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Commercial Vessel Discharge Standards: Frequently Asked Questions

Disclaimer: Staff in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Office of Water developed these commercial vessel discharge frequently asked questions (FAQs) to address issues commonly raised to EPA regarding the vessel discharges. These FAQs do not substitute for standards and should not be interpreted to supersede the requirements of any regulations. In the event there is a perceived conflict between regulation language and these FAQs, the regulations govern. 

Frequently Asked Questions on the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA):
Frequently Asked Questions on the interim requirements (the 2013 Vessel General Permit):

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Is the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA) a part of U.S. Clean Water Act?

The VIDA, passed by Congress in 2018, amended Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 312 by adding a new subsection (p) titled “Uniform National Standards for Discharges Incidental to Normal Operation of Vessels.” Subsection (p) requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the United States Coast Guard (USCG) to develop new regulations for incidental discharges from regulated vessels into waters of the United States and waters of the contiguous zone. The VIDA also includes other related amendments to the Act for enforcement authority, the creation of a coastal aquatic invasive species mitigation grant program and mitigation fund, and a Great Lakes and Lake Champlain Invasive Species Program.   

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What size and type of vessels are subject to the VIDA regulatory requirements?   

EPA’s proposed Vessel Incidental Discharge National Standards of Performance would apply to non-recreational, non-Armed Forces vessels that are 79 feet in length and above. For ballast water, the  proposed regulations would also apply to small vessels (less than 79 feet in length) and fishing vessels of all sizes.  

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Where will the new VIDA regulations apply?        

The new requirements will apply in waters of the United States, including inland waters, and waters of the contiguous zone, extending out 12 miles from shore. This is similar to existing USCG ballast water regulations.

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When will the new VIDA requirements apply? What standards should vessels follow in the meantime?

The new VIDA requirements will apply once both EPA’s Vessel Incidental Discharge National Standards of Performance are finalized and the new USCG implementing regulations required under the VIDA are final, effective, and enforceable (required to be promulgated within two years after EPA’s national standards are promulgated). Until the USCG regulations are final, effective, and enforceable, non-recreational and non-Armed Forces vessels 79 feet in length and greater are subject to the existing discharge requirements established in EPA’s 2013 Vessel General Permit (VGP) and the USCG’s ballast water regulations, as well as any other applicable state and local government requirements. Non-recreational, non-Armed Forces vessels less than 79 feet in length and fishing vessels of any size continue to be subject to existing ballast water discharge requirements only as established through the EPA 2013 VGP, the USCG ballast water regulations, and any other applicable state and local government requirements.

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Did EPA and the U.S. Coast Guard work together to develop the regulations under the VIDA?

Yes. Under the VIDA, EPA was required to develop the proposed standards in concurrence with the USCG. As such, the two agencies worked together closely to develop the proposed standards. 

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Does the VIDA outline any specific requirements for developing the standards?              

Yes. The VIDA requires that the discharge standards be technology-based and in the form of numeric effluent limits, best management practices, or a combination of the two. In setting the standards, EPA can distinguish among classes, types, and sizes of vessels, and between new and existing vessels. The VIDA additionally specifies that, with limited exceptions, the new standards must be at least as stringent as the 2013 Vessel General Permit (VGP).           

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Is there a timeline for reviewing or revisiting the standards under the VIDA?        

The VIDA requires EPA, in consultation with the USCG, to review the standards of performance at least every five years and to revise those standards as necessary. However, the VIDA also allows EPA to revisit standards at any time.

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How does the VIDA affect a state's regulation of these types of discharges?        

The VIDA largely prohibits states from adopting or enforcing more stringent requirements than established under the VIDA once the USCG implementing regulations are final, effective, and enforceable. However, the VIDA provides several mechanisms for states, working through EPA or the USCG, to seek and obtain more stringent requirements within state waters, including the establishment of no-discharge zones for one or more incidental discharges.  

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How will the VIDA standards be enforced? 

The VIDA empowered the USCG as the primary enforcement agency but this new law also modified the Clean Water Act to provide EPA and the states with authority to enforce the federal requirements established under the VIDA.  

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Are vessels still required to use the 2013 VGP eNOI System?  

Yes. Until the USCG regulations are final, effective, and enforceable, the same notices of intent (NOIs), notices of termination (NOTs), and annual reports that were required under the 2013 Vessel General Permit (VGP) are still required. NOIs submitted prior to the VIDA continue to provide required VGP coverage. A new NOI is only required for new vessels or existing vessels to correct any mistakes or to update other information. Once the USCG regulations are final, effective, and enforceable, these forms will no longer be required, and vessels will solely need to comply with any applicable USCG reporting requirements.

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General VGP Questions

What is the Vessel General Permit (VGP)?

The VGP is a permit issued by EPA in 2008 and reissued in 2013 under the Clean Water Act National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) that provided authority, on a nationwide basis, for discharges incidental to the normal operation of non-military and non-recreational vessels. The 2013 VGP established effluent limits, sampling, inspection, reporting, recordkeeping, and other requirements for 27 specific types of incidental discharges from vessels.

Do vessels still need to comply with the VGP with the passing of the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA)?

The President signed the VIDA into law on December 4, 2018. The law changes the way incidental discharges from vessels are to be regulated by EPA; however, the law keeps the provisions of the 2013 VGP in force and effect until EPA and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) finalize new regulations to address these discharges. Effective beginning on the date on which those new USCG regulations are final, effective, and enforceable, the requirements of the VGP shall have no force or effect.

Will EPA modify the 2013 VGP prior to the new VIDA regulations being published?

