Tennessee Marine Sanitation Regulations

Is Marine Sanitation Really an Issue?

Yes!!  Marine Sanitation is an Issue. 

Raw or poorly treated sewage can spread disease, contaminate shellfish beds and lower oxygen levels in the water.  Waterborne diseases including hepatitis, typhoid, and cholera can be transmitted by shellfish.   Organic matter in sewage is decomposed in the water by bacteria. During this process, the bacteria use oxygen. As a result, sewage in the water may deplete the water's oxygen level, causing stress to fish and other aquatic animals.

Sewage contamination is measured in terms of fecal coliform levels of bacteria found in the intestines of all warm-blooded animals. Test results are expressed as the number of bacteria per 100 milliliters (ml) of water. Shellfish beds are closed when the coliform count reaches 14 per 100 ml of water. Public beaches are closed to swimmers when the coliform count reaches 200 per 100 ml of water.

Areas most likely to be affected are sheltered waters with low flushing rates, waters with significant recreational value, areas set aside for shellfish harvesting, State and  Federally designated significant habitats such as those in Coastal Zone programs, as well as waters designated as No Discharge Reservoirs.

What is the Law Concerning Marine Sanitation in Tennessee?

To address the problems above concerning marine sewage, the State of Tennessee adopted a Marine Sanitation Law (Boating Safety Laws of Tennessee Dealing with

Marine Sewage Section 69-10-102).  This law states:

  • If your boat has a permanently installed toilet, then it must be equipped with a marine sanitation device (these are described in the next section).
  • No one is allowed to discharge untreated sewage into public waters.
  • If your boat is on a no-discharge lake or river, you are only allowed to use a Type III marine sanitation device (which is a holding tank that must be pumped at a marine sewage pump-out station).
  • All marinas that moor or house boats with holding tanks must provide a sewage removal service or enter into an agreement with another facility or pump-out service.
  • If your boat has a Type I or II marine sanitation device and you enter into a no-discharge area, the valves or seacocks must be secured in a closed, locked position.
  • Portable toilets are acceptable on any body of water.
  • Gray water, or water from sinks showers, etc. is not affected by this legislation.

What are the Types of Marine Sanitation Devices?

There are three types of Coast Guard-approved marine sanitation devices (MSDs):

  • Type I MSDs treat sewage so that the discharged effluent meets specified standards for bacteria content and contains no visible solids.
  • Type II MSDs are similar but must meet a higher standard of sewage treatment.
  • Type III MSDs retain sewage  (Holding Tank) for shore-based disposal or discharge beyond the three-mile offshore limit.
  • Boats 65 feet in length or less may install type I, II, or III devices.  Vessels over 65 feet must install a Type II or III device.

What are Discharge and No-Discharge Reservoirs?

Certain lakes in Tennessee have been designated No Discharge Areas.  This means that Type I and II Marine Sanitation Devices are not legal on these waterways.  The only legal Marine Sanitation Devices are Type III (Holding Tanks) devices.  No sewage, treated or untreated, is allowed to be discharged into these waterbodies.  A portable toilet, not officially an MSD since it is not installed, is allowed on these waterbodies as long as the sewage is disposed of in a proper manner.       

Where are the No-Discharge Reservoirs within Tennessee?

Boone Normandy
Norris Cherokee
Tims Ford Douglas
Watauga Great Falls
Percy Priest Woods
Beech River Lakes Nolichucky
Center Hill Chilhowee
Ocoee 1, 2, 3 Wilbur
Ft. Patrick Henry Lake Graham

What is TWRA Doing to Ensure Pumpout Stations are Available?

Since 1992, TWRA has participated in the Federal Clean Vessel Act Program.  This program provides grants to marinas to fund up to 75% of the costs of the purchase and installation of pump-out stations.

The Tennessee Clean Vessel Act Program has been well received and has funded over 200 pump-out stations throughout Tennessee.

Thanks for keeping our waterways clean!