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Virginia Watercraft Owner's Guide

Environmental Laws

Pollution

It is illegal for anyone to pollute our waterways in Virginia. If you can't recycle it, take it ashore to a trash receptacle. Please help keep the waterways clean by picking up your trash. If you see any source or indication of water pollution, such as dead fish, call your local Health Department, or call the Richmond office of the Virginia Department of Health at 804-786-1761.

Sea Turtle and Marine Mammal Encounters

While boating in Virginia, you may encounter sea turtles, which are common in the summer months in the coastal ocean, Chesapeake Bay, and associated river mouths, and marine mammals (whales, dolphins, porpoises, manatees and seals), which are most common in the coastal ocean and Chesapeake Bay mouth, but can occur inside the bay and associated river mouths as well. Sea turtles are protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and marine mammals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).

Guidelines for approaching dolphins and sea turtles suggest that vessels stay at least 50 feet away and cut the engine or remain in neutral if the animals approach you. Large whales such as humpback and fin whales can also be seen in the Chesapeake Bay and ocean waters off Virginia. Vessels are asked to remain at least 300 feet from these endangered whales. Occasionally manatees are sighted in Virginia waters. Vessel operators should avoid approaching manatees as they are critically endangered and susceptible to vessel strikes. Be a responsible vessel operator and allow Virginia's sea turtles and marine mammals to exist undisturbed in our waters, their natural habitat.

The Marine Environment

Nuisance aquatic species, such as zebra mussels and hydrilla, can spread quickly, replace native species, and damage water resources. Properly cleaning boats and equipment after each use can prevent the spread of invasive marine species.

Submersed aquatic vegetation (or SAV) are underwater plants often found in shallow (usually less than 6 feet) areas. They are important habitat for fish and shellfish, particularly the blue crab, and are a food source for several waterfowl species. Scientific studies have shown that SAV beds can be scarred by boat propellers or by larger craft if they run aground. When operating your boat in shallow areas, particularly at low tide, be careful to avoid damaging SAV.