No. The VIDA specifies that the 2013 VGP is to remain in force and effect as it is currently written until the new VIDA regulations are enforceable. The law specifies that the permit cannot be modified during that time.

What is the Small Vessel General Permit (sVGP) and is it currently in effect?

The EPA sVGP, issued on September 10, 2014, effective beginning December 19, 2014 and scheduled to expire on December 18, 2019 is repealed effective December 4, 2018 as provided in the VIDA. That law, among other things, both repealed the sVGP effective immediately and specified that other than ballast water, small vessels and commercial fishing vessels of all sizes do not require NPDES permit coverage for incidental discharges.

Must vessels maintain a paper copy of the VGP onboard?

No. Vessels are not required to keep a paper copy of the VGP onboard the vessel; however, EPA recommends that a copy be available onboard each vessel for reference to ensure that vessel operators are aware of all requirements. This is especially important for vessels that may operate in waters where U.S. states have provided Clean Water Act Section 401 certification conditions (see Section 6 of the VGP).

The VGP does require that certain documents including the NOI or PARI form as applicable be maintained onboard the vessel. These records can be retained electronically if they are available in a form that can be read similar to a paper record, are legally dependable, and accessible to an inspector onboard the vessel (as detailed in Part 4.2.1 of the 2013 VGP).

What is the effective date and permit term for the VGP?

The current VGP became effective on December 19, 2013 and as drafted, expired on December 19, 2018.  However, as specified in the VIDA, the requirements of the 2013 VGP continue to be in effect until the regulations promulgated by the USCG under the VIDA (CWA Section 312(p)(5)(A)-(C)) with respect to every discharge incidental to the normal operation of a vessel are final, effective, and enforceable.  Those new USCG regulations are projected to be promulgated in late 2022. 

Is a tank barge considered to be a tanker or a barge for purposes of the VGP?

The VGP has vessel class specific requirements in Part 5 of the VGP. Part 5.4 addresses barges and 5.5 addresses oil or petroleum tankers. If a vessel is a tank barge, then it must meet the requirements in Part 5.4; if a vessel, including a tank barge, is transporting oil or petroleum, then it must also comply with Part 5.5 of the VGP.

How are unmanned and/or empty barges being towed covered?

Empty or unmanned barges are typically still considered to be operating in a capacity as a means of transportation unless they have been removed from active service. Unmanned or empty barges are treated the same as any other manned or loaded barge under the general permit, and thus are eligible to obtain the required NPDES permit coverage under the VGP.

In the situation where a barge is towed by multiple tugboat operators or fleeters from different companies, may the barge owner submit the NOI for the barge?

The NOI for the discharges from the barge must be submitted by a party with operational control over the barge. If the barge owner meets the definition of "operator" of the barge in Appendix A of the VGP, the barge owner may submit the NOI for discharges from the barge.

Discussion: Under VGP Part 1.5, for vessels greater than or equal to 300 gross tons or that have the capacity to hold or discharge more than 8 cubic meters (2,113 gallons) of ballast water, the owner or operator must submit a complete and accurate NOI within specified timeframes.

Under the NPDES regulations, if a vessel is owned by one person but is operated by another, it is the operator's duty to obtain a permit. 40 CFR §122.21(b). For the purposes of the Vessel General Permit, an "operator" is any "party . . . who (1) has operational control over vessel activities, including the ability to modify those activities; or (2) has day-to-day operational control of those activities that are necessary to ensure compliance with the permit or to direct workers to carry out activities required to comply with the permit." See VGP Definitions in Appendix A.

Therefore, any entity who meets this definition may submit an NOI for their vessel. Under many circumstances, the owner maintains operational control over their vessel's activities and thus may submit the NOI. Note that in a situation where more than one party meets the definition of "operator" of the barge, only one of them need submit an NOI.

If a commercial fishing vessel of any size or other non-recreational vessel less than 79 feet in length has ballast water discharges, must an NOI be submitted?

An NOI is required for coverage under the VGP for these vessels if the vessel is more than 300 gross tons or has a ballast water capacity of 8 cubic meters or more.  For these types of vessels that are below the size thresholds, in lieu of an NOI, the owner/operator is required to complete a Permit Authorization and Record of Inspection (PARI) form and retain a copy of the completed form on board the vessel.

Is there any centralized list or database of state requirements under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act?

Section 6 of the VGP describes additional state-specific limitations and monitoring requirements that apply to vessels.

May electronic recordkeeping systems be used to meet the recordkeeping requirement under the VGP?

Part 4.2 of the VGP requires that certain “written records” be kept “on the vessel or accompanying tug. Required records include: owner/vessel information; a voyage log; records of any violation of any effluent limit and corrective action taken; a record of routine inspections and any deficiencies or problems found; analytical monitoring results; a log of findings from annual inspections and any corrective actions planned or taken; a record of any specific requirements given to the vessel by EPA or state agencies; additional information on vessel maintenance and specified discharges; and a record of training completed. Part 4.2 states that “Operators may keep paper or electronic records on the vessel or accompanying tug.” Electronic recordkeeping must meet the requirements found in Part 4.2.1 of the permit.

Part 4.2 further states that “It is not the intention of this permit to require separate records for the Coast Guard and EPA. Rather, vessels can harmonize their recordkeeping practices, where appropriate, so that records are not unnecessarily duplicative. For example, information can be logged with maintenance records, the ship’s log, in existing ISM/SMS plans or recordkeeping, the oil record book, shipboard oil pollution emergency plan, or other additional recordkeeping documentation as appropriate but must be provided to EPA or its authorized representative if requested.”

