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Copper Reduction Program

The Port’s Copper Reduction Program will help to achieve compliance with regulatory requirements to reduce copper in the bay and the Shelter Island Yacht Basin.




A white small boat glides along the San Diego bay

Copper Reduction Program

Recreational boating is a popular pastime in Southern California, where the bays and harbors are filled with thousands of boats. While this leisure activity brings significant benefit to California's economy, it can also cause environmental challenges.

Copper has recently been found to be prevalent in the water throughout California's marina areas. Extensive studies have shown that copper anti-fouling hull paints are a major source of the copper pollution. These research findings have prompted regulations in San Diego Bay.

  Copper Hot Spots San Diego Bay - Map

Copper is added to hull paints for the same reason pesticides are used on lawns to prevent infestations of insects or weeds. The copper acts as a biocide, or a substance that slows or stops the growth of living things. When applied to boat hulls, biocide reduces the growth of barnacles, sea squirts, and other organisms that can hamper boat performance. However, the copper can build up in small marine creatures, slowing or altering their development. It may have impacts farther up the marine food chain, ultimately affecting local wildlife such as fish and other marine life.

In San Diego Bay, Shelter Island Yacht Basin has been identified as an area where high copper levels exceed federal and state standards. A regulatory order requires the Port of San Diego, marinas, yacht clubs, hull cleaners and boaters to reduce copper pollution in this area by 76 percent by 2022.

The Port’s Copper Reduction Program will help to achieve compliance with regulatory requirements to reduce copper in the bay and the Shelter Island Yacht Basin.

The program is comprised of the following categories:

  • In-Water Hull Cleaning Policy Development & Legislation
  • Monitoring and Data Assessment
  • Hull Paint Conversion
  • Alternative Hull Paint Testing and Research
  • Outreach

The program focuses on the largest source of copper (e.g., boat hull paints) and identifies an approach to improve water quality and achieve compliance with regulations, while balancing economic and public interests.

Monitoring and Data Assessment

The Environmental Protection Agency provided funding for the Port of San Diego to conduct a study which evaluated a variety of alternative hull paints. Twenty-one of these paints performed well when compared to copper hull paints and 11 were further tested in real-life scenarios on boats. The study concluded that alternative hull paints are environmentally-friendly, work well and can save money over the long-term because they last longer than copper hull paints.

In-Water Hull Cleaning Policy Development & Legislation

One of the goals of the Copper Reduction Program is to promote regulatory change at the state level and to develop local policies, procedures or permits to address copper pollution.

In-Water Hull Cleaning Regulations

The Port recently adopted In-Water Hull Cleaning regulations. An ordinance requires the use of Best Management Practices for anyone doing in-water hull cleaning. The In-Water Hull Cleaning Permit is a bay-wide permit that will reduce or eliminate copper pollution caused by in-water hull cleaning activities. Businesses must obtain the permit.

Learn more about how to obtain the permit below.

Marine Antifouling Paint Legislation

Senate Bill 623, by former State Senator Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego), proposed state legislation to eliminate copper in marine antifouling paint. This bill supported the Port's efforts to reduce copper pollution in San Diego Bay marinas by controlling copper pollution throughout the state. SB 623 was suspended in 2012 pending the results of state and federal studies that would help address the growing problem of copper pollution in the state's waterways.

Since then, Assembly Majority Leader Toni Atkins introduced AB 425 requiring the California Department of Pesticide Regulation to evaluate whether to register copper-based antifouling paint, and to determine a leach rate for copper-based antifouling paint used on recreational vessels and to make recommendations for appropriate mitigation measures that may be implemented to protect aquatic environments from the effects of exposure to that paint if it is registered as a pesticide. The studies are to be completed no later than February 1, 2014.

Learn more about AB 425

SB 346 - Brake Pad Legislation

The Port of San Diego supported state legislation by State Senator Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego), which regulates copper in automotive brake pads. Copper dust from brake pades washes into bays and other waterways when it rains, causing pollution.

Senate Bill 346: Motor Vehicle Brake Friction Materials Removal of Copper in Automotive Brake Pads, was signed by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in September 2010. It requires manufacturers to use less copper in brake pads by 2014 and bans copper altogether in brake pads by 2023.

Board of Port Commissioners Resolution (2009-230)

Board of Port Commissioners Resolution (2009-230)

In support of copper reduction in San Diego Bay the Board of Port Commissioners has also:

  • Sent a letter to the California Environmental Protection Agency supporting the Department of Pesticide Regulation's re-evaluation of hull paints.
  • Approved the Port's environmental department receiving a $180,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to study alternative paints
  • Approvied a State 319h grant for $600,000 to assist boaters in switching from copper-based hull paint to a non-copper alternative
  • Approved three grants totaling $230,000 through the Port's Environmental Fund for outside parties to develop alternative hull paints

In-Water Hull Cleaning Regulations

The Port of San Diego recently adopted In-Water Hull Cleaning regulations to reduce or eliminate copper pollution caused by hull cleaning activities in San Diego Bay.

