Paddlers Spread Pump-Out ‘Gospel’ to Cruisers

No matter how foul the weather gets, boating season never really ends in Seattle. So after the successful summer launch of their waterborne outreach campaign, Washington Sea Grant’s “Pumpout Paddlers” are readying their kayaks for winter paddling. They’ll be delivering hands-free pump-out adapters so boaters have a cleaner, easier way to pump their sewage-holding tanks and avoid what one grateful recreational boater called “the shower that everybody gets someday.”

Washington Sea Grant, based at the University of Washington, partners with the Washington State Parks Boating Program to operate Pumpout Washington. Sea Grant field staff educate boaters and marina operators about the importance of keeping raw onboard sewage out of lakes, straits and Puget Sound, and provide needed tools.

Sea Grant, for example, helps marinas secure federal Clean Vessel Act funding to install and operate pump-out stations. And it distributes threaded pump-out adapters that spare boaters the hassle and potential mess of holding an unsecured rubber hose nozzle as it draws out their boat’s sewage. The threaded adapter screws tightly into a boat’s waste-discharge deck fitting and clamps securely onto the hose leading to the pump-out station, allowing hands-free, spill-free pump-outs.

Each free adapter kit also includes instructions, rubber gloves, and a scannable  code linked to a map of pump-out stations, all contained in a waterproof tube.

Since piloting the program in 2012, Washington Sea Grant has distributed more than 3,000 kits at boat shows, marinas, yacht clubs and other boating venues.

But Aaron Barnett, Washington Sea Grant’s Port Townsend-based boating program specialist, realized that often the best place to reach boaters is on the water, not ashore, so he and volunteers from Sea Grant and the UW Kayak Club took to their kayaks.

This summer the paddlers spread the pump-out gospel together with hundreds of adapter kits and Washington State Boating Manuals, to cruisers, yachts and the occasional schooner anchored off San Juan Island, Fort Flagler and Port Townsend’s Wooden Boat Festival. They discovered that boaters were more receptive to the message and amused by the messenger when they were on the water. At the docks, boat owner tend to be hurried and preoccupied as they tie up, make repairs, or prepare to cast off. Once afloat, however, they tend to relax and see strangers hailing them from kayaks as visitors rather than pests.

Shipboard delivery also serves as a test of the effectiveness of shoreside distribution; about half the boaters the paddlers approached in state marine parks in the San Juans in August had already obtained kits from a display table Washington Sea Grant set up on the Friday Harbor dock. And it provides extra assurance that the adapter kits get where they’re needed, rather than being left ashore.

“It really is an effective outreach technique,” Barnett concluded after the summer trials.

Buoyed by these results, the Washington Sea Grant’s “Pumpout Paddlers” are now planning winter forays. They’ll cruise South Lake Union during the Seattle Boat Show, Jan. 24-Feb. 2, and look for other opportunities to reach hardy boaters on Lake Washington and Central Puget Sound.

Washington state has 271,000 registered boats and thousands more unregistered small craft. Boaters help fund pump-out stations and equipment such as the adapters through a tax on recreational fishing gear and boat fuel.

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Eric Scigliano is the Washington Sea Grant science writer.

Story and photos courtesy of www.washington.edu

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