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Oil & Fuel

Oil and fuel can enter the water in a number of ways and a small proportion of this comes from the recreational boating sector.


One litre of oil can pollute one million litres of water!


Oil and fuel contain hydrocarbons and heavy metals which can not only affect human health but can also seriously damage our aquatic environment.

Only 5% of oil and fuel pollution in the water is from catastrophic spills, the majority comes from every day sources such as refuelling, engine emissions and oil leaks.

Oil and fuel can adversely impact our wildlife and habitats by:

  • Smothering feathers on birds, inhibiting or preventing them from flying
  • Covering fish gills preventing respiration
  • Poisoning wildlife and humans if ingested
  • Covering plant life, restricting sunlight from reaching the leaves which is essential for growth.

There is a variety of good practice that we can adopt as boat users to help minimise oil and fuel spills and leaks into our environment.



  • Place a drip tray under the engine, this is a requirement on many waterways. If it starts getting oily, find and mend the leak.
  • Make sure you use a large enough funnel if you have to refuel on board.
  • Maintain your boat’s fuel lines, connections and seals.
  • Transfer waste oil and fuel in containers designed for this purpose.
  • Avoid over filling the fuel tank. Allow room for the fuel inside to expand and check the tank vent for blockages.
  • On shore try not to use oil and fuel within ten metres of the water in case of accidental spills
  • Check the engine bilge for oil before pumping and use an absorbent sock to remove oil and fuel in the bilge.
  • Install an in-line bilge filter to remove oil automatically when pumping out. Then dispose of collected oil once full in onshore hazardous waste facilities.
  • Use a fuel collar to put over fuel nozzles to absorb fuel ‘blow back’ up the fuel line and to catch unwanted drips when moving the fuel nozzle across the deck.


  • Never use a detergent to deal with spills – it may disperse the fuel or oil, but it causes more damage to the environment as the oil is ingested by fish and the phosphates cause algal blooms and reduce oxygen levels.
  • Store a spill kit on board in case of any accidental spills.
  • Ask for absorbent materials at refuelling pontoons or use those provided.



  • Remember that fuel, oil and oily or fuel-soaked materials are hazardous waste. Dispose of them appropriately in hazardous waste bins at a marina or a local recycling centre.


Find your nearest oil disposal centre:

Explore other ways to help make your boating more sustainable.

Related Resources

The Green Guide to
Outboard Efficiency

Stop The Spill
(Inland) Oil and Fuel

Stop The Spill
(Coastal) Oil and Fuel


Boat Users


Green Products
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