Recordkeeping technology is a rapidly changing field. Many vessel operators are increasingly using electronic record keeping systems to create and maintain required records, using software, electronic forms and onboard computer terminals that collect and transmit data electronically to shoreside databases for collection and storage.

Given the foregoing, EPA considers records required under Part 4.2 of the VGP that are maintained in electronic record-keeping systems to be “written records” kept “on the vessel or accompanying tug”, for purposes of complying with the VGP, provided that the records are: in a format that can be read in a similar manner as a paper record, legally dependable with no less evidentiary value than their paper equivalent, and accessible to the inspector during an inspection to the same extent as a paper copy stored on the vessel would be, if the records were stored in paper form.

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Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants (EALs)

What vessels are required to use EAL lubricants?

All vessels covered under the VGP must use EALs in all oil-to-sea interfaces, unless technically infeasible. See Part 2.2.9 of the VGP, page 47.

Why are EALs required? What is the intent of the 2013 VGP EAL requirements?

The intent of this permit condition is to reduce the environmental impact of oily lubricant discharges on the aquatic ecosystem by increasing the use of EALs and maintaining all seals so that discharges do not result in quantities of oil that may be harmful.

The impact of lubricant discharges (not accidental spills) to the aquatic ecosystem is substantial. The majority of ocean-going ships operate with oil-lubricated stern tubes and use lubricating oils in many applications in on-deck and underwater (submerged) machinery. Oil leakage from stern tubes, traditionally considered a part of normal “operational consumption” of oil, results in millions of liters of oil being released to the aquatic environment every year. Where the discharge can’t be eliminated, this permit condition seeks to reduce the potential environmental impact of those discharges. Use of EALs results in discharges that biodegrade more quickly and that are less toxic than discharges from their traditional mineral oil counterparts. For all applications where lubricants are likely to enter the water, EAL formulations instead of mineral oils can offer significantly reduced environmental impacts across all applications.

What is an “EAL” and where can I find EAL products?

EALs are lubricants that are “biodegradable” and “minimally-toxic,” and are “not bioaccumulative” as defined in Appendix A of the 2013 VGP. Products meeting the permit’s definitions of an EAL include those labeled by the following voluntary labeling programs:

  • Blue Angel,
  • European Ecolabel,
  • Nordic Swan,
  • the Swedish Standards SS 155434 and 155470,
  • Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR) requirements, and
  • EPA’s Design for the Environment (DfE)

EPA does not specifically require that a lubricant have received a label from one of the programs listed. However, EPA believes that the labeling programs mentioned in the permit identify existing EALs that generally meet the VGP requirements.

EPA’s Design for the Environment Program (DfE) is in the process of launching a new initiative to label environmentally friendly lubricants to assist vessel operators in selecting more environmentally friendly products. EPA's DfE program is a voluntary labeling program that works in partnership with industry, environmental groups, and academia to reduce risk to people and the environment by finding ways to reduce or prevent pollution. More information on the DfE program may be found at

In addition, some vendors have either internal self-certification or are seeking other third party certifications. Products that are not included in one of these labeling programs but have been tested to sufficiently demonstrate compliance with the EAL definition in the 2013 VGP may also be used to meet permit requirements.

What is an “oil-to-sea interface”?

Oil-to-sea interfaces include any mechanical or other equipment on board a vessel where seals or surfaces may release quantities of oil and are subject to immersion in water. The VGP specifically identifies several types of equipment that have the potential for lubrication discharges from oil-to-sea interface, including:

  • Controllable Pitch Propeller,
  • Thrusters,
  •  Paddle Wheel Propulsion,
  • Stern Tubes,
  • Thruster Bearings,
  • Stabilizers,
  • Rudder Bearings,
  • Azimuth Thrusters,
  • Propulsion Pod Lubrication,
  • Wire Rope, and
  • Mechanical equipment subject to immersion (e.g., dredges, grabs, etc).

In addition, there may be other types of equipment that could be considered an oil-to-sea interface that were not specifically mentioned in the VGP.

EPA does not consider on-deck equipment that comes into contact with rain, splashed with waves, wave-generated spray, or subject to icing to be a form of immersion, and therefore, not an oil-to-sea interface. Vessel operators are not required to use EALs in on-deck machinery that is not subject to immersion. However, discharges from deck machinery are subject to other discharge requirements, such as those for Deck Washdown and Runoff (Section 2.2.1 of the VGP), which recommends the use of EALs.

For information about the influence of seal designs on the definition of oil-to-sea interfaces, see the FAQ below regarding alternative seal designs.

Under what conditions can a vessel be exempt from the use of EALs due to it being technically infeasible?

For purposes of the EAL permit condition, technically infeasible means that no EAL products are approved for use in a given application that meet manufacturer specifications for that equipment, products which come pre-lubricated (e.g., wire ropes) have no available alternatives manufactured with EALs, EAL products meeting a manufacturers specifications are not available within any port in which the vessel regularly calls, or change over and use of an EAL must wait until the vessel’s next drydocking.

Can I wait until the next dry docking to change to EAL?

For some vessels it is necessary to wait until their next dry docking to replace their traditional oils with EALs. In this case, use of EALs until that drydocking would not be technically feasible, but it would be technically feasible after their next drydocking.

For example, where lubricant types cannot be commingled in existing equipment or seal materials and the lubricants cannot be changed until the next drydock, it would be considered technically infeasible to use an EAL until the vessels’ next scheduled drydocking. To demonstrate that it is technically infeasible, vessel operators must document in their recordkeeping documentation why they are unable to use an EAL until the next dry docking and report the use of non-EALs in their Annual Report (see Part 2.2.9 of the VGP). The vessel would then be required to change over lubricants in the next drydocking.

