Winterization includes a variety of activities that play an important role in boat preservation. Naturally, customers want to do what they can to protect their investment from harsh Alaska winters. If some of these practices are not performed properly, the effects on aquatic life can be catastrophic.
Winterizing marine vessels generally includes flushing the engine with antifreeze, changing oil, and cleaning holds and other areas on the boat. All of these activities produce waste products, from used oil to used antifreeze. Use information from Alaska Clean Harbors to engage with your customers, reminding them of best management practices and services available to help reduce pollution in the fall and spring from winterizing activities.
Antifreeze is the primary product used in engine winterization. There are two main types of antifreeze used: the traditional ethylene glycol (green) and the less toxic propylene glycol (pink). Although propylene glycol is preferred for its lower toxicity, it still has an impact on water quality and cannot be discharged into surface water or to the ground.
What are the major concerns with possible pollution from winterization?
- Spills or dumping of glycol (antifreeze)
- Spills or dumping of used oil
- Spills or dumping of cleaning products
Antifreeze – what’s the big deal?
Antifreeze is generally made of glycol (either ethylene or propylene) plus anti-foaming agents and materials that help prevent the corrosion of metal. After running through an engine, waste antifreeze can contain various metals including lead, cadmium and chromium. Antifreeze is considered a hazardous waste. See our page on Used Antifreeze for more information on used antifreeze collection and disposal.
Ethylene glycol is highly toxic to humans and animals. This is not stuff you want lying around the docks!
While propylene glycol is less toxic than ethylene glycol, it does have very high BOD – biological oxygen demand. This means that when propylene glycol is introduced into the marine environment, it uses up large amounts of oxygen to decompose and so makes that oxygen unavailable to aquatic life.
Disposing of used antifreeze can be extremely costly. Talk to your customers and remind them that they can help control costs (and thus their moorage rates!) if they only introduce straight used antifreeze into collection containers. This reminder, along with similar reminders for used oil disposal, should go out regularly.
Communicate with your customers and remind them to avoid spills when winterizing in the fall. Again in the spring (and possibly a more important time), get the word out to customers and remind them that avoiding spills and discharges is important.
Give out Clean Boating Tip Sheets on Winterization and Clean Oil Changes. Especially in the spring make sure to have tip sheets available in the harbormasters office detailing ways boaters can avoid spills during their annual maintenance routines.
Train staff to watch for discharges. Make sure all field staff are aware of the possibility of discharges in the fall and spring related to winterization activities. Have a plan in place for approaching customers regarding discharges.
Consider radio and TV ads, and posters or signs around the harbor. In the spring, remind boaters to avoid spills when preparing for the boating season through media ads in local papers, on the radio, and through posters or signs around the harbor.
Clean Boating Tips for Winterization
Use propylene glycol to winterize all systems except “closed” or freshwater cooling systems. Propylene glycol is less toxic then the green ethylene glycol, however it still should never be discharged! All antifreeze should be collected and disposed of properly.
Minimize use of antifreeze where possible. Rather than using antifreeze, drain as much water from the water system as is possible. It may be possible to use air pressure to blow the lines empty. If there are traps that cannot be drained completely, use a diluted solution of water system approved antifreeze, such as propylene glycol.
Properly store and dispose of used antifreeze. Make sure to securely store all used antifreeze in containers clearly marked “Used Antifreeze Only”. Dispose of at the harbor, or at the local landfill. Check with your harbormaster if you don’t know where to dispose of your used antifreeze. Remember that contaminated wastes (i.e. used antifreeze mixed with large amounts of water or oil, etc.) can dramatically increase the cost of disposal. This cost is paid by the harbor, and is ultimately reflected in moorage rates and other fees. Help keep costs down by properly storing and disposing of your used antifreeze and other wastes!
Don’t drain into the bilge! Cleaning your bilge is a pain, and a contaminated bilge can lead to discharges of hazardous waste into the marine environment when your bilge pump comes on. Avoid polluting the water and hefty fines by minimizing wastes going into your bilge in the first place! Always keep a bilge sock or pillow in your bilge to absorb small spills and leaks.
Check fittings and hoses for leaks. Make sure to inspect your systems to avoid leaks during the winter.
Fill gas tanks to no more than 90%. In the spring, warmer weather will cause your gas to expand. Prevent fuel overflow by only filling your tanks 90%.
Winterization Links & Resources
Alaska Clean Harbors Winterization tip sheet
Alaska Clean Harbors Clean Oil Changes tip sheet
Winterizing Outboards fact sheet from the Delaware Clean Marina program