Questions or Comments: cwcert@tceq.texas.gov
You are here:

Clean Water Certification for Boat Sewage

Texas has requirements for marine sanitation devices and boat pump-out stations. See how to obtain or renew your certification, what the rules are, and how to report suspected illegal discharges.

What is the Clean Water Certification Program?

The CWCP's goal is to prevent boat sewage discharge into Texas waterways. Texas waterways include all inland freshwater lakes, rivers, tidally influenced waterbodies, and coastal areas out to three nautical miles into the Gulf of Mexico. The program aims to protect and improve the quality of water in Texas.

Owners of boats and pump-out stations regulated under the CWCP must certify the proper operation of their marine sanitation device (MSD) or pump-out station and obtain a Clean Water Certification decal. Decals must be properly displayed and clearly indicate the date of expiration. If your decal does not meet these standards, see "How do I obtain the certification" below.

An MSD is any permanently installed sanitation device on any boat that is designed to receive, retain, treat, or dispose of sewage. If you have a boat with an MSD located on any Texas waterway, you must certify the proper operation of the MSD and obtain a Clean Water Certification decal.

If your boat has an installed toilet, the toilet must be attached to a properly operating MSD. Boat owners must ensure that their MSD installation complies with U.S. Coast Guard regulations.

Types of MSDs

The USCG regulates three types of MSDs:

  • Type I MSD: A flow-through system that treats the sewage using chemical and mechanical methods before discharging the waste overboard. Only boats 65 feet or less in length can install a Type I MSD.
  • Type II MSD: A flow-through system that treats the sewage using chemical and mechanical methods before discharging the waste overboard. Boats of any length can install a Type II MSD.
  • Type III MSD: A holding tank. Boats of any length can install a Type III MSD. All houseboats must have a Type III MSD.

Boats with Type I and II MSDs must secure the MSD to prevent the discharge of sewage. You can secure your MSD by closing the Y-valve and installing a padlock or wire-tie to prevent the automatic discharge of treated sewage.

Houseboats

A houseboat is any boat or floating structure capable of being used as a stationary and/or mobile residence. A houseboat usually contains plumbing fixtures. Because houseboats may pose a greater risk to water quality due to potential occupancy time and waste volume, all houseboats must have at least one permanently installed toilet. In addition, all houseboats must have a Type III MSD (holding tank) installed, even if the boat already has a Type I or Type II MSD.

Owners of boat sewage pump-out stations operated on or adjacent to surface water in Texas must certify the proper operation of the stations under the CWCP and obtain a Clean Water Certification decal.

TCEQ rules require boat pump-out stations to be designed, installed, and operated to prevent the accidental discharge of sewage. The design of boat pump-out stations must:

  • Have a spill-proof connection with shipboard holding tanks.
  • Have suction controls or vacuum breaker to limit suction to such levels to avoid collapse of rigid holding tanks.
  • Provide fresh water facilities for tank flushing.
  • Have a check valve and positive cut-off or other device to preclude spillage when breaking connection with a vessel being serviced.
  • Provide adequate interim storage, if required, prior to transfer to an approved sewage system for disposal.
  • Ensure that any connection to a drinking water system is provided with vacuum breakers or other device designed to insure against backflow or siphonage of sewage or contaminated water into the drinking water system.
  • For mobile or floating boat pump-out stations, have adequate and spill-proof facilities for transfer to shore-based sewage systems or intermediate transfer facilities.

Marinas can obtain assistance to install pump-out stations. Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) administers the federal Clean Vessel Act (CVA) grant programExit the TCEQ.

Certifying is an easy two-step process! Access the online application to certify your MSD or boat pump-out station. After completing the application, you will application/pdfnavigate to ePay, the TCEQ's online payment system, to submit the payment. Please allow at least 10 business days to receive your decal by mail. See ORBPS Help for general navigation and assistance.

