Washington becomes first state to ban copper paint for recreational boats

A proposed law would ban copper-based bottom paints in Washington by 2020. Photo by John Papajani

Editor’s note: this story was updated May 4, 2011 from an earlier version.

Washington is now the first state in the nation to ban copper-based bottom paint on recreational boats.

Gov. Chris Gregoire yesterday signed into a law a bill prohibiting the use of the paints on most recreational boats. Under the law, no new boats with copper-based bottom paint can be sold in Washington state after Jan. 1, 2018, and no paint with more than 0.5 percent copper can be used on recreation boats as of 2020. The law applies only to recreational boats 65 feet and under.

The law will be enforced by the state Department of Ecology, with fines of up to $10,000 for violations. 

Copper-based paints have long been recreational boaters’ main weapon in preventing marine growth on the bottom of vessels. But the metal can have a detrimental effect on fish and other wildlife, particularly salmon, even at small doses.  

The law puts Washington out front of a growing movement to reduce the amount of copper released into the water from boats.  And while numerous paint manufacturers are offering products containing little or no copper, none have yet gained widespread acceptance.

Some in the maritime community have lauded the Northwest Marine Trade Association NMTA) for putting forth the bill. But others are critical, saying the bill should apply to all recreational boats, not just those 65 feet and under, as well as commercial boats. And some wooden boat owners say the copper-free alternatives currently available cannot protect their vessels from worms and other burrowing pests.

The NMTA has said it exempted commercial boats from the bill since its focus is on recreational boats, and exempted boats larger than 65 feet since they are more likely to cruise in warm waters, where copper-free paints may be less effective in preventing bottom growth.

The bill was prompted in part by a threat by environmental watchdog group Puget Soundkeeper Alliance in December 2009 to sue five boatyards for alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act. The legal action spurred the NMTA, which had previously worked closely with PSA, to seek proactive measures to help reduce the level of copper and other water-borne pollutants flowing from boatyards — and ideally, discourage additional legal action by PSA.

21 Responses to Washington becomes first state to ban copper paint for recreational boats

  1. Al Thomason September 11, 2011 at 3:56 pm #

    Looking at ePaints web site for the SN-1 paint: http://www.epaint.com/products/19

    It calls out application for “All aluminum, steel, and fiberglass hull types”. ePaint does not target this product for wood hulls, so no this does not help.

    If something is developed and proven to work in the next few years, great. if not, then perhaps this law will get modified to exclude Wood boats as well.

  2. Dissapointed boater May 11, 2011 at 12:36 pm #

    Wow this is the worst news of probably the last year.
    There are no products out there that actually work that contain no copper.
    Lots of claims of copper free paints working, but in trying these incredibly expensive bottom coatings on a variety of boats, we have not found a single product that works any better than applying common house paint to the bottom of the boat, and quite a few that were far worse.
    The divers are going to love it, so are the boat yards since they will no longer have to take care of their run off. Unfortunately the common boater is going to get further pushed out of boat ownership by this.

  3. Dan Jackson May 6, 2011 at 10:42 am #

    I represent a company that has an environmentally friendly product that is actually more effective than copper based paint. It also improves fuel efficiency and is easy to apply.

    • Buzz Lovelace September 16, 2016 at 5:17 pm #

      What’s the Name of this Paint, Is there a web site?

  4. bigbayboater May 5, 2011 at 12:36 pm #

    Dick has a valid point. The science shows that the leached copper reacts very quickly with other chemicals in the rich saline solution of the sea. Toxicity falls to negligable levels. Studies in San Diego Bay and other marinas along the California coast show dramatic evidence that nothing is dying. No less an entity than the California Regional Water Quality Control Board for San Diego is considering restating acceptable levels of copper based on more comprehensive studies.

  5. Nigel Barron May 5, 2011 at 11:21 am #

    Time to stock up on the copper paint. I remember the boxes of tin paint we bought last time around.

  6. Dylan Lippert May 4, 2011 at 7:18 pm #

    So far I have stayed on the sidelines on this issue, but it the 65 foot and over exemption is absurd. The “recreational only” provision is absurd. The reasons given to support them are….absurd. I am a HUGE proponent of the environment and would LOVE to see the industry push through advancements in environmentally friendly anti-fouling. But it is absurd to force the sub-65 foot pleasure boat community fund the industry research and development. Someone show my an independant study that says pleasure craft under 65 feet are the cause of more copper in the water than all the commercial and large craft traffic in the Puget Sound….please.

  7. Julie A May 4, 2011 at 5:09 pm #

    Washington State has a large community of wooden vessels, both under and over 65′, but overall a small percentage compared to boats made from fiberglass and metal. Fiberglass and metal boats have no problem using copper-free paints; the law should definitely apply to them. But none of the copper-free bottom paints have been tested on wooden boats to resist the shipworm that destroys wood immersed in saltwater. Those shipworms live in our waters, not just in warm climates like this article infers. To ban copper bottom paint on all boats under 65′ will mean the end of the small wooden boat. It seems unfair require such a small part of the boating population to comply with a law that is so detrimental to them.

