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Old 10-04-2021, 22:26   #1
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Lake Superior Best Practices Advice

We plan to spend some time in the Apostles this summer. We are at a marina in Bayfield, so we have a lot of near by exploring. I am great at roughing it unlike my wife. She likes to be clean and to eat off clean dishes. She even washes her hands after using the head. We don't have a holding tank, so I am curious as to what people do for dish, body, and hand washing aboard when at anchor. I would like to comply with regulations and to have as little impact on the ecosystems as I can manage. Thanks.
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Old 11-04-2021, 05:46   #2
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Re: Lake Superior Best Practices Advice

Grey water from sinks and showers can legally go right over the side. The vast majority of recreational boats are plumbed that way. Black water from the head needs to be held on board for later pumpout anywhere in the great lakes.
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Old 11-04-2021, 06:09   #3
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Re: Lake Superior Best Practices Advice

I am surprised you don't have a holding tank. They have been mandatory on the GL for decades. Getting one would make a great deal of sense and make you legal too.
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Old 11-04-2021, 07:33   #4
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Re: Lake Superior Best Practices Advice

Yeah you need a holding tank period. If you have a head, it's mandatory on the great lakes. To the point that if you have a discharge valve going overboard you need to prevent it from being operable (by sealing it or capping and removing the plumbing) and if you have a macerator you need to disable it by clipping the wires. You can get in huge trouble, fines,etc for not complying. I'm sure on a slow day for the coast guard or DNR and they would love to check. If you're in a marina, they might check as well.

Now if you're simply referring to having a gray water holding tank, I don't believe that's required and I doubt any recreational boats on the great lakes have those. Those types of discharges can still go overboard unless you're in a very specifically protected area that would prohibit those as well.
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Old 11-04-2021, 07:43   #5
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Re: Lake Superior Best Practices Advice

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Yeah you need a holding tank period. If you have a head, it's mandatory on the great lakes. To the point that if you have a discharge valve going overboard you need to prevent it from being operable (by sealing it or capping and removing the plumbing) and if you have a macerator you need to disable it by clipping the wires. You can get in huge trouble, fines,etc for not complying. I'm sure on a slow day for the coast guard or DNR and they would love to check. If you're in a marina, they might check as well.

The laws don't require you to go quite that far to prevent discharge. Close the macerator seacock and lock it in the off position either by removing the handle, using a ziptie, etc. and then turn off the macerator breaker and you're more than covered. It would take several distinct and deliberate actions to discharge at that point, which satisfies the legal requirement.

There's no requirement to permanently disable the systems or cut any wires, especially considering a boat that's on the Great Lakes could easily travel to a body of water where discharge is legal.
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Old 11-04-2021, 08:17   #6
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Re: Lake Superior Best Practices Advice

I've done most of my cruising in the Apostles and never seen a boat with a greywater holding tank. I believe it's technically not legal to discharge, but never enforced as far as I can tell. We try to be responsible and use small amounts of fancy biodegradable soaps and have wire traps in our galley sink drains to remove as many particles as possible.

I have heard it's technically legal to pee directly into the water, but not to pee in a bucket and chuck that. Don't quote me on that though, and I wouldn't do anything like that in an anchorage.

As stated, blackwater is another story. You are going to need some kind holding capacity if you have berths/galley. Even if it's just a portable, but any discharge mechanism is going to need to be at least minimally disabled as mentioned. If you're going to be here a while put in a tank. Pumpouts are cheap and liberally available. $10 IIRC at our marina, Pike's Bay. Our 100L does us fine for the few days/week we are out at a time.
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Old 11-04-2021, 08:25   #7
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Re: Lake Superior Best Practices Advice

How about installing a composting head? Though expensive to start, when compared to the total cost of installing a holding tank with all of itís plumbing plus the value of lost locker space, it begins to seem reasonable.
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Old 11-04-2021, 09:12   #8
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Re: Lake Superior Best Practices Advice

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Originally Posted by rslifkin View Post
The laws don't require you to go quite that far to prevent discharge. Close the macerator seacock and lock it in the off position either by removing the handle, using a ziptie, etc. and then turn off the macerator breaker and you're more than covered. It would take several distinct and deliberate actions to discharge at that point, which satisfies the legal requirement.

There's no requirement to permanently disable the systems or cut any wires, especially considering a boat that's on the Great Lakes could easily travel to a body of water where discharge is legal.
That's interesting in that I got this information specifically from a marine surveyor just a few weeks ago in the process of buying a new boat. Perhaps it's just local to me in Illinois or possibly even just a Chicago thing. Or he could have been mistaken entirely but he definitely told me the macerator device needs to be permanently disabled, a breaker is not enough.
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Old 11-04-2021, 10:09   #9
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Re: Lake Superior Best Practices Advice

I cruised Lake Superior for over a decade and spent considerable time in all Great Lakes except Michigan. Grey water does not require a holding tank, but black water definitely does. Any overboard discharge systems must be disabled, but I've never heard of a requirement that it must be a permanent action. Anecdotally the message was to have all overboard discharge valves closed and tied off so they couldn't easily be opened.

