Program History

The Clean Vessel Act was passed in 1992 to reduce pollution from vessel sewage discharges. In 1996 the Hampton Roads Boater Education and Pump Out Internship Program was launched under the management of HRSD. The Program is funded in part by the Wildlife & Sport Fish Restoration Grant provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services which is administered through the Virginia Department of Health Marina Program. Other contributing sponsors include the Cities of Virginia Beach ( 2007), Norfolk (2013), Hampton (2018), and Portsmouth (2018).

Our Mission is to promote the proper disposal of sewage from boat holding tanks in order to protect public health and the waterways of Hampton Roads.

Our Goal is to prevent the dumping of sewage from boat holding tanks into waterways.


How We Operate

Marina Interns provide a free 25-gallon pump out of marine sanitation devices (MSDs) to the boating community of Hampton Roads. During the pump out they will also educate the public on the hazards of dumping vessel sewage into local estuaries, creeks, rivers, the bay, and ocean.

Our interns’ staff pickup trucks, each with a 125-gallon sewage storage tank and a manual portable pump out cart. Sewage is pumped out of MSDs, transferred to the truck storage tank then transported to one of the HRSD sewage treatment plants for proper treatment.


Why We Do What We Do

Sewage discharge, also known as blackwater, contains pollutants including nutrients, bacteria, metals, toxins, and pathogens. Discharging sewage can impair water quality and negatively affect aquatic ecosystems and spread disease. Areas most likely to be affected by sewage discharge are sheltered waters like shellfish beds, estuaries, marinas, and swimming areas; all of which have significant value in our area.


No Discharge Zone (NDZ)

  • Federal Law: It is illegal to discharge untreated sewage into navigable U.S. waters. This includes coastal waters within 3 miles of shore and inland waters.
  • In an NDZ, it is illegal to discharge even treated sewage from vessels.
  • While in a NDZ the Y valve must be closed and locked using “a padlock, non-releasable wire tie, or removal of the y-valve handle.”
  • Hampton Roads NDZs include the Lynnhaven River in Virginia Beach and the Sarah Creek and Perrin River in Gloucester.


Marine Sanitation Device (MSD)

Section 312 of the Clean Water Act requires the use of operable, U.S. Coast Guard-certified MSDs on board vessels that are 1) equipped with installed toilets, and 2) operating on U.S. navigable waters. 

Type I - is an on-board treatment device using a physical/chemical-based system that relies on maceration and chlorination.

Type II - is also an on-board treatment device that uses biological or aerobic digestion-based system.

Type III - is a holding tank or similar device that prevents the overboard discharge of treated or untreated sewage. For Type III holding tanks you should:

  • Use enzyme deodorizers for holding tanks and portable toilets
  • Pump out before you haul your boat for the winter
  • Know where your closest pump out stations are located, and height or draft restrictions, seasonal closures, and hours of operation
  • Use our pump out service to make pumping out more convenient

Boater Education FAQs