Ballast water

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is responsible for implementing state ballast water laws under Chapter 77.120 RCW and Chapter 220-650 WAC.

Properly managing ballast water — the additional weight large ships take on for stabilization — plays an important role in protecting Washington’s waters from harmful aquatic invasive species.

Check out our brochure (PDF) and blog post to learn more about WDFW's ballast water management efforts. 

To which vessels do these laws apply?

These laws and rules apply to all vessels of 300 gross tons or more, domestic and foreign, and capable of carrying ballast water into state waters after operating outside of the waters of the state. The information provided below is for general guidance purposes only. Please refer to the specific law or rule for complete requirements or contact or 360-902-2753 for assistance. Vessels that do not regularly discharge ballast water may apply for a waiver (DOCX).

Reporting requirements

Vessel operators must use the current U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) ballast water management reporting form and follow all instructions available online. To be compliant in Washington state: 

  • A PDF version of the form must be submitted to or sent by FAX to 360-902-2943; and
  • The form must be filed at least 24 hours prior to:
    • Arriving in state waters; 
    • Moving between Oregon and Washington ports on the Columbia River; or
    • Transiting between Washington state ports.

Vessel operators must submit a ballast water management form to both the Coast Guard and Washington state, but the same completed form can be used for both purposes. 

Recordkeeping requirements

Vessel operators are required to have a ballast water management plan and a ballast water log or record book onboard under WAC 220-650-030(5) and (6).

The management plan must be specific to the vessel and designed to allow those responsible for the plan's implementation to understand and follow the vessel's ballast water management strategy.

The ballast water log or record book must document in detail all ballast water and ballast tank sediment management actions taken over the previous two years.

Ballast water management requirements

Discharge of ballast water into waters of the state is authorized only if the vessel has managed its ballast water to meet the following federal and state requirements.

A ship's ballast water has been treated using a system that has been approved by the Coast Guard or an accepted alternative. The Coast Guard requires the vessel operator to have a valid extension letter onboard if a ballast water management system has not been installed, even if an accepted alternative system is being used.

If a vessel intends to discharge ballast water and does not have a fully operational management system or alternative system installed, the vessel must manage their ballast water under one of the following applicable options:

  • Vessels voyaging to Washington state from a Pacific Coast port in Alaska, Canada, Oregon, California, or Central America must conduct an open sea exchange at least 50 nautical miles from any shore and in waters more than 200 meters deep (reference WAC 220-650-070(3)).
  • Vessels voyaging to Washington state from a port outside the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone must conduct an open sea exchange at least 200 nautical miles from any shore and in waters more than 2,000 meters deep (reference WAC 220-650-070(3)).
  • Vessels voyaging to Washington state from a port within the state's common water zone (PDF) are exempt from having to conduct an open sea exchange if the ballast water and sediment originated solely from a valid exchange prior to entering the common water zone or from uptake within the common water zone (reference WAC 220-650-070(4)).
  • Use of only water from a U.S. public water system as defined in USCG 33 CFR 151.2025(2).

Vessel inspections

Under WAC 220-650-040, WDFW may board and inspect vessels without advance notice to provide technical assistance, assess compliance, and enforce the requirements of Washington’s ballast water management program laws and regulations. Department inspectors may take samples from a vessel's ballast tanks to help evaluate the risk that vessel poses for introducing non-indigenous species into waters of the state.

Ballast tank sediment management

Vessels may not remove or discharge sediment or tank fouling organisms into waters of the state under WAC 220-650-110 from spaces carrying ballast water unless that sediment or those organisms are discharged solely in the location from which they originated.


WDFW can issue a warning, notice of correction, or notice of penalty of up to $27,500 for each day of a continuing violation under WAC 220-650-120. In general, warnings and notices of correction are issued for first-time violations that do not involve the discharge of ballast water.

Biofouling/hull fouling management

WDFW, in coordination with the Washington Department of Ecology, regulates in-water hull cleaning to prevent the introduction of non-indigenous species or release of associated water quality pollutants. Vessel operators must receive approval to conduct in-water hull cleaning, which includes any area of the vessel below and around its waterline such as sea chests and propeller. Learn more about hull cleaning in Washington state waters (PDF).

Ecology approval: At least seven days prior to in-water hull cleaning, contact Chris Dudenhoeffer (, or 360-407-6445) with information on the hull coating, its contents, cleaning method, and date/time.

WDFW approval: At least 7 days prior to in-water hull cleaning, contact Amanda Newsom (, or 360-902-2753) with suitable documentation identifying the type of species fouling the areas to be cleaned. Approval is contingent on proof that fouling organisms are only slime and sea grass growth (microfouling organisms). The department will not approve in-water cleaning for hulls fouled with juvenile or adult aquatic species such as barnacles, mussels, and tube worms (macrofouling organisms).


Learn more about program accomplishments through published reports and studies.