The CWCP laws require you to submit all applications and payments electronically. TCEQ will not accept paper applications or payments. If you are unable to comply with this requirement you may request a waiver by contacting TCEQ at cwcert@tceq.texas.gov or (512) 239-2628.

MSD certification initial fee: $15.00
Boat pump-out station certification initial fee: $35.00

Replacement decals for either an MSD or a pump-out station: $2.00 each
To obtain a replacement decal, contact TCEQ at cwcert@tceq.texas.gov or (512) 239-2628.

Boat and boat pump-out station owners must maintain their certification by renewing every two years. Use the online application to renew the certification for your MSD or boat pump-out station. Certifications expire on December 31 of every odd-calendar year. (For example: 2021, 2023, etc.) Submit your certification renewal application no later than November 30th of each odd-numbered year.

Clean Water Certification decals for 2022-2023 will expire on December 31, 2023. The expiration date applies to both pump-out stations and MSDs. TCEQ will accept applications to renew for 2024-2025 from November 5 - November 30, 2023.

Important: Do not submit a renewal before November 5, 2023 unless you need a replacement decal for the current registration period.

MSD certification renewal fee: $15.00
Boat pump-out station certification renewal fee: $25.00

If you sell your boat, you can transfer the certification decal to the new owner. The new owner must contact TCEQ at (512) 239-2628 or cwcert@tceq.texas.gov to update owner/contact information. If the new owner continues operating the boat's MSD, the new owner must renew prior to November 30 of the year the certification expires.

Most Texas waterways are either a source for public drinking water or are used for contact recreation, such as swimming. When a boat discharges sewage directly into the water, it can impact both human health and the environment.

Health Risks

Boat sewage can introduce disease-causing microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, and protozoans) into the water. These microorganisms are vectors for diseases such as hepatitis A, gastroenteritis, giardia, cryptosporidium, typhoid, and cholera.

Environmental Problems

Boat sewage contains nutrients, such as nitrogen. Aquatic plants and algae can use these nutrients to grow and spread in the form of blooms. These blooms can block the light needed by other aquatic life, creating an imbalance in the ecosystem. In addition, when the algae decays, it can deplete the waterbody of oxygen needed by aquatic organisms, resulting in fish kills.

Along the coast, bacteria that enter the water from boat sewage can affect shellfish beds. The bacteria also consume the oxygen needed by aquatic organisms.

Some chemicals used to treat boat sewage in MSDs, such as formaldehyde and chlorine, can be toxic to aquatic life.

Economic Problems

When contaminant levels (bacteria, nutrients, etc.) are high, many swimming and fishing areas have to be closed or restricted. Such closures or restrictions negatively impact tourism and the ability to enjoy contact recreation on Texas waterways.

It is illegal to discharge untreated sewage anywhere in Texas waterways. Boat sewage must be properly disposed into a certified pump-out station.

Federal and state laws prohibit the discharge of both treated and untreated sewage into any No Discharge Zone (NDZ). NDZs include all inland freshwater lakes and rivers. Clear Lake is currently the only coastal NDZ in Texas.

No one wants to fish or swim where they know boat sewage is being discharged. Properly managing sewage from boats by following these simple tips:

  • Use restrooms on shore.
  • Establish a regular maintenance schedule for your MSD based on the manufacturer's recommendations.
  • Dispose of sewage waste properly at a pump-out station.
  • Pump out and rinse holding tanks regularly.
  • Properly maintain your boat toilet.

If you have reason to believe that someone has illegally discharged boat sewage into Texas waters, you can file a complaint with your local TCEQ region office. For more information on filing a complaint with TCEQ, please visit:

Texas law also authorizes any Texas Game Warden or certified marine safety enforcement officer to enforce the rules of the Clean Water Certification Program. To report a violation, contact Operation Game ThiefExit the TCEQ or call (800) 792-4263.

Violations of the Clean Water Certification Program under the Texas Water Code have administrative penalties of up to $25,000 per day. Additionally, under the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code, the violator faces a Class C misdemeanor charge and fines of up to $500.