The pollution of our waterways can spoil not only the environment but also boating and other on-water activities. Recreational and commercial boaters have a responsibility to properly dispose of vessel waste.

The Marine Pollution Act 2012 and the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 set out requirements to prevent pollution and protect the NSW marine environment.

Sewage disposal

It is illegal to discharge raw sewage into NSW waterways.

Passenger-carrying commercial vessels and houseboats in NSW are required to install holding tanks to prevent the discharge of raw sewage.

Recreational boaters with an onboard toilet should also install a holding tank.

Raw sewage from a holding tank or portable toilet should be deposited at appropriate pumpout facilities and never into NSW waterways. Public pump out facilities are provided in many locations throughout NSW. Some marinas also provide private pumpout facilities for clients.

An approved onboard sewage treatment system can also be used, but remember certain areas are declared as ‘no-discharge zones’. Treated sewage must never be discharged in inland waterways, coastal lagoons, marine parks or aquatic reserves or within 500 metres of moorings, marinas, anchorages, swimming beaches or aquaculture sites.

See Sewage, greywater and other discharge for more information.

Disposal of other waste

It is illegal to pollute NSW waterways in any way and sensible environmental practices on and around the water will go a long way towards preserving NSW waterways for future generations.

For example:

  • Collect all your rubbish on board and dispose of it properly ashore
  • Wipe cooking utensils and plates clean with a paper towel before washing
  • Use low or non-phosphate soaps in sinks and showers
  • Keep bilges clean to prevent pollutants being discharged overboard
  • Remove your boat from the water and clean it in places where debris can be captured and disposed of properly.

See Garbage from vessels for more information.

Shellfish harvest areas

The NSW shellfish industry is the largest aquaculture industry in the state. The success of this industry is totally dependent on water quality to deliver a safe product to consumers.

The majority of NSW estuaries have designated areas for commercial shellfish harvest and the discharge of treated sewage in these areas could have a devastating impact on the industry. Please use sewage pump-out facilities for vessels and on-shore toilets where available to ensure the highest level of water quality protection for the commercial and recreational harvest of shellfish.


The main thing to consider under noise control legislation is the concept of offensive noise, which is based upon how a 'reasonable person' would react.

In deciding whether the noise from a motor vessel is offensive, the following factors are considered:

  • The character of the noise
  • The quality of the noise
  • The noise level
  • The effect the noise has on activities
  • The time of the noise event, eg early morning
  • The waterside land use.

Noise also disturbs wildlife. Care should be taken to reduce noise in the vicinity of waterbirds and other animals.

See Noise from vessels for more information.

Bank erosion and wash

The wash from a vessel can erode banks in sheltered waterways. The larger the wake, the greater the potential for bank erosion.

Roads and Maritime has introduced wash restrictions in areas where vessel wash has potential to erode shorelines. Every skipper must comply with 'Minimise Wash' signs.

Continually assess your boat's wash. If it is causing other vessels to rock, or is causing a breaking/slapping wave on the shore, you may need to slow down.

Wakeboarders and skippers of larger powercraft should take extra care to ensure they minimise the impact of wash from their vessels.

Wakeboarders and other tow sport participants should look for wider, more open waterways and try to keep well clear of soft or eroding banks.

See Know the rules - wash for more information.


Seagrass beds provide food and shelter to a wide variety of fish and invertebrates. They also help bind the sea floor and improve water quality. Seagrass has already been lost in some areas through the effects of water pollution, foreshore development and the recreational and commercial use of our waterways.

See Seagrasses for more information.

Aquatic weeds

Aquatic weeds include freshwater plants such as Salvinia, Cabomba and alligator weed, as well as the marine alga Caulerpa.

Aquatic weeds can seriously harm the environmental and recreational value of rivers, estuaries and lakes.

See Aquatic weeds for more information.

Aquatic biosecurity

Introduced pests and disease pose environmental, social and economic threats by impacting the natural balance of aquatic flora or fauna.

You may be carrying marine pests on your boat and may be unknowingly spreading them to your favourite locations.

See Aquatic biosecurity for more information.

Protected aquatic animals

All native mammals, birds and reptiles are protected in SNW. Vessel operators must beep an active lookout to avoid harming these animals.

Protected aquatic animals include whales, seals, dolphins, penguins and turtles, as well as a variety of water birds.

See Protected aquatic animals for more information, including advice for skippers when whales or dolphins are nearby.

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