    • Michael Goodwin May 10, 2011 at 8:18 am #

      Hi Julie,
      ePaint has a copper-free bottom paint called SN-1 that kills tube worms. It features the metal-free active Sea Nine 211N which prevents tube worms yet does not persist in the environment when leached out of the paint. All the major WA distributors carry ePaint SN-1. The USCG and Navy has been using it for over a decade.

      Here is a link to Sea Nine 211N used in the SN-1: http://www.dow.com/assets/attachments/business/consumer_and_industrial_specialties/sea-nine/sea-nine_211n/tds/sea-nine_211n.pdf

      Hope the info helps

      • Anjanette August 28, 2011 at 4:39 pm #

        According to my Fisheries Supply 2010 catalog, SN-1 paint is “formulated for professional application only, using proper protective equipment.” (p. 1106) It is not for retail sale. Please tell me how this helps people who like to do their own work on their own boats.

  8. peregrinesea May 4, 2011 at 10:54 am #

    More effective would have been to require a method for catching and containing copper when doing bottom work. That is already being done in other states. Would not those MTA members may also benefit by more frequent haul-outs being required? I am a believer but skeptical that the MTA was seeking to benefit itself …

  9. EJG April 27, 2011 at 1:23 pm #

    Well, I guess it’s time to tear down the Statue of Liberty. How much copper does that old hunk of metal leech into New York Harbor?

  10. mark April 26, 2011 at 12:21 pm #

    I wonder if this could be construed to include non-ablative coatings? my 32′ cape george has a copper bottom – 80% copper in a 20% epoxy matrix. So far, it’s laster over ten years with one touch up where (I think) it was exposed to stray current in the water at a marina.

    • Chris Wilke April 26, 2011 at 6:25 pm #

      It does include non-ablative coatings. It refers to all coatings over 0.5% copper. Although non-ablative coatings are more durable overall, they still leach copper. In fact, a manufacturer can control the leach rate through the paint formulation, even making it leach faster than ablative coatings if they wish. This is one reason why the bill’s main proponents (NMTA) abandoned an earlier concept of phasing out copper content over time by reducing the allowable percentage (50%, 35%, 20%, etc.)
      We agree it should have been written to apply to all vessels regardless of size. There is no technical reason for this exemption. The 65 foot exemption was removed from an earlier version but re-inserted in a final ammendment, appearantly to gain more support. For any skeptics out there, this is an eight year phase out, and will drive innovation in the industry on top of the products already available. Hopefully by then there will not be a need to exempt the larger vessels.

  11. Linda April 25, 2011 at 5:14 pm #

    Agree–include all recreational boats of any size. Would be great if anyone could actually do anything about the commercial boats.

  12. Gary Shinn, Wander April 22, 2011 at 9:00 pm #

    I agree with Scott. It’s easy to target recreational boaters, even though we seem to be light years ahead of the rest of the world. It’s hard for politicians to quantify runoff from yards, streets and highways, and heaven forbid, the coveted golf courses! We can not spill a drop and yet still not make a dent in the problem. Just look at the recent story in Newport Shores about the polluted lake water from runoff from all the development on the Eastside.

    • Ahoi April 26, 2011 at 10:24 am #

      Right Gary. This thing strikes me as hypocritical and myopic as well as elitist. Why not the big boats? Why not commercial boats? NMTA explains it surprisingly candidly. Parking lot runoff remains king of current polluters. Then there’s the stuff from before which will be here forever.

  13. Bill Haimes April 22, 2011 at 12:31 pm #

    The focus is on copper since it has such an impact on anadromous fish(Salmon). The state already has in place a ban on copper in brake pads which phases in just ahead of this prorgam. Agree that larger boats should be included.

    • DICK April 22, 2011 at 5:31 pm #

      Can these studies face the light of day under a true critical counter survey

  14. Larry H April 22, 2011 at 9:00 am #

    Quote “The NMTA has said it exempted commercial boats from the bill since its focus is on recreational boats and exempted boats larger than 65 feet since they are more likely to cruise in warm waters, where copper-free paints may be less effective in preventing bottom growth. Schrappen said the NMTA also wanted to protect Washington’s boat manufacturers, which have struggled through the recession.”

    So the rich get a free pass! Lots of 65ft+ boats cruise the PNW waters.

  15. scott pinegar April 21, 2011 at 6:28 pm #

    While I support the ban in hopes of continued product improvement, I believe the deadliest pollutants come from industrial and household waste, motor vehicles, and lawn and garden care products. We’re swinging at gnats here.

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