Even small amounts of oil introduced into the harbor environment can cause environmental problems, especially if small spills are chronic. A single cup of oil can spread a sheen over more than an acre of calm water. An oil sheen blocks light and oxygen, and oil in the water column and sediments harm fish and other aquatic life.

Frequent, small spills within a harbor can cause nearly as much damage as a larger oil spill, due to the cumulative impacts in the marine environment. In addition to harming aquatic life, petroleum products can also deteriorate the white foam used in floats and docks, discolor boat hulls, woodwork, and paint. Gasoline spills can also be a safety problem because of the product’s flammability.

You often see people fishing or enjoying the harbor from the floats; keeping oil, fuel, and other petroleum products out of the water is critical to keeping a clean and safe harbor. Potential sources of petroleum products in Alaskan harbors include:

  • Aboveground or Underground Storage Tanks (ASTs or USTs)
  • Vessel fueling operations
  • Oil changes
  • Spills from derelict or stricken vessels
  • Leaks in hoses and/or pipes that connect oil storage tanks to pumps
  • Oily bilgewater discharges

boater resources

Fuel and oil are a part of every boater's life. It's important that you know how to reduce spills and drips - even the small ones add up and make a difference!

Download our tip sheets on Spill Proof Oil Changes, Clean Fueling and Spill Response for Boaters.


Disposal of used motor oil generated by harbor activity must be managed according to state and federal regulations. Additional best management practices will not only protect the marine environment and keep your harbor clean and attractive, but will also help educate customers and keep disposal costs down.

Used motor oil contains additives and metals such as lead, zinc, arsenic, and cadmium. Used oil may also have high concentrations of chromium resulting from wear of metal parts in the engine, and can also be contaminated with fuel, water, antifreeze, and chlorinated solvents.

Used oil can be recycled, and is considered either on-specification or off-specification, depending on its level of contamination. The quality of the used oil (how contaminated it is) will determine the type of burner you can use. When used oil is recycled (burned) onsite, it is subject to less stringent regulatory oversight if it is managed as “Used Oil for Recycle” and burned or re-used on-site.

Pro-active outreach to customers will help keep your disposal costs down by minimizing contamination at used oil collection points. It is important to make the connection between increased waste disposal costs and the fee structure. The cleaner the wastes to be disposed of, the cheaper everything can be for the harbor enterprise and the boaters.

used oil Best Practices

  • Maintain good signage on the docks and at the used oil collection facilities.
  • Include information for boaters in mailings and renewals to remind them of the costs associated with contaminated used oil.
  • Keep all used oil containers on impermeable surfaces and under cover. Provide containment for at least 110% of the tank capacity.
  • Label all waste oil containers “Used Oil For Recycle”.  


Does your facility clearly label all fuel storage and waste oil tanks?

Do you store used oil in a manner that does not allow releases to the environment?

Does your facility provide used oil collection?

If not, do you direct customers to local alternatives for used oil disposal? (Yes, No, NA)

Do you accept oily rags?

Do you accept oil filters?

Do you have good signage on the proper disposal of used oil, oil absorbents and rags, and oil filters?

Do you send used oil to an approved recycling facility or reuse on-site? (choose one of the two)


Best practices for spill prevention and response focus on training, awareness and pro-active response. Making spill prevention a top priority, and knowledge of basic response required, will help create a safe and clean environment for everyone at your harbor.

spill response best practices

  • Regularly inspect hoses, fittings, and pipes for leaks. Contain and fix immediately!
  • Make sure all staff are aware of inspection routines to catch leaks early.
  • Report all spills to the National Response Center and to ADEC, and have the tools on-site to immediately secure and contain the area. Clean up spills and fix leaks immediately
  • Harbor staff should conduct periodic oil spill response drills to practice how to respond in the event of a spill.
  • Post spill response signs in highly visible locations throughout your facility. Alaska Clean Harbors has statewide spill response signs available for all harbors and water access points around the state. Contact us to get yours today!

Oil Spill prevention and response plans

Make sure your facility has a Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure Plan (SPCC) and that employees are familiar with it.

An SPCC plan is required for facilities that store oil or gasoline: (1) Aboveground in any size tank(s) with a total aggregate volume over 1,320 gallons (containers of less than 55 gallons and/or permanently closed storage tanks are exempt from the total); or (2) In underground storage tanks with a total capacity greater than 42,000 gallons.

