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  • What if I Spill Oil?

    Exxon Valdez Spill, 1989

    Photo Credit: NOAA

    Even if a spill is accidental, boaters are required to notify the proper authorities when oil goes into the water.


    If you spill oil in the water, failing to report the spill is a crime.

    Report spills by calling the National Reporting Center (NRC) – 1-800-424-8802

    In New Jersey: Call 1-877-WARN-DEP

    In New York: Call 1-800-457-7362 or 1-518-457-7362.

    If you spill in a marina, you should also inform the marina manager or dock-master.

    A spill doesn’t have to be as big as the Exxon Valdez or Deepwater Horizon to do damage to the environment.

    If you are convicted of failing to report an oil spill, penalties can include up to five years in prison or fines reaching $250,000 dollars for an individual or $500,000 dollars for an organization.

    Reporting a spill does not make you automatically liable.

    If you report a spill, the Coast Guard will not assume that you caused the spill.

    If you did cause the spill, reporting is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. You may still be responsible for the cost of the clean up or other fines.


    Apply an oil absorbent pad to soak up the sheen. Oil absorbent pads are inexpensive and available at any marine supply store. In addition to soaking up small spills, these pads are helpful for catching stray drips or soaking up oil from bilge water before it is pumped overboard. Boaters should always have oil absorbent pads readily available.

    Make sure to dispose of any oily pads properly. Oily waste should be taken to a facility that can discard it safely and responsibly.


    Do not apply soap or detergent to the sheen. Adding dish soap only breaks the oil into smaller parts, which causes dangerous hydrocarbons to disperse into the water. Breaking the oil down into smaller droplets also makes it much harder to contain and clean up the spill.

    Dish soap is also highly toxic to marine life. A study by Canada’s environmental protection agency found that dish soap is 27 times more toxic to rainbow trout than some industrial chemical dispersants.