How does the owner/ operator document that a vessel is using an appropriate EAL?

Information about the use of EALs should be recorded and kept in a log on the vessel, consistent with the recordkeeping requirements in Part 4 of the VGP. Vessel operators must document in their recordkeeping documentation either the EAL(s) they are using or why they are unable to use an EAL until the next dry docking and report the use of non-EALs in their Annual Report (see Part 2.2.9 of the VGP). When assessing compliance with use of EALs, EPA could require documentation that lubricants used by the vessel either meet the approved labeling requirements or have undergone and met the requirements through independent testing. This could include material safety data sheets (MSDSs) or other technical data sheets provided by the vendor that clearly document results of such labeling or testing. It is up to the vessel owner/operators to demonstrate compliance with this provision.

How does an owner/ operator document that it is technically infeasible for a vessel to use EALs?

As required in Part 2.2.9 of the VGP, if a vessel operator believes that one of the conditions for technical infeasibility apply for their vessel, for example needing to wait until the next drydocking to change to an EAL, vessel operators must document in their recordkeeping documentation why they are unable to use an EAL until the next dry docking. Additionally, they must report the use of a non-environmentally acceptable lubricant to EPA in their Annual Report. The vessel would then be required to change over lubricants in the next drydocking.

The information to be documented is intended to be simple, basic, and straightforward. A vessel owner/operator need only keep one brief record of their determination that use of EALs is technically infeasible. A general statement from makers of seals can be included as sufficient documentation. Technical infeasibility may also be determined if a class society determines  EALs are not appropriate for a particular use or the vendor has not specified that EALs are appropriate for that piece of equipment.

Can alternative seal systems (e.g., “air seals” or void space double seals) be used in lieu of EALs?

The answer hinges on whether, with the installation of an alternative seal design, the stern tube or other equipment ceases being an oil-to-sea interface.

A typical air seal or void space seal functions by having at least two independent sealing systems: one on the side of the seal facing oil, and one on the side of the seal facing water. An air chamber or void space in between these two seals creates a controlled "buffer zone" where any oil, lubricants, or water is collected for reuse or treatment. These seal designs, when properly maintained and operated, may eliminate oil drips or leakage into surrounding waters.

A stern tube seal using an alternative design that can fully eliminate the oily discharge would be much like a seawater lubricated stern tube in terms of having no potential for oily discharge and use of an EAL would not be required.

EPA cannot provide any type approval or "clean" endorsement that an alternative seal system would eliminate the discharge.

What happens if a vessel uses non-EALs in an "air seal" or other interface that is not expected to discharge, and there is a leak or other type of discharge of oil?

In this instance, the resulting discharge of a non-EAL lubricant must be documented as noncompliance consistent with item 3 in Part 4.2 (Recordkeeping) of the VGP and reported as such in the Annual Report.

If such a discharge occurs due to an exceptional incident, that discharge may be considered an "upset" consistent with 40 CFR section 122.41(n), as referenced in Part 1.13 of the VGP. An upset (i.e., an exceptional incident in which there is unintentional and temporary noncompliance with technology-based effluent limits because of factors beyond the permittee's reasonable control) can be used as an affirmative defense in actions brought against the permittee for noncompliance. An upset does not include noncompliance to the extent caused by operational error, improperly designed or inadequate treatment facilities, lack of preventative maintenance, or careless or improper operation. The permittee (who has the burden of proof to demonstrate that an upset has occurred) must have operational logs or other evidence that shows:

  • When the upset occurred and its causes;
  • The facility was being operated properly;
  • Proper notification was made; and
  • Remedial measures were taken.

With respect to "proper notification" of an upset of an oil-to-sea interface, the notification requirement described in Part 4.4.3 of the permit is considered sufficient.

Is there any distinction between New Ship and Existing Ship when applying EALs in the VGP?

Generally, no. All vessels covered under the VGP must use EALs in all oil-to-sea interfaces unless technically infeasible as required by Part 2.2.9 of the VGP; however, the initial implementation of the requirement may differ for new and existing vessels.

EPA has found that EALs are available and their use is economically achievable. Many existing vessels can use EALs which are compatible with their existing equipment. However, it might not be technically feasible for some existing vessels to use EALs with all existing equipment. For these vessels, EPA does not require the vessels to install wholly new equipment so that they can use these more environmentally friendly lubricants. However, if the mere maintenance of existing equipment is required before installing EALs (e.g., upgrade sealing rings, change to a new or different compatible seal at a regular scheduled 5 year increment), then use of the EAL would be technically feasible after the vessel would complete the routine maintenance.

EPA believes the use of EALs for new build vessels is less likely to be technically infeasible since new build vessels can select equipment during design and construction which is compatible with EALs. Seawater based systems or other alternatives are recommended for consideration in newly constructed vessels but are not required.

Is a sheen left on the water by an EAL acceptable, provided the EAL is biodegradable, non-toxic, and not bioaccumulative, as defined in the VGP?

The use of an EAL, regardless of the application, does not authorize the discharge of any lubricant in a quantity that may be harmful as defined in 40 CFR Part 110 as these oils still cause many undesirable environmental impacts, though these impacts are potentially less severe than those caused from petroleum-based oils. For purposes of section 311(b)(4) of the Act, discharges of oil in such quantities that the Administrator has determined may be harmful to the public health or welfare or the environment of the United States include discharges of oil that (a) Violate applicable water quality standards; or (b) Cause a film or sheen upon or discoloration of the surface of the water or adjoining shorelines or cause a sludge or emulsion to be deposited beneath the surface of the water or upon adjoining shorelines (see 40 CFR Part 110.3). However, under certain circumstances and on a case-by-case basis as appropriate, EPA and/or USCG authorities may consider whether a vessel used an EAL in their enforcement response.

