Start-up aims to keep boat waste out of waterways

Klean Marine plans to offer the first national cleaning and sewage treatment services for recreational boats.

Elsa Wenzel
2 min read

Most owners of the 13 million recreational boats in the United States dump their waste in the water, fouling fish and coral reefs with sewage and fuel, according to Klean Marine. The start-up plans to help boaters clean up their act.

Its founders aim to launch a service that would clean sailboats, motorboats, and yachts in ports of harbor around the country. Klean Marine would thus be able to serve, say, traveling snowbirds whether they're docked in Chicago in July or Miami in December. An annual subscription would start at $250.

Company president Kean Fulton, presenting Tuesday at the Cleantech Forum in San Francisco, hopes to attract $3 million in equity funding in the near term. He aims to raise another $25 million from government freshwater grants and other sources. There are about 35 private boat sewage cleanup companies, mostly mom-and-pop operations that haven't attempted to expand nationally, Fulton said.

"Most people don't want to deal with their sewage," Fulton said. "They're waiting until the night, then flipping the switch, and it's gone."

It's illegal under the Clean Water Act to dump raw sewage into interstate waterways. Boaters could take their waste to pumping stations, but many don't. The Environmental Protection Agency has tried to repeal boat pollution rules, which Fulton believes will prevail, driving demand for Klean Marine's services.

The company is launching a beta test run in South Florida later this year, collecting data about the types of waste it removes and reporting to the EPA. Fulton hopes that the information gathered will help the government to control marine sewage pollution.

Fulton believes he has the right connections to do the job, and it helps that his brother owns a large marine waste management company. (And both men claim boating in the blood, being descendants of 19th century steamboat pioneer Robert Fulton.)