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Legislative overview

Legislative requirements for ship-sourced sewage in Queensland are detailed in the Transport Operations (Marine Pollution) Act 1995 (the Act) and the Transport Operations (Marine Pollution) Regulation 2008.

The main objective of the Act is to protect Queensland's marine and coastal environment from deliberate and negligent discharges of ship-sourced pollutants into coastal waters; sewage being 1 of the ship-sourced pollutants covered.

Types of sewage

Sewage is the drainage and other wastes from any form of toilet, urinal or any other waste water when mixed with such drainages. Incorporated within this description, the term sewage includes human faecal wastes. Sewage does not include grey-water (waste water from showers and sinks) unless it is mixed with any of the above.

Any sewage discharged from a vessel will be either 1 of the following 2 categories: (i) treated sewage or (ii) untreated sewage.

Treated sewage
Treated sewage is sewage that has passed through an onboard sewage treatment system and has 3 distinct grades, that is, Grade A, Grade B and Grade C treated sewage. Grade C is the lowest level of treatment, Grade B is a higher level of treatment and Grade A is the highest level of treatment. Macerated sewage is not treated sewage.

Untreated sewage
Untreated sewage (or raw sewage) is all sewage that has not passed through a treatment system. This is sewage that is discharged directly from a toilet into a waterway (in areas where discharge is permitted) or contained in an onboard holding tank. Any untreated sewage that is discharged, in areas where the discharge of untreated sewage is permitted, must first pass through a macerator. Macerated sewage is untreated sewage.

Treatment system
A treatment system is a system for treating sewage that can reduce the levels of sewage quality characteristics below the levels outlined in the legislation for the relevant grade of treatment for that particular system (that is Grade A, B or C treated sewage) and conforms with the standards for a treatment system outlined in the legislation. In summary, the key aspects of the standard states that the system must:

  1. include documentation of the system's performance under normal operating conditions, including:
    1. a statement of the levels of sewage quality characteristics remaining in sewage after it has been treated
    2. the name and address of the independent testing entity that assessed the performance
    3. the date and results of the assessment
  2. include comprehensive and durable manuals for operating and maintaining the system
  3. be installed, operated and maintained in accordance with the manufacturer's specifications
  4. be fitted with a malfunction indicator.

As outlined above, a treatment system must meet very specific criteria and perform a complex process. As such, the simple act of throwing a handful of chlorine (or some other chemical) into the toilet bowl before flushing or passing sewage through a macerator before discharge does not meet the requirements for a treatment system.


  1. All treatment systems must be maintained and assessed at the required intervals.
  2. Written service records must be kept for the maintenance and assessment of the treatment system.

Types of vessels

All vessels are defined as either 1 of the following 2 categories: (i) a declared ship or (ii) any other ship, that is a non-declared ship.

Declared ship
A declared ship has a fixed toilet and is:

  • a domestic commercial vessels with a certificate of operation issued, or taken to be issued, under the Marine Safety (Domestic Commercial Vessel) National Law Act 2012 stating it is a class 1B, 1C, 1D, 1E, 4C, 4D or 4E ship
  • an other Queensland regulated ships regulated under the Transport Operations (Marine Safety) Act 1994 and Regulation 2016 designed to carry more than 12 passengers.

In recognition of their potentially greater sewage generating capacity, declared ships must adhere to more stringent sewage discharge requirements. These include:

  • the ship must be fitted with a sewage holding device
  • the ship must carry a sewage disposal record book
  • the ship must have a shipboard sewage management plan
  • if the ship is fitted with a treatment system, records must be kept for all assessment and maintenance of the treatment system.

Ship other than declared ship

A ship other than a declared ship is all other ships, and includes:

  • all recreational ships
  • domestic commercial vessels with a certificate of operation issued, or taken to be issued, under the Marine Safety (Domestic Commercial Vessel) National Law Act 2012 stating it is a class 2 or 3
  • other Queensland regulated ships regulated under the Transport Operations (Marine Safety) Act 1994 and Regulation 2016 designed to carry up to 12 passengers.

Types of waters

The sewage legislation makes reference to several major waterway types. These include:

Prohibited discharge waters
Prohibited discharge waters are those waters where absolutely no sewage may be discharged. These include the waters of a boat harbour, a canal, a marina, the Noosa River and designated areas of State Marine Parks.

Smooth waters
Smooth waters are the designated smooth water limits of Queensland coastal waters and include the waters of rivers, creeks, streams and lakes, and the waters within breakwaters or revetments. Under the sewage provisions of the legislation, smooth waters do not include those waters within partially smooth waters that are within ½ nautical mile (nm) from land or prohibited discharge waters.

Hervey Bay waters
Hervey Bay waters are the waters of Hervey Bay, other than prohibited discharge waters.

Northern Moreton Bay waters
Northern Moreton Bay waters are the waters of Moreton Bay, other than prohibited discharge waters.

Open waters
Open waters are Queensland coastal waters, other than Hervey Bay waters, northern Moreton Bay waters, prohibited discharge waters, and smooth waters.

Nil discharge waters
Nil discharge waters are waters where the discharge of sewage is not permitted. The discharge restrictions for nil discharge waters are based upon the type of sewage being discharged (that is treated or untreated sewage) and the type of vessel from which the sewage is being discharged (that is a declared ship or any other ship).

Various nil discharge requirements apply in:

  • prohibited discharge waters
  • smooth waters
  • Hervey Bay waters
  • northern Moreton Bay waters
  • open waters.