If the contracted supplier does not currently have a range of EALs, is it possible to use non-EAL lubricants even if other suppliers can supply locally available EALs that meet the equipment specifications?

No. In this case, an EAL would be available from a different product supplier, and assuming its use is technically feasible, you would be expected to use it.

If an equipment manufacturer indicates that the working life of a conventional seal is reduced when used with EALs, is it possible to use a non-EAL lubricant based on technical infeasibility?

Generally, no. Although EPA does not require vessels to install wholly new equipment, the mere maintenance of existing equipment (e.g., changing out conventional seals for compatible seals during scheduled maintenance) to use EALs does not constitute technical infeasibility. However, if there is not an available EAL that is approved for a given piece of existing equipment, its use would not be technically feasible and would not be required. Additionally, if the working life is reduced such that the product will not last until the vessels next drydocking, then EAL use may be technically infeasible.

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 Sampling and Monitoring for the 2013 VGP

The 2013 VGP contains analytical monitoring requirements for certain discharges. What discharges need to be sampled? Do all vessels have to sample their discharges?

The 2013 VGP requires targeted sampling and analytical monitoring for a subset of vessels covered by the permit. See table below for specific discharge requirements.

  • Bilgewater discharges must be monitored for any vessel constructed on or after December 19, 2013 and greater than 400 gross tons that discharge bilgewater to waters of the United States (see Part of the VGP).
  • Graywater discharge must be monitored for any vessel discharging graywater to waters of the United States constructed on or after December 19, 2013, having a maximum crew capacity of at least 15 crew, and providing overnight accommodation to those crew, and vessels that are not “commercial vessels” discharging graywater operating on the Great Lakes (see Part of the VGP).
  • Ballast water discharges must be monitored on vessels using a ballast water treatment system to achieve the numeric discharge limitations at Part of the 2013 VGP that discharge ballast water to waters of the United States (see Part of the VGP).
  • Exhaust gas scrubber discharges must be monitored on any vessels discharging exhaust gas scrubber washwater to waters of the United States (see Part of the VGP).


Section of VGP

Applicable Vessels




New Build > 400 gross tons that discharge bilgewater into U.S. waters

1 per yr. (waiver qualifications after 2 yr.)

Oil in water OCM reading

Ballast Water

All Vessels using a ballast water treatment system once they use that system

1 per mo.

Equipment performance

1 to 4 per yr., dependent on type of system, see

Biological indicators

BWTS that use active substances/ Biocides

3 to 5 times during first 10 discharges, 2 to 4 times per yr. dependent on type of system, see

Biocides and residuals of treatment


New Build vessels with crew capacity ≥ 15 and overnight accommodations; or vessels operating on the Great Lakes that are not "commercial vessels" within the meaning of CWA section 312. Only applicable if discharging graywater into U.S. waters

2 per yr. 

Biocides and residuals of treatment

Exhaust Gas Scrubber Washwater Discharge

All vessels with wet exhaust gas scrubber systems which discharge into U.S. waters

2 for first yr., 1 per yr. thereafter

Dissolved and total metals, PAH, nitrates-nitrite, pH

What volume of water is required for analytical sampling?

The amount of water required for the analytical monitoring requirements will vary depending on the test being run and the discharge being sampled, but generally should be less than a few liters per sample. For general instructions on how to sample, see Vessel Discharge Sample Collection and Analytical Monitoring: A How-To Reference for EPA’s 2013 Vessel General Permit (VGP) posted on the VGP website. Owners/operators should consult with any contracted laboratories to confirm logistics and obtain information about how to appropriately collect samples.

How do I find an analytical laboratory?

Finding the right analytical laboratory is like finding any other specialty service contractor. Most commercial laboratories have websites that list their services and can be found through internet searches or word of mouth.

The following website also maintains a list of laboratories: TNI LAMS Search.

Note that EPA does not endorse these laboratories, but is providing this information as a resource.

Questions to ask when contacting potential laboratories along with a list of things to consider when conducing analytical monitoring can be found in the Vessel Discharge Sample Collection and Analytical Monitoring: A How-To Reference for EPA’s 2013 Vessel General Permit (VGP).

Does analytical monitoring required in the VGP need to be done by an approved lab?

For purposes of this permit, analytical monitoring does not need to be conducted by an approved lab, but all monitoring does need to be conducted using an EPA approved method or a method specifically referenced in the permit. EPA allowed this flexibility in the VGP to accommodate vessels engaged in international voyages which rarely frequent U.S. waters or vessels which test to see if their systems meet certain standards before entering waters of the U.S.

If a vessel is generally operated outside of waters subject to the VGP and only visits the U.S. perhaps once per year, is the vessel required to follow all VGP inspection, monitoring, reporting, and recordkeeping requirements?

The VGP’s inspections and monitoring requirements do not “apply worldwide.” Once vessels enter waters subject to this permit, they must be in compliance with the permit’s requirements before those discharges that apply occur in waters of the U.S. (which in most cases will be at the moment they enter waters subject to the permit, because many discharges occur continuously during vessel operation). The permit’s periodic inspection and monitoring requirements are conditions that are a prerequisite to discharge into waters of the U.S. For example, a vessel transiting in and out of waters of the U.S. would be in compliance with a weekly inspection requirement if the vessel had conducted a compliant inspection in the week prior to discharging into waters subject to the VGP. The VGP does not require that the weekly inspection have occurred, for example, two, three, or four weeks prior to the discharge into waters subject to the permit. EPA’s intent is the same for other periodic inspection requirements. For example, quarterly sampling must have occurred sometime in the quarter prior to discharge into waters subject to the permit and annual inspections must have occurred within a year prior to discharge into waters subject to the permit. Inspections and recordkeeping are directly related to ensuring that the vessel is in compliance with the permit prior to discharging into waters subject to the permit.               