The Ordinance

  • Requires the use of Best Management Practices for any business doing in-water hull cleaning on recreational or commercial boats
  • Requires permits for all hull-cleaning businesses
  • Ordinance No. 2681

The Permit

  • All hull cleaning businesses are required to obtain a permit
  • The permit allows businesses to work at any San Diego Bay marina, yacht club or mooring
  • The permit fee is $250

Obtaining a Permit

The permit, application documents and templates can be downloaded here. You can use the Insurance Certification Form and Best Management Practices Plan template to assist you in completing the application package.

Renewing a Permit

Permit renewal requires you to complete renewal application documentation and submit a $250.00 permit fee. The Permit Renewal application and associated documents may be downloaded here.

Permitted Hull Cleaning Companies

  List of Permitted Hull Cleaning Companies

Contact the Port's Environmental and Land Use Management Department at 619-686-6254 or 619-686-6200 during business hours.

Submit the permit application (signed permit, BMP plan, training records, insurance certificate and processing fee) to:

  • Port of San Diego
    Attn: Environmental and Land Use Management, In-Water Hull Cleaning
    P.O. Box 120488
    San Diego, CA 92112-0488

Hull Paint Conversion

Converting to non-copper hull paint is the foundation of the Port’s Copper Reduction Program. Reducing the use of copper hull paint - a major source of copper pollution in marina basins - will help improve water quality. In general, finding good information about this eco-friendly paint can be challenging, because information is limited.

 The Port is helping to spread awareness of non-copper alternatives by funding research projects, testing non-copper hull paints in San Diego Bay, and developing outreach materials and tools.

The goal of these efforts is to help increase awareness and use of alternative hull paints locally and state-wide.

Leading By Example: The Port has converted all boats in its fleet to non-copper hull paints. The fleet includes both Harbor Police boats and General Services work boats.

Alternative Hull Paints

Copper from anti-fouling hull paints can be a significant source of water pollution in marina basins. Copper harms marine life by impeding or altering their development. As a result, boaters are beginning to convert to alternative hull paints that are better for the environment.    

Alternative hull paints are better for the environment because they do not contribute to copper pollution. Currently, there a number of alternative hull paints on the market, and several major paint companies are continuing to develop new products and technologies. The alternatives to copper hull paints include:

  • Zinc-based paints
  • Organic biocide-based paints
  • Other paints using pesticides-related compounds
  • Non-biocide coatings such as ceramic, epoxy, or silicone-based paints
  • Other non-paint technologies

The Port of San Diego has taken an active role in identifying alternative hull paints or other concepts that can reduce copper pollution in San Diego Bay marinas. Below are links to some helpful tools for converting your boat paint to a non-copper alternative.

 Alternative Hull Paint Testing in San Diego Bay

A 3-year study called “The Safer Alternatives to Copper based Antifouling Paints" (EPA-Funded Project, 2011) evaluated a variety of alternative hull paints. Of the paints tested, 21 performed well when compared to copper hull paints and 11 were further tested in real-life scenarios on boats. The study concluded that alternative hull paints are environmentally-friendly, cost-effective and are an effective replacement.

(Study) Bibliography of Aquatic Studies on Copper and Antifouling Paints, 1980 - present 

Helpful Tools for Boaters

Alternative Hull Paint brochure - A user-friendly guide was created based on the EPA-funded study findings. The guide presents key considerations to help boaters select the appropriate alternative product for their boat according to boat type, boat use, and other expectations, such as paint life and repainting frequency or cleaning needs.

How to Select an Alternative Hull Paint

The Alternative Hull Paint Information Packet  - The packet provides boaters information on currently available non-biocide hull paints and other innovative products from various paint manufacturers. It is not an exhaustive listing of non-biocide hull paints that are available on the market and the contents may change as new information becomes available. Please be aware that this information is to be used as guidance only and is not meant as a recommendation or endorsement by the Port for any particular product. Consult your boatyard representative or paint manufacturer for additional information on available products.

Hull Paint Cost Calculator - The cost calculator is designed to help boaters understand the costs of converting to alternative hull paints.

Relevant Links

Non-Biocide Hull Paints (FAQs)

University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources: Information on Non-toxic Antifouling Strategies

Boater Testimonials

Read what San Diego boaters have to say about their experience with eco-friendly paints.

Boater Testimonials




Monitoring and Data Assessment