Clean Bottoms: Will boaters be left holding the bag?

Published online: May 31, 2011 News BoatUS
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The California State Senate is about to consider a bill that, if passed, will ban copper antifouling paint for recreational boats. Also known as "bottom paint," the brushed, rolled-on, or sprayed-on coatings contain copper, an effective biocide that prevents marine growth such as barnacles, seaweeds and other organic matter on a boat's hull or bottom. If left alone and without any preventative measures, this marine growth can substantially increase fuel consumption, reduce steering ability, and eventually render a boat inoperable.

California Senate Bill 623 has passed through two committees and is now headed to a vote by the full Senate. Because this proposal will affect the maintenance options available for boaters, sailors and anglers who keep their boats in the water, BoatUS encourages Golden State boat owners to take a few minutes now to contact your Senator and express your views.

As currently written, CA Senate Bill 623 includes provisions that:

After 1/1/2015: Prohibit the sale of new recreational boats with copper bottom paint.

After 1/1/2019: Prohibit the use or application of antifouling paint containing copper on recreational boats.

BoatUS has been monitoring developments in alternative antifouling paints for more than a decade and understands the origins and respects the good environmental intentions of this bill. However, currently there are few effective and cost-conscious alternatives to keep hulls clean. The March 2011 issue of the well-regarded Practical Sailor magazine analyzed 62 antifouling paints, of which 12 contained no copper. In terms of performance, just one non-copper bottom paint (which contained zinc) rated "excellent," one rated "fair," and ten rated "poor."

BoatUS also has concerns that recreational boaters are being unfairly and unwisely singled out, as this ban would only apply to recreational boats, which may not provide a large enough market to stimulate research and development on new alternative coatings. Much larger commercial and military vessels would still be able to use copper paints. In addition, copper paints currently serve as the primary defense against invasive species transfer from hulls to waterways.

"Bringing new products to market takes significant lead time and money," said BoatUS Vice President of Government Affairs Margaret Podlich. "How do we know there will be alternatives that are effective and affordable by the bill's deadline? We recognize that there are many opinions about this bill, and encourage boaters to contact your state Senator to express your own views. We support innovation in antifouling paint and we hope that sustainable solutions for boaters and the environment can be found."

California boaters can email their Senator by going to For an update on this and other government affairs topics please visit


About BoatUS:

BoatUS - Boat Owners Association of The United States - is the nation's leading advocate for recreational boaters providing over half a million members with government representation, programs and money-saving services. For membership information visit or call 800-395-2628.


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