Is a vessel required to conduct discharge sampling if it does not discharge in waters subject to the VGP?

No. If the vessel does not discharge in waters subject to the VGP, then the discharge requirement or any monitoring associated with those discharges would not apply. For example, if a vessel does not discharge bilgewater in waters of the U.S., monitoring provisions for bilgewater would not apply. If that same vessel discharges ballast water to waters of the U.S., and meets other requirements triggering ballast water monitoring, the ballast water monitoring requirements would apply. Also, a vessel owner/operator will need to indicate in their Annual Report that they are not discharging the particular waste stream while in waters subject to the VGP.

Is a vessel that conducts mid-ocean transfers of ballast water before entering the United States required to sample ballast water?

Generally, no. The sampling requirements for ballast water are applicable once a vessel uses a ballast water treatment system to meet the numeric discharge standards. The only exception is for certain vessels entering the Great Lakes subject to Part of the permit.

I have installed a BWTS in anticipation of the numeric limits. Do I need to sample ballast water before the VGP mandates treatment is applicable to my vessel?

Regarding monitoring, if a vessel is utilizing the ballast water treatment system to meet the numeric limits in Part of the permit, then they need to conduct the monitoring required by the VGP (even if the system is being used before the numeric limits that mandate treatment are applicable to the vessel). See Part of the permit which states that the monitoring requirements "apply to ballast water discharges from vessels employing ballast water treatment systems that are used to achieve the effluent limitations of Part"  Since the vessel would be using the system to meet the effluent limits in Part, instead of those in Part, the monitoring requirements are required to provide EPA (and the operator) with information that the systems are functioning as designed.

Does the VGP require vessel operators with a ballast water treatment system (BWTS) that produces or uses chlorine or chlorine dioxide as a biocide to perform residual biocide and derivative monitoring for all six of the analytes listed for “Chlorine or Chlorine dioxide” biocides in Table 5 of the permit? 

Table 5 of the VGP (Residual Biocides and Biocide Derivative Monitoring Requirements) identifies monitoring requirements for residual biocides and biocide derivatives.  Derivatives are noted with an asterisk (*) in that table.  Two biocides, chlorine and chlorine dioxide, are included in one row of Table 5 to reflect that the BWTS monitoring requirements are identical for each of the four disinfection byproducts or derivatives (chlorite, chlorate, total trihalomethanes, and haloacetic acids) .  However, the BWTS residual biocide monitoring requirements in Table 5 apply only to the specific biocide (chlorine or chlorine dioxide) used in that BWTS.  As such, in addition to the four disinfection byproducts/derivatives, residual biocide monitoring is required for TRO (as chlorine) for any chlorine-based BWTS. Similarly, residual biocide monitoring is required for the four disinfection byproducts/derivatives and chlorine dioxide for any chlorine dioxide-based BWTS.

This point is clarified in Section of the 2013 VGP which states that “… you must conduct monitoring of the vessel ballast water discharge for any residual biocides or derivatives used in the treatment process… For instance, if chlorine is the biocide used in the ballast water treatment, you must test for residual chlorine [TRO] in the vessel ballast water discharge…”

Accordingly, TRO (residual chlorine) monitoring is not required for discharges from any chlorine dioxide-based BWTS. Similarly, chlorine dioxide monitoring is not required from any chlorine-based BWTS.  This is exemplified on page 86 of the permit fact sheet which states that the chlorine dioxide limit applies to systems using chlorine dioxide as a biocide.

Thus, when entering data into the “7e Ballast Biocide DMR worksheet” on the Annual Report with discharge monitoring report (DMR) data template, data are required to be reported only for the “Biocide/Derivative Parameters” that apply to the “Biocide Type.”  For example, for a BWTS that produces or uses chlorine dioxide as a biocide type, data are required for the Biocide/Derivative Parameters of: chlorine dioxide, chlorite, chlorate, total trihalomethanes, and haloacetic acids. Likewise, for a BWTS that produces or uses chlorine, then data are required to be reported for: total residual oxidizers (as Cl2), chlorite, chlorate, total trihalomethanes, and haloacetic acids.

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Discharge Requirements in 2013 VGP

What is the definition of phosphate free soaps, cleaners, and detergents for purposes of the VGP?

“Phosphate free” soaps, cleaners, and detergents, are defined in Appendix A of the 2013 VGP to mean materials which contain, by weight, 0.5% or less of phosphates or derivatives of phosphates.

Discussion: "Phosphate free" refers to any cleaning product that is not formulated with phosphorous containing compounds, which would readily be converted to phosphate in the aquatic environment, as an intentional part of the product formulation. EPA considers "readily be converted to phosphate" to be products that break down through simple hydrolysis or oxidation reactions. EPA considers the term "phosphate" to encompass phosphoric acid, phosphonates, organophosphates, any salt of a hydrogen phosphate, and any salt of phosphate. "Derivatives of phosphate" include polyphosphates, such as sodium tripolyphosphate (Na5P3O10), pyrophosphate and phosphorus oxoacids.

For purposes of this permit, cleaning products that contain such phosphorous containing compounds as an unintentional consequence of manufacturing (i.e., do not exceed 0.5% of the content of the product by weight) are considered phosphate free.

