Boaters should stop polluting the waterways

Published: Wednesday, 15 May 2019

SO SAYS River Canal Rescue, after it tells that boaters are responsible for around 120,000* litres of fuel and oil that  pollute the waterways annually.

It is urging boat owners to take action to stop accidentally spilling  fuel and oil that contaminate the inland waterway system.

The emergency and breakdown firm says that if every one of the 60,000 boats registered with the Environment Agency, Canal & River Trust, Broads Authority and others, pays more attention to maintenance and installs a bilge filter, it will dramatically reduce the two litres of fuel/oil it estimates each vessel discharges annually.

Photo by Blaine CookjpgConservative estimate

This figure it fears is a conservative estimate with many more unregistered boats pumping pollutants into the waterways.

Over the course of a year (from 3rd March 2018 to 2nd March 2019), RCR logged 292 call-outs—around 24 a monthas ‘environmental near-misses’ or pollution incidents. These were typically fuel, oil, coolant and antifreeze leaks into bilges caused by cracked filter pipes, spills into the engine bay, battery acid spillage and contaminated bilges. (The photograph by Blaine Cook shows canal oil pollution.)

No bilge pump filters fitted

 During their call-outs, RCR engineers failed to find any boats with bilge pump filters fitted and similarly, the Boat Safety Scheme reports its examiners ‘rarely find’ a filter, estimating 1% or less of boats use one to prevent harmful hydrocarbons entering the waterways.

 BSS manager, Graham Watts, confirms that around 15% of the narrow boats they inspect have engine trays full or near-full of water and oil. Section nine of its certification document asks ‘does the bilge pumping system minimise the risk of avoidable pollution?’

Amongst top

 Anti-pollution campaigner, Oil Care, says that over the past five years oil has consistently been among the UK’s top three pollutants and confirms just one litre of oil can contaminate one million litres of water, with RCR operations director, Jay Forman, commenting:

“Boat owners with poorly-maintained bilge areas, no filters or a facility to discharge contaminants into a holding tank are adding to, rather than addressing, the pollution issues.

 “We cannot sit back and do nothing; collectively boaters’ yearly bilge pump contents pollute a staggering amount of water, contaminating the environment and species (including humans) and plants it supports, yet this could easily be prevented with a bilge filter.”


 Earlier this year RCR developed Bilgeawaya product it describes as ‘the world’s first truly environmentally-friendly bilge discharge filter’. Bilgeaway extracts contaminants from bilge water, renders them non-reactive and leaves the contents in a cartridge which can be disposed of and the housing re-used.

 The product’s a ‘first’ because while other filter systems trap hydrocarbons, they fail to de-contaminate them, transferring the disposal problem elsewhere (typically a landfill site causing further land-based contamination).

 During its launch phase RCR is offering non-members a 25% discount and members 35% on Bilgeaway. Find out more about Bilgeaway at or call 01785785680.

Contact the product’s distributors, 54North, at Check out River Canal Rescue at

 *60,000 registered boats x two litres of fuel/oil RCR estimates each vessel discharges annually = 120,000 litres.