The nil discharge requirements for the different types of sewage and vessels are as follows:

Types of discharges

Sewage may lawfully be discharged from a toilet permanently fixed onboard any ship into waters outside of designated nil discharge waters, provided it first passes through a macerator that effectively reduces the solid wastes in the sewage into at least a fine slurry (by means such as grinding, shredding or pulping, for example). Macerated sewage is not treated sewage.

Prohibited discharge waters are waters where it is strictly prohibited to discharge any sewage. By definition, these waters actually form part of the larger designated nil discharge waters.

The discharge requirements for the remaining areas of nil discharge waters, (that is outside prohibited discharge waters) are as follows:

  • Absolutely no untreated sewage may be discharged from any ship into any nil discharge waters.
  • Treated sewage may only be discharged beyond the relevant precautionary discharge distances from sensitive areas.

A summary of the discharge requirements for the various grades of treated sewage is below.

Grade C is the lowest level of treatment and may be discharged in all waters outside of prohibited discharge waters provided that such discharges occur more than ½ nm (926 m) from sensitive areas (that is, a person in the water, aquaculture fisheries resources (such as an oyster lease), or reef).

Grade B is a higher level of treatment and may be discharged outside of prohibited discharge waters provided that discharges occur more than 700m from sensitive areas (that is, a person in the water, aquaculture fisheries resources (such as an oyster lease) or reef).

Grade A is the highest form of sewage treatment and in recognition of this fact, there are no precautionary discharge distances applicable (where discharge is allowed). Therefore, Grade A treated sewage may be lawfully discharged into all waters outside of prohibited discharge waters. Grade A sewage treatment systems allow the greatest flexibility for vessel operators to comply with the various sewage discharge requirements.

Vessel-sourced sewage discharge restriction maps have been developed showing the various nil and prohibited discharge waters for several popular boating destinations in Queensland.

It should be noted that the practice colloquially known as ‘bucket and chuck it’ (that is using a bucket for a toilet and then transferring the contents into the water) is a discharge of untreated sewage. As such, to be lawful, any discharge of this type must occur outside of nil discharge waters for untreated sewage.

Grade A/International Maritime Organization MARPOL sewage treatment systems

It should be noted that a sewage treatment system that has an International Maritime Organization (IMO) type approval and the relevant supporting documentation is deemed to comply with the Queensland requirements for a Grade A sewage treatment system. As such, these systems may be lawfully installed and operated in accordance with the requirements for a Grade A sewage treatment system.

A listing of IMO type approved sewage treatment systems (also referred to as sewage treatment plants) can be obtained by contacting the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) via email at or from the IMO Global Integrated Shipping Information System*.

Advice on the grade of a particular sewage treatment system (or any other relevant sewage treatment matter) should be obtained from any of the system manufacturers and/or their agents or distributors.

Sewage management options

The legislation does require that boat owners and operators in Queensland modify their behaviour in regard to their onboard sewage management practices. The legislative requirements stipulate where sewage discharges cannot occur (that is, nil discharge waters) and offers boaters a variety of sewage management alternatives to achieve compliance with nil discharge provisions.

The available sewage management options include:

  • the use of onshore facilities (such as public toilets)
  • the use of an onboard portable toilet for later disposal ashore or in open waters where discharge is permitted
  • the use of an onboard sewage holding tank for later disposal ashore where pumpout facilities are provided or in open waters where discharge is permitted
  • the use of an onboard sewage treatment system.

Boaters need to ensure sewage is managed appropriately and that any discharges are made in compliance with these requirements. Integral to this preparation is the need for boaters to give careful consideration to:

  • the type of waterway in which their boating activities will take place
  • the number of people that they intend having onboard their vessel
  • the amount of time to be spent boating in the various different waterway types
  • the discharge requirements of those waterways (that is nil discharge waters).

Many owners and operators of recreational boats have found that the legislation does not greatly affect their vessel and, in many cases, that compliance is relatively straightforward and inexpensive. For example, it can be as simple as the use of a portable toilet in nil discharge waters or fitting a macerator to the existing fixed toilet for use in open waters where discharge is permitted.

While the use of onshore toilet facilities may be a good short term sewage management solution for a particular vessel type or operation, a more permanent and long term user friendly option should be considered when making extended or overnight trips.

Regardless of vessel type or area of operation, all vessel owners and operators should ensure that all toileting arrangements on vessels be installed or modified by suitably qualified personnel and conform to the minimum requirements outlined in Australian Standard AS3542-1996 Pleasure boats—toilet waste collection, holding and transfer systems. The standard is available from Standards Australia.

The following guidelines for declared ships and ships other than declared ships provide information on the requirements to comply with sewage legislation.

Pumpout facilities
Maritime Safety Queensland continues to work with industry representatives, boating facility and service providers and other relevant state and local government agencies and authorities to further enhance the network of onshore sewage pumpout facilities in Queensland. Locations of current sewage pump out facilities in Queensland are provided.

Ship-sourced sewage professionals

The following onboard sewage specialists can provide you with expert advice on the particular sewage management option most suitable to your individual boating needs:

Disclaimer: Maritime Safety Queensland does not endorse the products or information provided by these businesses and/or service providers. The above links are provided as an aid to commercial operators and the boating public to provide them with relevant industry contacts and sources of information on which to base decision making regarding ship-sourced sewage management options.

Commercial and recreational vessel operators should conduct their own independent assessment to decide on the most appropriate compliance option in their individual circumstances respectively.

Maritime Safety Queensland welcomes contact from additional businesses and/or service providers that offer products and/or services that comply with Queensland’s legislative provisions for sewage management. Email

Further information

For further information, please contact your local Maritime Safety Queensland regional office.

Last updated
24 August 2017