Is a diving inspection required to determine whether there are living organisms on a vessel's hull? How does EPA suggest making such a determination without a diving inspection?

A diving inspection is not required by the VGP. As explained in section 6.1 of the VGP Fact Sheet, the permit requires self-inspections for the visible portion of the hull (e.g., those portions that are visible from above the waterline or those portions which are visible when the vessel is in reasonably clear water) for the presence of attached living organisms. However, in accordance with VGP Part 4.1.3 vessel owner/operators must document which portions of the vessel are not inspectable for the annual inspection in their recordkeeping documentation. In addition, as stated in Part 4.1.3 of the VGP, if any of portions of the vessel hull are not inspectable without the vessel entering drydock, the vessel owner/operator must inspect those areas during the drydock inspection and their results must be documented in their drydock inspection report.

What is the definition of tributyltin (TBT) or other organotin compound for purposes of this permit?

Tributyltin is a toxic organometallic compound which was previously registered for use as a biocide in antifouling paints applied to vessel hulls and other underwater parts of ships and boats. Organotins are the larger family of organometallic compounds to which tributyltin belongs. As used in the text of this permit, when EPA is referring to "organotins," the Agency is referring to these compounds in their capacity as biocides. In the United States and many other countries, the use of antifouling paints containing tributyltin has been phased-out due to concerns about its environmental impacts. For purposes of this permit, EPA has prohibited the use of antifouling paints containing TBT or any other organotin compounds as a biocide. In cases where TBT antifouling coatings have been applied to a ship, all residual TBT must be removed from immersed surfaces or a sealer-coat must be applied to prevent any residual TBT leaching into the environment. EPA is unaware of any non-biocidal use of TBT which would result in a residual presence in antifouling paints; hence, EPA reaffirms that there must be zero discharge of TBT from vessel hulls.

Other less toxic organotins such as dibutyltin are used in very small quantities as catalysts in biocide-free coatings that can be applied to immersed areas of ships to control fouling. Biocide-free coatings create a slick surface to which fouling organisms cannot firmly attach. To function properly, the coating surface must remain smooth and intact, and not leach into the surrounding water. Because these less toxic organotins are used as a catalyst in the production of biocide free coatings, such production may result in trace amounts of organotin in anti-foulant coatings. EPA interprets the provisions of Part 2.2.4 of the VGP which apply to TBT "or any other organotin compound" to authorize the use of non-biocidal coatings which contain these trace amounts of catalytic organotin (other than TBT) under the following conditions:

  • The trace amounts of organotin are not used as a biocide. On a practical level, when used as a catalyst, an organotin compound should not be present above 2500 mg total tin per kilogram of dry paint.
  • The coating is not designed to slough or otherwise peel from the vessel hull. Incidental amounts of coating may be released by abrasion during cleaning or after contact with other hard surfaces (e.g., moorings).


Section 5.4.1 of EPA's Vessel General Permit (VGP) provides that "[i]f a visible sheen is noted," vessel operators must undertake certain corrective action and recordkeeping. The permit further defines "visible sheen" to include "visual color." Would identification of color on the water that did not originate from an oily discharge (e.g., discoloration caused by colored dust) trigger the corrective action and recordkeeping requirements of §5.4.1?

The visible sheen provision in VGP § 5.4.1 applies only in the context of discharges of "oil" and/or "oily mixtures" as defined in Appendix A. Therefore, identification of color on the water that did not originate from an oily discharge would not trigger the corrective action and recordkeeping requirements of §5.4.1. The provision in question is contained in the first paragraph of VGP section 5.4.1, which reads as follows: "Barges must minimize the contact of below deck condensation with oily or toxic materials, and any materials containing hydrocarbon. Whenever barges are pumping water from below deck, the discharge shall not contain oil in quantities that may be harmful as defined in 40 CFR Part 110. If a visible sheen is noted, vessel operators must initiate corrective action in accordance with Part 3 and meet recordkeeping requirements in Part 4.2 of this permit." VGP § 5.4.1 prohibits discharges that contain oil in quantities that may be harmful as defined in 40 CFR Part 110, which uses, in part, a "sheen" test for that purpose. 40 CFR 110.3(b) (stating that "discharges of oil in … quantities that . . . may be harmful" includes discharges that "cause a film or sheen upon or discoloration of the surface of the water. . ." ; see also, 40 CFR 110.1 (defining sheen as "an iridescent appearance on the surface of water"). Apart from using the "sheen" term in the specific context of oily discharges, the VGP also expressly states in VGP § 5.4.2 that "[t]he visual sheen test is used to detect free oil by observing the surface of the receiving water for the presence of an oily sheen." The term "visible sheen" is further defined in Appendix A consistent with methods used under the effluent guideline program for determining the presence of free oil. 40 CFR Part 435, Appendix 1 to Subpart A at § 8.6; see, 58 Fed. Reg. 12507 (March 4, 1993). Finally, the accompanying Fact Sheet for the VGP makes clear that the visible sheen test "was chosen as an approach to determine whether oil is being discharged in quantities that may be harmful, because the visible sheen test is easy to use and is consistent with existing CWA requirements." (VGP Fact Sheet §

If a vessel is engaged in a Pacific Nearshore voyage, yet does not travel farther than 50 nautical miles from waters subject to the VGP in its voyage, must it still exchange ballast water?

In general, such vessels would not need to exchange ballast water if they do not travel farther than 50 nautical miles from waters subject to the VGP (See Part of the VGP). However, Section 6 of the VGP contains additional requirements for certain state waters with respect to ballast water discharge which may require exchange, even if a vessel does not travel 50 nm from shore.

