Time for Boaters to Raise Hull With Legislators

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“Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!” is the call from the Recreational Boaters of California (RBOC) as another bill is moving through the state Legislature that will cost boat owners.

SB623 (Kehoe) will prohibit recreational boaters in California from using copper-based anti-fouling paints on vessels’ hulls.

Recreational boaters would bear the brunt of SB623, which would phase out copper-based anti-fouling paint for hulls. Photo by Jane Trahanovsky

This touchy-feely bill is based on no science or data to support such a ban and will actually cause more harm than good.  Marine organisms’ growth on the hulls of boats has a negative effect on both the optimal operation of the vessel and the life of the fiberglass hull.  Anti-fouling paint aids in preventing marine growth from attaching to the hull by sloughing off paint layers to a new undercoating.  The amount of material is negligible, especially compared to the amount of toxins and pollutants that wash down the storm drains or are released in one sewer line break, which is common.

Growth on a boat’s hull will cause friction while under way, so boats under engine power will burn more fuel than a boat with a clean, smooth hull.  Meanwhile, the marine organisms that grow on a hull will penetrate into the hull’s material to cause damage and eventually decrease the life of the material. There are environmental issues with both the disposal of old hull material and the manufacture of new material.

This bill was introduced Monday to the members of the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality, most of whom are not boaters.  The bill would ban on the sale of new recreational boats with anti-fouling paint containing copper as of Jan. 1, 2015; and ban all use or application of these paints as of Jan. 1 2019.

RBOC is opposed to SB623 as amended on April 25, unless the bill is revised to ensure that any ban does not take effect until there are alternatives that are effective, available, and affordable. This bill will directly penalize only the recreational boater, but will not apply to other significant sources of copper including commercial boats and ships, and military vessels.  Instead, the bill targets the non-vocal recreational boaters exclusively.

RBOC says that the bill would impose an estimated average new cost of $5,000 every other year on an estimated 200,000 boaters who use anti-fouling paints to protect their boats, for a total mandated expense of at least $1 billion every two years.

Although SB623 states that “it is the intent of the Legislature to promote the use of nonbiocide alternative paints,” banning copper paint would do nothing to meet that goal. It would merely drive boaters to use other biocidal coatings that are effective, available and affordable.  These currently available alternatives are also more toxic than copper, and would cause serious problems if their use becomes widespread.

It never ceases to amaze me that some legislators always want to drive up the cost of freedom – and boating is an easy target.  Most people have the image of boating as the cigar-smoking millionaire skippering a multimillion-dollar yacht, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Most boaters – and more than 70 million Americans go boating annually – are hard-working middle-class citizens with a boat under 28 feet in length.

These are the people who will be priced out of the nation’s favorite recreational activity by bills such as SB623, as the deadlines being proposed do not correspond to any assurance that alternatives to the marine antifouling paints will be available.

While there has been much attention and several studies, rigorous scientific testing and scrutiny have yet to occur and no conclusion can be made.  The Department of Pesticide Regulation regulates antifouling paints and is in the process of re-evaluating their registrations, however, SB623 would ignore that process and enact an outright ban.

This will force many recreational boaters to replace their antifouling paints with other coatings that are less effective in preventing the growth of marine organisms on boat hulls, and that also can facilitate the transport of invasive species into new bodies of water, tare costly to purchase and apply, and contain chemicals that would harm the environment.

Meanwhile, boaters in the far southern or northern parts of the state can simply cruise to Mexico or Oregon to have bottom paint applied, as the bill will not affect shipyards outside of California.

I oppose SB623 and I hope that boaters will speak up and contact their representatives in Sacramento.

And don’t forget: Tune in to the No. 1 boating radio talk show in the nation, Capt. Mike Whitehead’s Boathouse Radio Show, broadcasting coast-to-coast on the CRN Digital Talk Radio syndicated network every Saturday at noon, Pacific Time and replayed on Sunday at 10 am Pacific.  Join Chandler Bell and me as we talk about “all things boating.”  You can find the station listings, cable TV channels, live streaming on the Internet, and now available are apps to listen to the show for your iPhone, Blackberry, iTouch, Android, Palm, and Windows Mobile at www.BoathouseTV.com or www.BoathouseRadio.com.

Until next week, Safe Voyages!


