Working with Boaters and Marine Trades for Cleaner Washington Water

Washington state phases out copper-based bottom paint: what the legislation means for you and what the alternatives are

You may have heard that Washington has become the first state in the nation to sign into law a phase-out of copper-based bottom paint for recreational boats.  It’s true, and we’re talking today about the facts of the legislation and what it all means to you.

Senate Bill 5436, signed by Governor Christine Gregoire in May 2011, applies to recreational boats in the state of Washington under 65 feet in length.  Beginning January 1, 2018, no new recreational boats under 65 feet may be sold in the state of Washington if their bottom paint contains copper.  Beginning January 1, 2020, no bottom paint that contains more than 0.5% copper may be sold for application to recreational boats under 65 feet in the state of Washington.

There are a couple of reasons why this legislation was a good idea.  First, Puget Sound and our freshwater lakes and rivers are in dire need of a clean- up.  Pollution, from both point sources (think facilities that have a specific pipe (or point) to them such as Boatyards) and non-point sources (this is the stuff that’s harder to trace like stormwater runoff from streets and from boats sitting in the water), threatens the health of our salmon and shellfish populations.  If we want these natural populations (and resources) to be sustained, we need to stop inadvertently dumping toxic metals and other pollutants into our waters.

Point source pollution control has come a long way in the last two decades.  Costly – yet effective – stormwater treatment systems have been installed in many boatyards and industrial locations, greatly reducing the load of copper, zinc and other contaminants into state waters.  Focus now turns to the non- point sources of pollution.

SB 5436 is an effort to get individual boaters to start taking responsibility for their impact on the marine environment, the beauty and health of which got them into boating in the first place.  Because copper is an important culprit in the decline of the Puget Sound ecosystem (for example, some studies indicate that it inhibits salmon from detecting and avoiding predators as well as making it difficult for them to find their way back upstream at concentrations as low as 2 parts per billion), it has been marked for removal from all sorts of common products such as automobile brake pads and, of concern to boaters, anti- fouling bottom paint.  And because copper is one of the metals that is regulated in Ecology’s Boatyard Permit, removing copper from bottom paint will go a long way in helping Boatyards throughout the state remain in compliance with their permit and stay open for business.

We’ve been hearing a lot of concern about the effectiveness of the alternative paints on the market.  Any new technology takes a while to develop and garner support, but the truth of the matter is, alternative copper-free paints are now, in 2012, proving to be as effective, if not more effective, than their traditional copper- based counterparts.

The non-copper paints that share the majority of the Pacific Northwest market are, in alphabetical order, ePaint (which has always been copper-free and works on photo-active technology), Interlux (with the brand name Pacifica Plus, using Econea as the biocide), Pettit (which makes Ultima Eco, also with Econea) and Sea Hawk (which offers the completely metal-free Smart Solutions).

We have been hearing good things about these paints from both boaters and boatyards in terms of keeping hard bottom growth from taking root.  We are collecting detailed information about the performance of these various paints, including the type of boat that’s using it, the boating habits of the owner, the location where the boat is moored and the amount of bottom growth witnessed during regular haul-outs. 

The idea is to share this information (both good and bad news) with the rest of Puget Sound boaters so that everyone can make a more informed decision about what’s going on the bottom of their boat.  Visit our Products section of our Boater Resources tab for photos and details on specific boats or give us a call or email to share your story.