Are crude oil tankers engaged in the coastwise trade (including those to and from Alaska) subject to the VGP's ballast water requirements?

Yes, such vessels are subject to the ballast water requirements contained in VGP Part 2.2.3 as well as any additional exchange or flushing requirements for coastwise voyages resulting from State 401 certification conditions contained in Part 6 of the VGP. Unlike section 1101(c)(2)(L) of the Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act, as amended, there is no Clean Water Act exemption for crude oil tankers engaged in coastwise trade.

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Notice of Intent (NOI) and Notice of Termination (NOT) Requirements for the 2013 VGP

Who must submit an NOI for coverage under the 2013 VGP?

If a vessel is greater than or equal to 300 gross tons or the vessel has the capacity to hold or discharge more than 8 cubic meters (2,113 gallons) of ballast water and the vessel discharges in waters of the United States, the owner/operator of that vessel must submit a complete and accurate NOI in accordance with the requirements of Part of the 2013 VGP. Permit coverage will take effect seven days after electronic submission of that NOI (or 30 days after if you submit a paper NOI based on EPA having granted you a waiver from using the electronic NOI system consistent with Part 1.14 of the 2013 VGP). For vessels covered under the 2008 VGP that wanted to continue coverage under the 2013 without interruption, NOIs were due on or before December 12, 2013 (i.e., seven days before the effective date of the permit) or November 19, 2013 (i.e., 30 days before if you have been granted a waiver from using the electronic system). Please be aware that vessels that submitted an NOI for coverage under the 2008 VGP will NOT automatically be authorized under the 2013 VGP; a new NOI for the 2013 VGP is required.

If your vessel is fewer than 300 gross tons and your vessel does not have the capacity to hold or discharge more than 8 cubic meters (2,113 gallons) of ballast water, you do not need to submit an NOI. However, to obtain and retain permit coverage in these instances, you must complete the Permit Authorization and Record of Inspection (PARI) form (PDF)(1 pg, 106 K, About PDF) found in Appendix K of the 2013 VGP and keep a copy of that form onboard your vessel at all times.

As a result of the VIDA, the 2013 VGP remains in force and effect beyond the current expiration date of December 19, 2018: until EPA and the USCG develop new regulations to replace the existing 2013 VGP. As such, any vessel operator requiring permit coverage for a vessel that is not currently covered under an existing, active NOI must submit an NOI or prepare a PARI form consistent with the 2013 VGP requirements.

Will I receive acknowledgment that my NOI was received and granted?

If the NOI is submitted electronically, the system will provide an e-mail confirmation to the certifying official that the NOI was received and that discharges are authorized under the permit beginning seven days after EPA’s receipt of the certified NOI unless EPA notifies the certifying official otherwise and in writing.

If the NOI is submitted in paper form, EPA will not provide confirmation of receipt. EPA will only provide a notification of whether coverage has been authorized or if further review is required.

For what reason should an owner/operator submit a modification to a previously submitted NOI?

Vessel owner/operators that have submitted an NOI should submit a revised NOI to correct any mistakes made in an NOI as well as for any of the following changes: the vessel name, U.S. Coast Guard vessel identification number, vessel call sign, flag state, or port of registry.  Also, for any change of address or owner/operator name, the NOI must be updated for that new information to be reflected on any future annual report submissions.

If the vessel owner/operator changes, then the new owner/operator is required to submit a new NOI as described above on the transfer of ownership discussion.

Who must submit a Notice of Termination (NOT) under the 2013 VGP?

Any owner/operator who was required to submit an NOI (see above) is required to submit an NOT to terminate coverage under the 2013 VGP within 30 days after one or more of the following three conditions (as described in Part of the 2013 VGP):

  • A new owner/operator has taken over responsibility for the vessel (i.e., you are no longer an owner/operator of that vessel),
  • You have permanently ceased operating the vessel in waters subject to this permit and there are no longer vessel discharges incidental to the normal operation of the vessel in such waters, or
  • You have obtained coverage under an individual permit or alternative general permit for all discharges required to be covered by an NPDES permit.


Who is required to sign and certify NOIs and other VGP reports?

As referenced in Part 4.2 of the 2013 VGP, Federal regulations, at 40 CFR 122.22, establish requirements for who is to sign and certify required reports. Consistent with those regulations, a responsible corporate officer (of a corporation), a principle executive or ranking elected official (for a public agency), or a general partner or the proprietor (for a partnership or sole proprietorship) must sign and certify any NOI form. If you are the certifying official who will be signing an NOI but you do not have an eNOI account, you must register to access the eNOI system through EPA’s Central Data Exchange (CDX) interface. Other reports required by the VGP (e.g., the NOT and Annual Reports) must be signed by either a certifying official (as described above) or by a duly authorized representative of that person. In these instances, the authorization must be made in writing by the certifying official and must identify the duly authorized representative either by name or by a position having responsibility for the overall operation of the regulated activities. This written authorization must be retained, either electronically or in paper form, on the vessel, or for barges, on the accompanying tug, but does not have to be submitted to EPA.

What must be submitted to EPA for a vessel transfer of ownership under the VGP?

If the owner/operator of a vessel changes, the new owner/operator must file a new Notice of Intent (NOI) for the vessel to retain permit coverage for that vessel (i.e., to transfer ownership). To ensure uninterrupted permit coverage, the new NOI documenting the transfer should be submitted by the new owner/operator prior to the previous owner/operator terminating the existing NOI for that vessel. Owner/operators can transfer permit coverage using EPA’s 2013 VGP eNOI System and answering “yes” to the question in the system asking if this NOI is for a transfer of ownership and then completing the rest of the NOI with the new owner/operator information.

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