Boat & Dock Maintenance

Photo by L. Thompson, 2015

Did you know...

Like your car, proper maintenance of your boat is necessary for reducing impacts it can have on Lake Whatcom. But how and where you take care of your boat is an important consideration. Any basic task such as polishing, cleaning, or changing the fluids can cause water quality problems if the products used are handled improperly.

You can help!

It is always best to do your maintenance work outside of the Lake Whatcom Watershed, but you don't want to move your impacts to someone else's watershed either, so at a minimum, follow these steps:

  • Stay away from the lake, its tributaries and storm drains when maintaining your boat

  • Use non-toxic products

  • Be sure you contain any excess waste products that result from your work

Tips for boaters

  • Do your maintenance away from the lake, its tributaries and storm drains.

  • Rinse boats more often with plain water so there is less need for soaps and cleaners.

  • Avoid the need for washing with soap by keeping the boat waxed and rinse following each use.

  • Choose non-toxic, phosphate-free, chlorine-free, biodegradable products.

  • Take your boat to a commercial car wash where the dirty water goes to the wastewater system.

  • Follow the instructions on the label. Twice as much cleaner does not work twice as well.

  • Buy only what is needed for the project. Give the leftovers to another boater.

  • If you absolutely have to work near the water, use tarps and work on a small area.

  • Pressure washing near the lake is not a good idea as it is difficult to manage the wastewater.

  • Dispose of leftover household toxics properly - Disposal of Toxics Program: (360) 380-4640.

Docks and Floats

Docks, floats, and boathouses provide access to the lake for a number of recreational activities. Depending on the design and construction materials, docks and floats can create additional problems for wildlife and water quality.

Both Whatcom County and the City of Bellingham have provisions in their Shoreline Management Programs for the construction and maintenance of docks and floats.

New Docks

While docks and floats don't generally provide good habitat for fish and wildlife, they can act as barriers forcing waterfowl, beavers, and otters to find refuge further out into the lake.

Larger docks can inhibit growth of beneficial aquatic plants by shading the littoral zone. If pilings are not spaced far enough apart, a dock can change the movement of water along the shoreline causing erosion and deposition which will affect the growth of aquatic plants.

If you are thinking about constructing a dock or float, or making major repairs to an existing one, you need to obtain the necessary environmental review permits for your area.

  • Whatcom County Planning and Development Services | (360) 778-5900

  • City of Bellingham Planning Department | (360) 778-8300

If constructed in conjunction with a naturally vegetated shoreline, a dock can provide boat moorage, allow access to the water and reduce human impacts to the shoreline environment. Redirecting heavy use away from the fragile shoreline to a dock can reduce damage to the riparian area. A community dock shared with neighboring properties is a great way to avoid the continued proliferation of docks around the developed parts of the shoreline. For simple boat moorage, a buoy is the preferred alternative as it causes the least long-term impact to the lake environment.

The materials used in the construction of docks can introduce a variety of contaminants into the lake. State and Shoreline Management Programs prohibit the use of wood or pilings treated or coated with paint, pentachlorophenol, arsenated compounds, creosote, or other similarly environmentally harmful materials.

Dock Maintenance

Paints, wood preservatives or other chemicals may end up in the lake during routine maintenance so their use is not permitted over or near surface water. A dock with a natural, unfinished surface is the lake friendly option. If your dock or boathouse is already painted, you need to exercise extreme care when maintaining it. It is your responsibility to insure that tarps are used and that the paint scrapings, paint, or other prep materials do not fall into the lake.

Pressure washers are sometimes used for cleaning and prep work. The force of the water, from a pressure washer makes it extremely difficult to control the amount of material being washed into the lake. A better alternative is to scrub or wire brush the surface with tarps around and underneath the work area to contain the scrapings. Bleach, herbicides and pesticides should not be used over the water to control the unwanted living things that take up residence on or around your dock.