Clean and Green-Up Your Sailboat’s Bilge

By: Environmental, The Oceans

Sailors for the Sea Powered by Oceana is the world’s leading ocean conservation organization that engages, educates and activates the sailing and boating community toward restoring ocean health. American Sailing is working with organizations like Sailors for the Sea to raise awareness about the importance of protecting our waterways.

by Jennifer Brett

While it’s definitely not many boaters’ favorite places on their boat, it’s one that can have direct contact with the marine ecosystem: the bilge. With much of my life spent messing about in boats, I’ve seen a range of bilges, from pristine and orderly to dark, smelly, and grimy. While it goes without saying that the clean bilge is more pleasant to work in and be around, did you know that it’s also better for the environment? Here are 6 tips to make your boat’s bilge better for both you and the ocean.

1.    Start with a good clean-out and scrub. 

Use mostly water for this step, but if you need more cleaning power, use a non-toxic bilge cleaner diluted to the recommended strength. If there is any oily residue, soak it up with oil absorbers, or pump out the bilge at a designated bilge pump-out station. While you are in the bilge, be sure to clean all limber holes and check all plumbing, hoses, and seacocks. 

2.    Prevent future oily messes by keeping your engine tuned. 

Keep up with oil and filter changes. Perform an engine inspection before each excursion by checking seals, clamps, gaskets and filter connections for leaks and drips and inspecting hoses for peeling or cracking. If you see any fuel, oil or other liquid spills, wipe up immediately. 

3.     Check to make sure all bilge pumps are clean and fully functional. 

Check and clean out any filters and be sure the float switches are operational. Don’t forget to check any emergency or manual pumps too.

4.    Once everything is clean, tidy and in good working order, consider giving the area a fresh coat of bilge paint. 

Not only will this brighten everything up, but the paint will also protect the hull and make leaks and dropped tools easier to spot.

5.    Place a fresh oil-absorbing pad underneath the engine and an oil-absorbing bilge sock near the bilge pump. 

This will help keep oil and fuel out of the bilge water, help keep pumps clean and protect the marine environment.

6.    Do not use dish soap to make a spill disappear. 

It causes the oil to break down into tiny particles, which if pumped out, make the spill much harder to contain and clean up. Many dish soaps are also highly toxic to marine life.

Interested in more Green Boating tips?

Download our free Green Boating Guide at

Sailors for the Sea Powered by Oceana is the world’s leading ocean conservation organization that engages, educates and activates the sailing and boating community toward restoring ocean health.

Sailors for the Sea was co-founded in 2004 by David Rockefeller, Jr. and Dr. David Treadway, two avid sailors who recognized the importance of educating and activating this constituency of ocean enthusiasts. In 2018, Sailors for the Sea joined forces with Oceana, the largest international advocacy organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Together, we are creating a global network of active, engaged ocean champions within the sailing and boating community who are taking action to save our oceans.