited for a violation of any such provision shall be deemed to be charged with a noncriminal infraction, shall be cited for such an infraction, and shall be cited to appear before the county court. The civil penalty for any such infraction is $50, except as otherwise provided in this section. Any person who fails to appear or otherwise properly respond to a uniform boating citation shall, in addition to the charge relating to the violation of the boating laws of this state, be charged with the offense of failing to respond to such citation and, upon conviction, be guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083. A written warning to this effect shall be provided at the time such uniform boating citation is issued.

(4) Any person charged with a noncriminal infraction under this section may:  (a) Pay the civil penalty, either by mail or in person, within 30 days of the date of receiving the citation; or,  (b) If he or she has posted bond, forfeit bond by not appearing at the designated time & location.

If the person cited follows either of the above procedures, he or she shall be deemed to have admitted the noncriminal infraction and to have waived the right to a hearing on the issue of commission of the infraction. Such admission shall not be used as evidence in any other proceedings. If a person who is cited for a violation of s. 327.395 can show a boating safety identification card issued to that person and valid at the time of the citation, the clerk of the court may dismiss the case and may assess a $5 dismissal fee.

(5) Any person electing to appear before the county court or who is required so to appear shall be deemed to have waived the limitations on the civil penalty specified in subsection (1). The court, after a hearing, shall make a determination as to whether an infraction has been committed. If the commission of an infraction has been proven, the court may impose a civil penalty not to exceed $500.

(6) At a hearing under this chapter the commission of a charged infraction must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

(7) If a person is found by the hearing official to have committed an infraction, he or she may appeal that finding to the circuit court.

Florida Statutes 775.083 Fines.–

(b) For a misdemeanor of the second degree, by a definite term of imprisonment not exceeding 60 days.  (e) $500, when the conviction is of a misdemeanor of the second degree or a noncriminal violation.

Inspections 327.56 Safety and marine sanitation equipment inspections; qualified.-

(1) No officer shall board any vessel to make a safety or marine sanitation equipment inspection if the owner or operator is not aboard. When the owner or operator is aboard, an officer may board a vessel with consent or when the officer has probable cause or knowledge to believe that a violation of a provision of this chapter has occurred or is occurring. An officer may board a vessel when the operator refuses or is unable to display the safety or marine sanitation equipment required by law, if requested to do so by a law enforcement officer, or when the safety or marine sanitation equipment to be inspected is permanently installed and is not visible for inspection unless the officer boards the vessel.


The Federal Water Pollution Act prohibits discharges of harmful quantities of oil into U. S. navigable waters or adjoining shorelines. Further, the person in charge of a vessel or facility that discharges oil in violation of the Act is required to notify the Coast Guard’s National Response Center at (800)424-8802 as soon as he or she has knowledge of the spill. The penalty for illegal discharges is a civil penalty of up to $125,000 against the owner, operator, or person in charge of the source. Failure to notify the Coast Guard of a discharge is punishable by a criminal penalty of fines or up to 5 years imprisonment or both, against the person in charge of the source. Harmful quantities of oil have been defined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as those that violate applicable water quality standards or cause a film or sheen on the surface of the water, or cause a sludge or emulsion to be deposited beneath the surface of the water or on adjoining shorelines. Discharge of oil placards must be at least 5″ x 8″ and fixed in a conspicuous place in each machinery space, or at the bilge and ballast pump control station. Placards must be printed in the language or languages understood by the crew.  Public Law 96-510 and Public Law 92-500 (CERCLA) requires immediate notification of the appropriate agency of the United States Government of a discharge of oil or hazardous substances “Any such person who fails to notify immediately such agency of such discharge shall, upon conviction, be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.”

Pursuant to Chapters 376 and 403, Florida Statutes:

– The pilot or the master of a vessel, or person in charge of any terminal facility must notify the Florida Marine Patrol or the United States Coast Guard within one hour of the pollutant discharge…

– Any owner or operator of a facility who has knowledge of any release of a hazardous substances from a facility in a quantity equal to or exceeding the reportable quantity in a 24 hour period shall notify the State Warning Point within one working day of the release…

– The owner or operator having a discharge of petroleum or petroleum products exceeding 25 gallons on a pervious surface must report such discharge to the Department of Environmental Protection or the State Warning Point.


On December 31, 1988, a new federal law took effect prohibiting all vessels in U.S. waters from discharging plastics at sea. The new law, the Marine Plastic Pollution Research and Control Act (MPPRCA), implements an international treaty known as MARPOL Annex V. Besides prohibiting the discharge of plastics, the law also restricts dumping of other vessel-generated garbage at sea including paper, glass, metal and food wastes. Garbage in our waters not only looks bad, but it can cause problems for boaters and for wildlife that live in or around the water. The MARPOL treaty requires a placard on all U.S. vessels 26′ or longer. One or more placards must be prominently posted for all crew and passengers to read. In addition, a written waste management plan is required on all U.S. oceangoing vessels 40′ or longer, which are engaged in commerce or are equipped with a galley and berthing. Boaters who witness suspected violations of vessel garbage dumping laws may report the violations to the nearest Marine Safety Office or Captain of the Port.