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Byelaw 49 - Houseboats

  1. Use Shore Facilities

    Where practical, use shore facilities.

  2. Plumb to sewer

    We advise that any vessel occupier wishing to discharge to sewer contact the appropriate sewerage undertaker for your area (see our Useful Links).

  3. On-board treatment

    There are a number of small scale treatment units available for use on houseboats that will treat sewage.

    If you are considering installing such a treatment unit, you should comply with the following requirements (from EA General Binding Rules on Registration of Small Sewage Discharges):


    1. All works and equipment used for the treatment of sewage effluent and its discharge must comply with the relevant design and manufacturing standards (ie the British Standard BS EN 12566-3) that was in force at the time of the installation, and guidance issued by the appropriate authority on the capacity and installation of the equipment.
    2. The sewage must receive treatment from a sewage treatment plant before being discharged.
    3. The sewage treatment plant system must be installed, operated and maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s specification. This includes periodically removing waste sludge (to be done by an authorised person and disposed of to an appropriate facility and not to the river).
    4. The discharge from a sewage treatment plant must not cause pollution of surface water or groundwater.
    5. For discharges from a sewage treatment plant in tidal waters, the discharge outlet must be below the low water mark.
    6. Maintenance of the sewage treatment plant must be undertaken by someone who is competent.
    7. The owner must ensure a sewage treatment plant system is appropriately decommissioned where it ceases to be in operation so that there is no risk of pollutants entering the river.
    8. If a vessel is sold, the owner must give the new owner a written notice stating that a small sewage treatment plant is present, giving a description of the waste water system and its maintenance requirements.
    9. New regular discharges from a sewage treatment plant in a fixed location may need further assessment if in, or within 500m of, a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), Special Protection Area (SPA), Ramsar site, biological Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), aquatic local wildlife site, freshwater pearl mussel population, designated bathing water, protected shellfish water or within 50m of a chalk river.
    10. New discharges from a sewage treatment plant must be made to a watercourse that normally has flow throughout the year.

    Treatment plants are also available from MARPOL Standards. These will be accepted for house boats - see Passenger boats page.

    Much guidance for small sewage treatment plants is for land-based applications but contains some information that may be relevant to design of plants for vessels. Please see our Useful Links.

  4. Compost / Cassette Toilets

    Compost Toilets separate solid and liquid waste so that the solid waste breaks down under aerobic conditions to 10-30% of its original volume. The liquid element is still "sewage" and must not be discharged to water or within 10m of a watercourse. A large advantage of compost toilets is that they do not consume water.

    There are currently no British or European Standards covering Composting Toilets. The Environment Agency Pollution Prevention Guideline Number 4 (PPG4) on treatment and disposal of sewage where no foul sewer is available noted that the fluid fertiliser (urine) and dry compost (faecal matter broken-down under aerobic conditions) should not be discharged to a watercourse. Although this Guidance Note has been withdrawn (as the EA no longer provide "good practice" guidance) the requirements set out within the document should still be followed.

    We recommend that you read the Environment Agency position statement on using composting toilets and the resulting compost (see Useful Links).

    Cassettes should only be emptied into a designated disposal point.

  5. Install tank and routinely pump-out to a suitable receiver

    Installation of a tank will necessitate this being pumped out to a suitable facility.

    We have provided a list of commercial sources of information and commercial providers of pump-out facilities. Provision of this information does not imply endorsement. We recommend that you contact the relevant provider for further information.

Click to see Useful Links.

All information provided herein is current at the time of publication. Inclusion in this guidance does not imply endorsement by the PLA.

Return to main Byelaw 49 page.

Page updated September 2017.