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Water: Vessels

Vessel Discharges Homepage


EPA's NPDES vessels program regulates incidental discharges from the normal operation of vessels consistent with section 402 of the Clean Water Act. These incidental discharges include, but are not limited to, ballast water, bilgewater, graywater (e.g., water from sinks, showers), and anti-foulant paints (and their leachate). Such discharges, if not adequately controlled, may result in negative environmental impacts via the addition of traditional pollutants or, in some cases, by contributing to the spread of aquatic invasive species.

The centerpiece of the NPDES vessels program is the Vessel General Permit, also known as the VGP. The VGP was issued initially in 2008 with that permit in effect through December 19, 2013. EPA reissued the VGP on March 28, 2013 with that second permit taking effect beginning December 19, 2013 (and effective for five years thereafter). Generally, the VGP provides NPDES permit coverage for ballast water and for other discharges incidental to the normal operation of commercial vessels greater than 79 feet in length and operating as a means of transportation.

Except for ballastwater, NPDES permits have not been required for discharges incidental to normal operation of commercial fishing vessels and other non-recreational vessels less than 79 feet. Because the moratorium from the requirement to obtain permit coverage for incidental discharges from these vessels was extended until December 18, 2017, see Vessels Background, beginning December 19, 2014, owners/operators of vessels less than 79 feet in length with ballast water discharges will be able to obtain NPDES coverage under EPA's Small Vessel General Permit (sVGP), which was published on September 10, 2014 (see Small Vessel General Permit).

Recreational vessels are not subject to the requirement to obtain an NPDES permit for discharges incidental to their normal operation. Rather, the law requires EPA to develop management practice performance standards and then for the Coast Guard to promulgate regulations that require compliance with such practices. Similarly, the NPDES program does not regulate discharges from military vessels. Both recreational vessels and military vessels are regulated under the authority of Section 312 of the Clean Water Act.

To implement the NPDES vessels program, EPA undertakes many activities to: characterize the different types of discharges from vessels; assess the environmental impacts of these discharges; identify appropriate measures for controlling these discharges; and establish tools to manage associated data and other vessels-related information. Details of EPA’s vessels program activities can be accessed from the pages identified below.

EPA developed a webinar series on the 2013 Vessel General Permit (VGP) and four webinars have been completed (2013 VGP Introduction, eNOI System, EALs, and Monitoring); however, you can view or download recordings of those webinars from the "Additional Permit Resources" link on the right side of this page. Dependent on stakeholder interest, EPA may schedule additional webinars and welcomes suggestions for future webinar topics. Please send any suggestions to vgp@epa.gov (vgp@epa.gov).


Vessel General Permit (VGP) and Supporting Information

Small Vessel General Permit (sVGP) and Supporting Information

Vessel Permitting Background Information – Overview of the history behind why and how EPA regulates discharges incidental to the normal operation of vessels.

  • Program Development – EPA’s research and development efforts for vessel discharges.
  • Report to Congress – EPA’s 2010 report to Congress on a study of discharges incidental to normal operation of commercial fishing vessels and other non-recreational vessels less than 79 feet.

Additional Permit Resources - Additional information related to the permitting of vessel discharges including links to other related websites.

Publications – Searchable and sortable compilation of vessel discharge related publications.

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