Addressing Oil Leakage from Recreational Boats

Posted by Colleen Callahan on Friday, November 11 2011

Dear Switzer Fellows,

My name is Colleen Callahan ('09), deputy director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation and founding board member of the Los Angeles Sustainability Collaborative (LASC). LASC has partnered with organizations such as Environment California and others on a new campaign to address oil leakage from recreational boats. We will award a fellowship to a graduate student to write a white paper that will be foundational for this campaign. This student will be advised by a Technical Advisory Committee. I would like to invite Switzer Fellows to be part of the Technical Advisory Committee. Would this be of interest, perhaps in particular to those of you working on marine and water pollution reduction issues? We need scientific expertise to help describe the problem of oil leakage and spills, and those with legal and policy expertise to help prioritize specific strategies to address the problem.


The objective is to bring together a group of Switzer Fellows to address oil leakage and spills from recreational boats. The group would participate in a multi-phase project. First, the Switzer Fellows will serve as technical advisors to a student selected to draft a white paper on clean boating strategies. This foundational paper, entitled Soak it Up! Preventing Oil Spills and Leakage from Recreational Boating, will highlight the problem of oil pollution from recreational boating, describe potential policy or institutional solutions and analyze how those solutions could be implemented in at a local and state wide level. As this white paper will serve as a foundational document to move forward a campaign, the advisors will need to be strategic about the most feasible and effective strategy or set of strategies to reduce oil leakage from recreational boats. In the next phase of the project, Fellows will disseminate the report to key stakeholders in California and otherwise help to move forward the prioritized strategy or strategies. The strategies will likely fall within two categories:

  • Use of inexpensive oil absorbent products, such as bilge pads.
  • Education to recreational boaters on clean boating practices.


Statistics that have led to the inspiration and need for this campaign:

  • Of the more than one million recreational boats in Southern California, 97% surveyed reported leaking oil from their engines at all times.
  • One gallon of oil contaminates one million gallons of water, which equate to 50 people’s drinking water for an entire year.
  • One pint of oil can produce a slick of approximately one acre on the surface of the water.

While this is a big problem, there is a simple solution. Depending on the size of boat and spill, there are inexpensive products to contain and absorb the oil waste; the most common and accessible are bilge pads and bilge booms. However, there are no laws or local requirements mandating that boaters use these products.

Proposed outline for the white paper:

  1. Highlight the problem of oil leakage from recreational boats.
  2. Describe ways to stop oil leakages, including the use of a bilge pad. Explain the full life cycle involved – from where one would purchase a bilge pad, how to select the most environmentally responsible product, how to use it, and then how it should be disposed of in the most environmentally responsible manner.
  3. State what percentage of recreational boaters use these types of products and describe the current incentives to do so.
  4. Explain what recreational boaters must know about oil leakage and spill prevention and mitigation to receive their boating license. Where can they receive information? Is there a gap in education? Is there an opportunity for more education as part of the licensing test process?
  5. Explain whether there are best practices of marinas or cities anywhere in the country requiring or incentivizing the wide spread use of bilge pads and/or other oil spill reduction products. If not, why?
  6. Describe the legal feasibility of a marina in LA County (and potentially other region) requiring or incentivizing the wide spread use of bilge pads or other oil spill reduction products, and the policy process for doing so.
  7. Describe the legal feasibility of the state of California requiring or incentivizing the wide spread use of bilge pads or other oil spill reduction products, and the policy process for doing so.
  8. Describe how requiring the use of bilge pads -- locally or state-wide -- would support or conflict with federal statute.

Your thoughts and feedback would be much appreciated.


Colleen Callahan

Phone: 323-839-8116

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