If your facility is not required to have a SPCC, consider developing a spill response plan anyways. A good plan should identify:

  • Potential spill sources
  • Oil and hazardous materials used or stored in the area
  • Spill prevention measures such as security, inspection, containment, training and equipment
  • Spill emergency response procedures, including contact information of harbor personnel qualified to lead spill response efforts, notifications, and spill containment measures.


Does staff routinely inspect and repair equipment, such as hoses, pipes and other dock equipment (including forklifts and cranes)?

Does staff report all spills to ADEC and the National Response Center?

Do you have spill response signs up at your facility?

Does your facility have a Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) or other oil spill contingency plan in place?

Do you have spill response equipment labeled and readily available in the event of a spill?

Are employees trained in spill response and cleanup procedures?


Many harbors throughout Alaska do not operate their own fuel docks. However, fueling within the harbor basin (either at fuel docks or with jerry cans by individual boaters) can have profound impacts on harbor water quality if not done carefully. This section will cover fuel dock BMPs as well as ways to properly transfer fuel to minimize pollution risks.

Fueling best practices

  • Regularly inspect hoses, fittings, and pipes for leaks. Contain and fix immediately!
  • Make sure all staff are aware of inspection routines to catch leaks early. Report all spills to the National Response Center and to ADEC, and have the tools on-site to immediately secure and contain the area. Clean up spills and fix leaks immediately!
  • Post signs at the fuel dock that outline correct fueling procedures.
  • Alaska Clean Harbors may be able to provide you with clean fueling signs, if you operate a fuel dock at your facility. Encourage fuel dock owners to be good neighbors and be pro-active in outreach to customers.
  • Always use absorbents when fueling.
  • There are a variety of products on the market to catch drops when fueling. Simplest is a single oil absorbent pad (absorb or diaper). Keep one wrapped around the nozzle while transferring from the pump to the vessel, and always use one around the deck fill. Other oil absorbent products include a fuel bib or a donut that fits around the fuel nozzle.
  • Catch spills from overflow vents!
  • Encourage customers to use a fuel overflow collector device when fueling. Consider handing them out to customers to use while fueling at your dock. They can mount them temporarily while fueling, and return them while done.
  • Encourage the use of fuel air separators
  • Fuel air separators help to prevent fuel spills from the vent through the use of a small ball valve. Consider selling on site, and providing customers with information on how they can help prevent spills.
  • Clearly label all fuel storage and waste oil tanks.
  • Alaska Clean Harbors may be able to provide you with labels to use for used oil and fuel storage tanks.


Does your facility encourage clean oil changes and clean fueling, through the use of tip sheets and other educational materials?


Vessel owners and harbor operators are all too familiar with oily bilge water. The discharge of even small amounts of oil into the water is illegal. Important to note, and to share with your customers, is that dispersing oil with soaps is also illegal. Not only that, but the fines can be much higher for actively dispersing a sheen. Always encourage the use absorbents to help keep up with small leaks and spills in the bilge.

Why shouldn’t we disperse oil sheens with soap?

We know that oil and other hydrocarbons (hydraulic oil, fuels, etc) can damage fish and other marine life in very low concentrations. When you disperse oil with soap, the oil doesn’t go away! Instead, it breaks up and enters the water column and settles onto the sea floor. Dispersing oil with soaps can be more harmful than leaving it on the surface. Not only that, but the fine for dispersing oil in the water or in your bilge much higher than a fine for an accidental spill!

Help your customers make bilge cleaning part of their routine maintenance – and make sure it’s part of yours when operating your harbor skiff(s).

bilge water best practices

  • If your facility doesn’t provide a bilge pumping service, consider making carts designed specifically for hauling buckets with used oil and oily bilge water. Even buckets with tight fitting lids can drip down the sides from filling, and keeping several carts dedicated to waste hauling at the harbor can help raise awareness and cooperation among your customers.
  • Consider providing a bilge pumpout service. We all know that every vessel deals with contaminated bilge water at one time or another. Many vessels deal with it on a regular basis.
  • Oily bilgewater discharges should be reported to ADEC and the NRC as spills.
  • To legally discharge bilge water, the oil content must be below 15 parts per million.


Does your facility provide customers with an oil/water separation service for oily bilge water?

If not, do you give customers information on how they can properly dispose of contaminated bilge water?

Are harbor employees trained on bilge maintenance best practices?

Do you have information for customers to educate them on bilge best practices?