BWM Regulation in the USA (USCG)


The U.S. Coast Guard prohibits ships to discharge untreated ballast water in U.S. waters.



For many years, the United States has been affected by invasive species, such as the (in)famous Zebra Mussel example in the Great Lakes.

Linked to the National Invasive Species Act of 1996, in 2004 the US Coast Guard (USCG) established in 2004 the rules for controlling the discharge of Living Organisms from ships’ Ballast Water in US waters, through publication of 33 CFR Part 151 and 46 CFR Part 162.

The rule was first amended in 2009, and after long debates about the numerical limits to set for discharge, a new amendment was published on March 23rd, 2012, that is consistent with the D-2 Standard of the IMO Ballast Water Management (BWM) Convention.

The Rule is effective on June 21, 2012, and can be downloaded from the Federal Register website:


The final Rule prohibits all vessels with ballast tanks to discharge untreated Ballast Water into US waters.

Ships must manage their ballast water by following treatment methods and good practices:

  • Performing Ballast Water Treatment, through installation and operation of an approved Ballast Water Treatment System (BWTS),
  • Performing Ballast Water Exchange, in specific areas (200 miles from shore),
  • Avoiding or minimizing ballast water movements in risky or preserved areas,
  • Cleaning regularly ballast tanks to remove sediments, rinsing anchors and chains, and removing fouling from hull and piping,
  •  Maintaining an approved Ballast Water Management Plan, as well as the written records of ballast water movements (uptake, transfer, discharge),
  • Submitting vessel and ballast water management information to USCG prior arrival in US harbors.

As in the IMO BMW Convention, there is an implementation schedule depending on the BW capacity and construction date of the vessel.

                                           Year of construction    Ballast Water Capacity   Compliance Date
 New Vessels   On or after 1st December 2013   All   On delivery
 Existing Vessels   Before 1st December 2013   ≥ 1500 m3   After 1st January 2016
  1500 - 5000 m3   After 1st January 2014
  ≤ 5000 m3   After 1st  January 2016





BWTS Approval

The US Coast Guard will establish an Approval Process for Ballast Water Treatment System. It will include land-based tests, based on EPA’s Environmental Technology Verification (ETV) Protocol (2010), as well as shipboard tests.

This Process is not expected to be workable until 2015, and meanwhile an Alternative Management System (AMS) may be used, provided that it is installed on the ship before the required implementation date, and that the AMS has been approved by the USCG on a “case by case” basis.

For this purpose, during the 2012 summer BIO-UV will undertake additional land-based tests at MERC facility (Baltimore, MA), under the ETV protocol.

Ballast Water Management page on USCG website:


Vessel General Permit (VGP)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates vessel discharges, through a Vessel General Permit (VGP) that contains limits for different types of effluents.

It applies to vessels of at least 79 feet in length, equal or greater than 300 gross tons, which discharge effluents in US waters as part of normal operation, such as ballast water, bilge water, or gray water.

For ballast water discharges, the VGP maintains that vessels must comply with all US Coast Guard’s mandatory ballast water management standards. Besides, the Clean Water Act allows states to enforce more stringent requirements for discharges into their State’s waters (e.g. California State).

Under the Clean Water Act, permits are issued for a five-year period. The current 2008 Vessel General Permit (VGP) is effective until December 2013.


A new draft VGP has been released by the EPA on Nov.2011 for comments, to replace the current VGP when it expires in December 2013.


Frequently Asked Questions Document