U.S. Department of Transportation

United States Coast Guard

Federal Marine Sanitation Device Regulations

Marine Toilets


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued regulations on 29 January 1976 which revised the Federal standards of performance for marine sanitation devices (MSD's). The regulations apply to all vessels on which toilet facilities have been installed, but do not require the installation of toilet facilities on a vessel which does not already have an installed toilet. The Coast Guard issued regulations which implement these standards on 12 April 1976. The term MSD includes any equipment for installation onboard a vessel which is designed to receive, retain, treat, or discharge sewage and any process which treats such sewage. It does not include "portable devices" which can be carried on and off the vessel. These regulations are effective now for new vessels, and 30 January 1980 for existing vessels.

After the effective date of the regulations (or the date of compliance for those of vessels which comply early), vessels are exempt from state and local regulation of MSD's with one exception. A state may completely prohibit the discharge from all vessels of any sewage, whether treated or not, into some or all of the waters within such state by making a written application to the Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency, and by receiving the Administrator's affirmative determination that adequate facilities for the safe and sanitary removal and treatment of sewage from all vessels are reasonably available for such waters to which the prohibition would apply. In such waters, flow-through devices must be secured to prevent any discharge to the receiving waters. The standards of performance, definitions of new and existing vessels, and the timetable for early and regular compliance are set forth on the reverse side.

NOTE: The revisions in this pamphlet incorporate the most recent Coast guard waiver of 5 July 1978 (43 FR 29637).

General information concerning equipment.

1. All Marine Sanitation Devices must be Coast Guard certified.

If the unit was built before 30 January 1976, it is considered an "existing device". This equipment, except no-discharge devices built before 30 January 1975, was certified by official letter from the Coast Guard. No-discharge devices built before 30 January 1975 were certified by regulation without a letter, however some manufacturers applied for and received letters certifying their devices. You should obtain a copy of this letter from the manufacturer or distributor as your record that the equipment is Coast Guard certified. If the unit was manufactured on or after 30 January 1976 and is Coast Guard certified, except certain no-discharge devices, it will have a label on it. No-discharge devices being used solely for the storage of sewage and flush-water at ambient pressure and temperature may be certified by definition. Such devices certified in this manner can not be labeled. However, manufacturers may apply for certification on such devices and thereby may label them as Coast Guard certified. That label gives the certification number and indicates whether the equipment has been type approved for inspected or uninspected vessels.

2. Should I go flowthrough or no-discharge?

There are two varieties of marine sanitation equipment. One variety treats the waste and then discharges it into the water (Type I or Type II). The second retains the waste onboard or treats it in a manner which does not result in any discharge into the water (Type III). This includes holding tanks, recirculators and incinerators. You should investigate the area in which you will be operating to determine whether it is a no-discharge or discharge area. Then you can decide on discharge or no-discharge equipment. There are two types of no-discharge areas: Federal, and state or local. Federal regulations prohibiting discharges apply either to a class of waters (see note) or to specific waters (contact your regional EPA office for exact areas). State and local prohibition areas are controlled by the state boating authority or local police. If you are operating in a no-discharge area, check on the availability of pumpout facilities. You can then decide on either retention equipment which will require periodic pumpout, or incinerating equipment which does not. If you operate in both discharge and no-discharge zones, you may want to combine a Type I or Type II unit with Type III equipment to give the necessary flexibility.

3. What about capacity?

The Coast Guard does not have specific capacity standards for all vessels. When you are selecting equipment, be sure to choose a system with adequate capacity for your needs. Look at the maximum number of persons that will be aboard your vessel, including guests, and select accordingly. When choosing retention or recirculating devices, be sure to provide sufficient capacity between pumpouts for your cruising needs. Remember that it is illegal to pump the contents of a holding tank overboard in U.S. waters.

4. Other considerations.

When choosing marine sanitation equipment, remember also the considerations involved in selecting any piece of equipment for your vessel. Do I have adequate space for it? Is the vessel's electrical system capable of carrying the load? If needed, is my fresh water supply of sufficient capacity?

Remember, a little planning before you buy can result in years of trouble-free, safe operation of the vessel's marine sanitation system, and you can take pride in your contribution to protecting the quality of the Nation's waters for future generations. Federal law prohibits vessel waste discharge in these California bodies of water as of July 1988:

Lake Tahoe
Mission Bay
San Diego Bay-Less than 30 feet mean lower low water
Oceanside Harbor
Dana Point Harbor
Upper and Lower Newport Bay
Sunset Bay-Inland of Pacific Coast Highway Bridge
Huntington Harbor
Channel Islands Harbor
Avalon Bay Harbor
Richardson Bay

New Vessel -- Keel laid or initial construction started on or after 30 January 1975.

Existing Vessel -- Keel laid or initial construction started before 30 January 1975.

Type I Device -- USCG certified to 1000 fecal coliform/100 ml. no "visible floating solids" standard.

Type II Device -- USCG certified to 200 fecal coliform/100 ml, 150 mg/1 total suspended solids standard.

Type III Device -- USCG certified to no-discharge standard.

Existing Device -- Those manufactured prior to 30 January 1976.

The EPA standards state that in freshwater lakes, freshwater reservoirs or other freshwater impoundments whose inlets or outlets are such as to prevent the ingress or egress by vessel traffic subject to this regulation, or in rivers not capable of navigation by interstate vessel traffic subject to this regulation, marine sanitation devices certified by the U.S. Coast Guard installed on all vessels shall be designed and operated to prevent the overboard discharge of sewage, treated or untreated, or of any waste derived from sewage. The EPA standards further state that this shall not be construed to prohibit the carriage of Coast Guard-certified flow-through treatment devices which have been secured so as to prevent such discharges.