Transferring sewage off your vessel to an approved pump-out and treatment facility ashore is a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. Why? Because you can’t just dump raw sewage overboard.

If you do, you’re in gross violation of the Clean Water Act and can earn yourself a stiff fine – or maybe even a parole officer. You can’t discharge anything, including treated sewage, in a “no discharge zone,” nor can you dump raw sewage within three miles of the coastline.

That means you are going to use a holding tank — part of your collection, holding and transfer (CHT) system — and when it gets full, one of your lucky crew is going to draw the duty of hooking up a hose and pumping the nasty stuff ashore. Just like any other job on a vessel, safety comes into play here, too. I’d like to address some of the procedures necessary to properly handle and transfer sewage.

First, notify the right people before you start any task. Then, closely consult your Safety Management System – procedures very likely include sewage handling. Follow the CHT system’s manufacturer’s recommendation, if applicable. Know what you’re doing and don’t wing it.

Align the sewage transfer system using a correct diagram and use tag out. Your shipmates might want to know when not to sit on the toilet lest they get a surprise. Have someone double check the alignment.

Before you touch anything else, obtain and don the proper personal protective equipment (PPE). That should include coveralls (preferably a disposable paper set), goggles, gloves, and a face shield. Don’t forget the face shield – if you think it’s too much trouble, think about how much trouble a face full of sewage would be.

When you begin pumping, closely watch the evolution on onboard and communicate with the folks on the other end of the hose. If you don’t, they could be in harm’s way of a sewage shower, too.

When you’re finished pumping, clean and flush the hose. Also clean and disinfect the area around your pump-out connection. Bleach works. Then clean your PPE and dispose of the paper coveralls even if you don't see any bad stuff on them. You can’t see the bacteria that were in the tank feasting on sewage and are now on your gloves and coveralls.

Next, and most importantly, wash your hands with soap and hot water. Twice. No one wants to see the deckhand who just pumped sewage go make hamburgers without washing his hands.

As they say, the job isn’t over until the paperwork is done. Log the transfer in the appropriate log in case the Coast Guard, the EPA, or local officials ask you where the stuff went.

If you screw up on any of this, you could spill the sewage overboard – exactly what you were trying to avoid. Not to mention the prospect of ending up covered in it. Trust me, it’s the worst experience you’ll have in a long time. Don’t let it happen to you.

Sail Safe.