While pump out facilities are quite plentiful in more populated areas, the opposite is true in less-travelled waters. On the north shore of Superior (Canadian shore) you can go for hundreds of miles without seeing one. This was one reason I converted to a composting head. It allowed me to be go cruising of Superior and never have to worry about my holding tank getting full.
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Old 12-04-2021, 05:12   #10
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Re: Lake Superior Best Practices Advice

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That's interesting in that I got this information specifically from a marine surveyor just a few weeks ago in the process of buying a new boat. Perhaps it's just local to me in Illinois or possibly even just a Chicago thing. Or he could have been mistaken entirely but he definitely told me the macerator device needs to be permanently disabled, a breaker is not enough.
Probably a good indicator you need a new surveyor, you have to wonder what else the guy's just pulling out his behind? Most definitely isn't an IL or Chicago requirement, nor a requirement for any city or state in the U.S. for that matter. I may have been a pilot in the Coast Guard, but I did have to take all the classes on jurisdictional issues when it comes to discharge requirements. Not something a city or state could require.
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Old 12-04-2021, 11:46   #11
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Re: Lake Superior Best Practices Advice

If you are going to liveaboard and travel in the Great Lakes, in my experience, you can count on being boarded at one, if not several points. The various agencies seem to have the time and interest for proactive safety inspections.

If you are going to the Canadian side and back, you will also need a Custom's inspection, sticker and form. I forget the form number, but the US side will give you hell on your return for not having this done before you left. It is a poorly thought out system since US Custom's is not commonly located on the Great Lakes. Those offices are more commonly located at big airports. Go figure.

It helps if you start by asking a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary to do an inspection before you get started. They do the same inspection as the USCG without the risk of a ticket or fine. At the end, they give you a list of compliance items or if you are up to snuff, they give you a sticker for your boat.

The stickers typically help out later when others want to do another inspection. They either skip it or do only a cursory one.

It is beneficial to know that you have what you need and have passed the safety check.... you may overlook something or have old equipment, bad batteries etc that is easily overlooked prior to the safety inspection.

If it looks like you are going to be pumping overboard, you will not pass the inspection.

An alternative to a holding tank is a composting toilet. You can read up on what those involve. If you like videos, Sailing Uma has used one and talks about it at various points.

Be careful on Lake Superior. The distance between harbors warrants some thought and planning. You can't always count on wind or good weather.

Good luck.
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Old 12-04-2021, 12:06   #12
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Re: Lake Superior Best Practices Advice

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Originally Posted by StoneCrab View Post
If you are going to liveaboard and travel in the Great Lakes, in my experience, you can count on being boarded at one, if not several points. The various agencies seem to have the time and interest for proactive safety inspections.

If you are going to the Canadian side and back, you will also need a Custom's inspection, sticker and form. I forget the form number, but the US side will give you hell on your return for not having this done before you left. It is a poorly thought out system since US Custom's is not commonly located on the Great Lakes. Those offices are more commonly located at big airports. Go figure.

It helps if you start by asking a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary to do an inspection before you get started. They do the same inspection as the USCG without the risk of a ticket or fine. At the end, they give you a list of compliance items or if you are up to snuff, they give you a sticker for your boat.

The stickers typically help out later when others want to do another inspection. They either skip it or do only a cursory one.

It is beneficial to know that you have what you need and have passed the safety check.... you may overlook something or have old equipment, bad batteries etc that is easily overlooked prior to the safety inspection.

If it looks like you are going to be pumping overboard, you will not pass the inspection.

An alternative to a holding tank is a composting toilet. You can read up on what those involve. If you like videos, Sailing Uma has used one and talks about it at various points.

Be careful on Lake Superior. The distance between harbors warrants some thought and planning. You can't always count on wind or good weather.

Good luck.
I have been working on a composting head build. It is actually pretty low on my priority list right now. My current head is a porta-potty. There is no plumbing that will allow it to pump into the lake.

My main concern was the gray water. Not just the legal aspect, but the ecological as well. I always try to do my part to keep the eco systems I encounter clean and healthy.

The Coast Guard Aux. is a great suggestion. Thanks.
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Old 12-04-2021, 12:30   #13
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Re: Lake Superior Best Practices Advice

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Originally Posted by _LifeInTheWild_ View Post
We plan to spend some time in the Apostles this summer. We are at a marina in Bayfield, so we have a lot of near by exploring. I am great at roughing it unlike my wife. She likes to be clean and to eat off clean dishes. She even washes her hands after using the head. We don't have a holding tank, so I am curious as to what people do for dish, body, and hand washing aboard when at anchor. I would like to comply with regulations and to have as little impact on the ecosystems as I can manage. Thanks.
It's a $2,000 fine if your boarded and have an seacock that can let black water into the lake. It must have a lock on it.
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Old 12-04-2021, 12:52   #14
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Re: Lake Superior Best Practices Advice

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It's a $2,000 fine if your boarded and have an seacock that can let black water into the lake. It must have a lock on it.
We use a porta potty. There is no plumbing to a seacock.
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Old 12-04-2021, 13:39   #15
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Re: Lake Superior Best Practices Advice

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Originally Posted by Enrique100 View Post
Yeah you need a holding tank period. If you have a head, it's mandatory on the great lakes. To the point that if you have a discharge valve going overboard you need to prevent it from being operable (by sealing it or capping and removing the plumbing) and if you have a macerator you need to disable it by clipping the wires.
Yes you need a holding tank or a composting head. Certainly in the lower Great Lakes, canals & lake Champlain, you are required to physically disconnect all overboard discharges which usually involves pulling the hose(s) off the through hulls (& capping the hose to prevent mess in the bilge). The macerator pump & wires become moot since there is no physical connection to drain overboard. In otherno discharge zones a lock or zip ties are acceptable -not on the Canadian side of lower Great Lakes or all of Lake Champlain.
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