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  1. This article is so incredibly riddled with misinformation it is hard to decide were to begin. Yes, copper paints are designed to leach copper over time to keep marine organisms from growing on boat bottoms which increases drag on the boat and results in slower speeds and increased fuel use. The organisms can also damage the boat bottom leading to costly repairs. However there are proven cost effective alternatives

    High quality non biocide boat bottom paints are available and in use now and they do not cost an extra $5000 every two yeas as the article implies. In fact it is actually more expensive for boaters to continue to use copper bottom paints, that is why many commercial boats are now using non biocide paints because they last longer (up to eight years with one application) and save fuel. The port of San Diego even did a two year study on these paints to document these facts see http://www.portofsandiego.org/public-documents/cat_view/157-environment/438-copper-reduction-program/442-monitoring-and-data-assessment/443-epa-funded-qsafer-alternatives-to-copper-based-antifouling-paintsq-project.html for the study.

    Behind all this is the fact that the city of Newport Beach and other cities and marinas throughout the state will be subject to massive fines from the State Water Board if copper levels in Newport Bay and other areas are not reduced substantially. SB 623 is a good start but does not do what is really needed and ban all biocides in boat bottom paint. The time is right, so let’s cut the mindless rhetoric and stick to the facts. It is time to do this right, and do it now.

  2. Wow Ed, you sound like a tree hugger who throws darts to see what will stick, plus what are your educational qualifications in chemistry or biology? Your first sentence shows your stripes. You did not present any fact that was riddled with misinformation that your had a hard time to know where to start. Biocides, really? The EPA hates biocides and biocides kills more organisms than copper. San Diego’s study is not classified as a real study that can be published due to the very narrow scope. Also, where are your facts to dispute what Captain Mike wrote. Oh, none!

  3. Actually, Ed Wells, what you say is not entirely factually correct. Copper paints are designed to leach Cu+/Cu2+ ions into the hull microlayer where they control fouling. Once out of the microlayer, the ions form copper complexes which are much less harmful than the ionic form. The concept of “copper levels” is meaningless in an environmental context – it’s the form of copper that is important, and in the receiving marine environment the form of copper is highly complexed. The fact that marinas will be subject to massive fines is not a problem of copper levels, it’s a problem of the exceedence value that has been set. If you want to cut the rhetoric and stick to the facts, you should really ask yourself why copper is regulated on a single value in marine water (3.1 ug/l). Over 25 years ago EPA recognised that water chemistry controls bioavailability and set freshwater values based upon a hardness correction. Since then the freshwater bioavailability assessment has been updated to include all water parameters, and yet for the marine environment it’s still a single number with no assessment of bioavailability. Once that issue is addressed scientifically, and it will be in the very near future, I think you’ll find that the issue of “copper levels” in most marinas, particularly Newport Bay, will fade to nothing.

  4. Let’s talk about facts.
    Fact one. No less an august body than the San Diego Region Water Quality control Board feels the current measures for copper may be too stringent and suggest other models for testing and that constraints should be site specific. That means not state-wide. See http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/sandiego/water_issues/programs/basin_plan/tri_review
    Fact two. Studies in Dan Diego Bay reveal the copper found is not available to organisms. That means is is not doing any harm. See http://www.copperantifouling.com/copper/index.html.
    There are more studies in The Netherlands and Sweden that support this.

    • Just think what washes into the water from streets, gutters, lawns, jet exhaust/fuel, sewer line breaks, storm drains — and you are picking on boaters — Americans number one recreational pastime!!! Give me a break — how about the real science as mentioned by Mr. Sikas!

  5. Sounds like most of the commenters have done some homework, if you really read between the lines like “Big Bay Boater” has, high copper level really is site specific. The San Diego Port Authority study showed but not advertised, that the high levels in SD bay were in confined areas, with restricted tidal flow. The big proponent of this was fat cat water quality groups that have become professional grant writers putting Water Quality Control Boards in the their money hunting mechanism. The best and logical focus was to the auto industry using copper disc brake pads that spew tons of coppers daily. Some rain event monitoring showed low levels of copper to receiving waters, but its a fast flush with a fast dispersion and the samples taken one hour into the rain events are worthless to make any valid point. The coastkeeper org milked it hard to get a fat grant to keep admin payrolls alive. Points of decorative copper is a valid source of copper input to bays and lakes.