What Do Houseboats Do With Sewage?

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Sewage isn’t something that anyone wants to talk about but it is a necessary thing to get rid of when you own a boat. When you have people on board your houseboat you are going to have sewage. The last thing you want is for your sewage tanks to get full and not have any place for the sewage to go! 

So, what do houseboats do with sewage? Most houseboats will have the sewage pumped out of their sewage tanks when they are docked at a marina. Some marinas will even have a boat that comes to each dock and sucks the sewage out for you. Of course you have to pay every time you get your sewage tanks pumped out. 

There are basically two places where houseboats can dump raw sewage. Those places are

  • Emptied out at a marina or sewage station (mentioned above) 
  • Dump it into the water 

Pump Out At A Marina Or Sewage Station 

This is the most common way for houseboats to get rid of their sewage. Since houseboats are normally recreation vehicles they will only have to empty their tanks as needed or at the end of a season. 

Most marinas will have a specific spot where you can dock your boat, pay a small fee, and get your septic tanks emptied. Depending on how often you use your houseboat and the size of your tanks you will have to determine how often you have to empty them. 

Some people can get by with only emptying their tanks once a season while others will have to empty every few weeks. You will have to determine what works best for you depending on your specifics. 

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I always recommend that you have a set schedule once you figure out how long it takes to fill them up. What I’ve seen many people do is figure out how many days of sailing it takes to fill their tanks on average and then empty them a couple of days prior to being 100% full. 

You certainly don’t want to find yourself out on the boat with friends and family only to discover you don’t have working facilities! It’s always better to empty a little more often than needed then to have to clean up a sewage mess! 

Dump It Into The Water

The second place I will mention where houseboats can dump raw sewage is into the water. Now in many places (including all of the USA) it is against the law to dump sewage into lakes and rivers and other inland waterways. However you can dump sewage into the ocean if you are more than 3 miles offshore. 

Now I’m sure you’re thinking that it’s quite disgusting that boats can dump raw sewage into the ocean while just being a few miles offshore but surprisingly the sewage never makes it to shore as it is eaten or used as fertilizer for the ocean’s ecosystem. 

Even large commercial ships are allowed to dump their sewage in the ocean (with further restrictions on how far away from land they are). 

There are many debates as to whether dumping large amounts of raw sewage offshore even though legal is good for the environment but as of now many large vessels including cruise lines continue to pump billions of gallons of sewage into the ocean each year! 

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Since most houseboats (if not all) cannot go on the ocean then dumping their sewage in the ocean is not applicable to most houseboat owners. In many places you can dump grey water into the waterways and be fine. 

Grey water is water that is used for washing dishes, showering, etc. You can only dump grey water in certain places and it must be kept separate from the black water (sewage). If it comes into contact with any sewage then it can’t be dumped into the water anywhere but 3 miles offshore in the ocean or pumped out at a marina. 

Now there are certain waterways where “everyone” dumps their sewage and some “old timers” will say that since everyone else is doing it that it is fine for you to do it as well. Of course this isn’t how it really works. 

You can be fined up to $2,000 per violation of dumping sewage in inland waterways in the United States. Source 

Even if many people choose to disregard the laws it is always better to be a respectful boater and abide by the laws that are in place. Can you imagine if you had a lakefront property and you had boaters who were discharging sewage that was floating up on your beach? Would it make you happy? 

It is always better to go the route of abiding by the applicable boating laws then to try and do something that is against the law without getting caught. At $2,000 per violation all it takes is getting caught once to pay for your dumping costs at a marina for years and years. 

Now in some areas of the world their laws about dumping black water (sewage) is quite a bit different. If you are buying a boat outside of the USA or planning a trip in another country be sure and check the applicable laws in that country. Don’t just go with what other people are doing either as that can be a way to get into trouble quite quickly. 

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Ultimately your sewage has to go somewhere. For most houseboat owners your best course of action is to have two septic tanks, one for grey water and one for black. 

Where allowed by law dumping the grey water into the lake or river will save you time and money of having to pump that tank out as well and the grey water is often far cleaner than the water your boat is sailing in. 

For the black water tank it is best to wait until you dock at a sewage station or marina with the proper equipment to empty your black water tank. 

Having separate tanks will allow you to go much longer in between pump outs while also making sure you abide by the laws and don’t have to worry about fines or about damaging the ecosystem of the river or lake you are sailing. 

If you are interested in learning more about black water, grey water and other sewage and septic things you can read another article that I have written by clicking here. 

As always, 

Happy Boating 

Matthew Robbs

I love the outdoors and especially spending time with my family. Whether on a boat or at the beach, my happy place is near the water.

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