Sewage from vessels - frequently asked questions


Why is it necessary to worry about sewage pollution from vessels?

To protect the aquatic environment and amenity of other waterway users.

What are the provisions related to sewage from vessels?

The following provisions have been introduced under the Marine Pollution Amendment (Waste Discharge and Oil Spill Response Plans) Regulation 2003:

  • The discharge of untreated sewage from vessels is prohibited in all NSW waters.
  • Certain classes of commercial vessel (Class 1 and Class 4, eg. ferries and houseboats) must install toilets and holding tanks.
  • Both treated and untreated sewage cannot be discharged in 'no discharge zones'.

These provisions complement the existing provisions of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997, under which it is an offence to pollute any waters unless permitted by a license issued by the Department of Environment and Climate Change.

What are the 'no discharge zones', and where are they located?

'No discharge zones' are areas where the discharge of treated sewage is prohibited.

'No discharge zones' include all inland waterways, intermittently opening lagoons, Aquatic Reserves and Marine Parks, and all waters within 500 metres of aquaculture, bathing, mooring and anchoring areas, persons in the water, beaches and marinas. As a result of these ‘no discharge zones’, Sydney Harbour is effectively a no discharge zone.

Who is affected by these measures?

Both commercial and recreational vessels - please see below.

I am a commercial operator - what do I need to do under the current sewage from vessel requirements?

Operators of Class 1 and Class 4 commercial vessels (eg passenger carrying vessels and houseboats) need to have toilets and holding tanks. These vessels were identified as posing the greatest sewage pollution risk as they carry a significant number of passengers, or as in the case of houseboats, have people living on board for extended periods.

I am the operator of a Class 2 vessel or Class 3 (fishing) vessel. Do holding tank requirements apply to me?

Operators of Class 2 or Class 3 vessels do not necessarily need to have holding tanks. However, operators of these craft are required to undertake the necessary steps to ensure that no sewage is dumped in any waters (eg. by using a small portable toilet).

I am a recreational boater - what do I need to do?

Ensure that no sewage is dumped in the water. Your options include a holding tank, an approved on-board sewage treatment system if the device was fitted prior to 13 November 2005, a small portable toilet or even just planning your trip to make use of on-shore toilets (see the National Public Toilet Map).

Most people go boating for just a few hours in a day, so the solution may be as simple as going to the toilet before you leave the shore - just like before a long car trip.

I am a recreational boater and have a Lectra San unit on board - can I still use it?

Yes, you can – provided that it was fitted prior to 13 November 2005. Lectra San EC and MC Marine Sanitation Devices manufactured by Raritan Engineering Company and fitted prior to that date will be recognised as an approved device for the life of the unit and do not need to be connected to a holding tank.

However, each device must be maintained, serviced and used in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications and not discharged into areas designated as 'no discharge zones for treated sewage'.

What about other on-board treatment systems - can I use them?

Possibly, depending on how they are used and whether they are certified in accordance with Section 28 of the Marine Pollution Regulation 2006. Systems that incorporate a holding tank can be used in any case, provided that the system's contents are pumped out at a waste collection facility.

Certified systems can also be discharged into the water, provided this is done outside of 'no discharge zones'. Uncertified systems lacking a holding tank cannot be used.

What penalties apply for breaches of the new Regulations?

On-the-spot infringement notices of $750 to an individual, or $1500 to a corporation, apply for minor breaches of the regulations. For matters resulting in court action, penalties of up to $250,000 (individual) and $1M (corporation) may apply.

Who polices these requirements?

They are generally enforced by Transport for NSW.

But wouldn't it be necessary for an officer to actually witness an offence taking place before any action could be taken?

Not necessarily. Transport for NSW's officers have a range of powers to help them investigate, prosecute and prevent pollution offences. For example, they can inspect a vessel, take water samples, ask questions and remove records. Officers can also issue 'Prevention Notices' where they find that a vessel has inadequate means to prevent pollution from occurring in the future.

Where can I get more information?

The Marine Pollution Regulation is available on the NSW Legislation website.