SlickSack - How to Clean Up an Oil Spill




Introduction: SlickSack - How to Clean Up an Oil Spill

The crew of R/V Magnet was beyond bummed when we got to the boat today and found bunker fuel from Cosco Busan was all around the marina. We were out on the San Francisco Bay Thursday and saw the big slicks. Had containment been put in place quickly, cleanup would have been well suited to large machines like the 11 skimmers currently working the bay. I won't go into the story of why containment was delayed, or why the coastguard wasted time escorting us away from the Bay Bridge at gunpoint, but I will say this - It turns out that a major oil spill, given a little time, soon becomes a whole bunch of little oil spills. Today we designed low cost tools to clean small spills. The other design we like is the TarBallTrap, also an instructable.

Step 1: Sack Up...

First thing to do is get yourself a nice cloth sack. We used the the complimentary "Boat Clean and Green" bag they give out for free in the marina office. The bag comes with lots of printed material telling you where to pump out your head tank, and a nice free bilge pad. Throw your nice free bilge pad in your bilge in case you have any drips from your fuel system (which you should fix after you finish cleaning up the oil spill) and then...

Step 2: ...spread Your Sack

Get something to reinforce the rim. We used a piece of air hose from a 50' airline that we keep cutting out sections of that is now probably 35' long. Now invoke the spirit of the wide mouth bass you caught, filleted, and pan fried back when you were 9. Get some zip ties and knife, cut tiny holes around the rim of the bag, and manifest the wide mouth bag.

Step 3: Dive and Drive.

Tie on a line and toss the SlickSack into the water. Now drive around scooping up tar balls, just like a little red wagon - only it's the little blue SlickSack. Children should be supervised, as bunker fuel is toxic. Wear gloves.

Step 4: Dump the Clump

Using your gloved hand empty your sack into a bucket. We think we've collected about a gallon of oil and oil covered debris from our slip and the slips around ours. Once we're finished collecting oily mess we'll take it to the San Francisco Household Hazerdous Waste Facility. We've taken waste oil to them before. Just put it in a 5 gallon bucket with a lid on it. They're nice. You can learn more about them at

Step 5: Hang It All!!

The other method we like is to hang the SlickSack from the bowsprit, and go around with a bucket scooping up oily water and dumping it in the sack. Not everyone has a bowsprit, so you need to find something else to hang it from, or you can just drag it. Dragging works, but hanging is faster.

So build yourself a SlickSack and try your hand at cleaning up an oil spill.

Or take on a more ambitious project and build a TarBallTrap - also on instructables.

Sack up!!

The Crew
R/V Magnet



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    26 Discussions

    This reminds me of something else. I thought I once saw something about powdered bees' wax that bonds to the oil and draws oil/fat consuming bacteria for faster breakdown. Anybody else see that?

    4 replies

    Heard a news story on the radio. Word is an "oil eating" bacteria was developed, but there was no market for it, so development was halted.

    i heard about that spill on the news... they thought it was only 500 gallons... what idiots. Common sense tells anyone that those things have WAY more than 500 gallons at any time. i think they said it was actually around 500,000 gallons or so. nice instructable, help saving the envirnment

    7 replies

    That's american math for you. This is what happens when we fund "defense" 75-fold over education. When politics finally takes a back seat to reality, things might actually get done in a timely manner. Yay american over-redundant, self-important, paranoid-schizophrenic bureaucracy! In case you didn't know, anything from a global-killer asteroid to a spilled cup of milk can be attributed to terrorism and Al-Queda, so be sure to have your local state department declare a national state of emergency for the next stray raccoon you see. You never know which raccoon might be hiding a 2500-lb nuclear weapon under their fur... BTW, the terror alert has been raised to orange on account of a tumbleweed linked to an Al-Queda cell residing in a cactus in the California desert that may be concealing 350 million tons of anthrax and gay marriage. This is why the Coast Guard needed to secure the scene of the spill with firearms, because curbing an environmental disaster would be a threat to national security, and your attempt to start cleanup right away might just prove their efforts a complete waste of taxpayer money, exposing the bureaucracy for what it is....the most useless "organization" in human history.

    "the most useless "organization" in human history"... I hope you break down at sea in a bad storm. I am a former Coastie and I find your description of "useless" a bit disturbing. FYI, the USCG is a very small organization, approximately 40,000 active duty personnel. Their main mission is search and rescue. The other missions are Maritime safety, law enforcement and aids to navigation. The coast Guard does not clean up oil spills. The MSO's (Marine Safety Offices) and float units have containment booms for smaller spills. The Containment booms for a spill of this nature are utilized by commercial firms. The Coast Guard does not have the personnel or resources to handle major spills. Never have. The reason for the armed escort? Bunker fuel can be ignited with a single flare and that is a major catastrophe none of us want to see. Plus the possible damage to your vessel or the threat to your well being should you or anyone on your boat that goes over the side in that spill. The Coast Guard is very underfunded for the missions they perform in comparison to the other armed forces. My ship, The CGC Sweetbriar, A 180' buoy Tender, was one of the first CG vessels on scene at the Valdez spill in 89. Our job, port security. The National guard Patrolled the piers with M-16's at the ready The crew of the Tern weren't wasting their time, they were doing their job, protecting you and your property. You should have thanked them. But no...dont do that. I also spent 3 years at a rescue station. I had over 3000 hours underway. Of that 3000 hours about 2900 were spent on Search and Rescue missions. The rest was spent on training, Law enforcement and body recovery. If you get caught in a storm the Coast Guard will come looking for you. Of course with your view of them as useless they may just have to waste their time on your body recovery. Good luck out there.

    to correct, I named the general bureaucracy useless, not the USCG. What you might be missing is the "committee" that seems to have to be held on just about everything from police work to national security, which is time better spent actually getting things done. I largely hold any agency "underfunding" as more myth than fact due to the large amount of waste going on. An example was just up my street a couple years ago, where I saw 3 ambulances, 2 fire pumper trucks, and 17 police cruisers (that is no exaggeration) for ONE driver who went into insulin shock at the wheel and ran up on the curb. There were no other injuries, and no threat to national security. What could have been handled by no more than two cruisers, an engine, and an A-car at the most extreme of circumstances, instead seemed to need the entire city's resources of emergency personnel so that everyone could go on break and pat themselves on the back. Meanwhile, a drunk driver 2 miles away killed at least 4 when speeding down the wrong way. Even the CG could stand to spend less time complaining of underfunding, and start looking at their spending. The education system is underfunded, the CG/police/local governments/etc. are over-budget (big difference) and MAYBE somewhat underfunded. I'll believe in underfunding when I don't see extravagances like a $2.1 million sculpture in a police-station lobby by the same department claiming to be under-funded, or state-buildings lavished with construction built by the highest bidder with exotic woods and hand-made architecture. Frankly I'm more concerned about the environmental impact of letting the spill spread than a boat. Boats can be replaced. Environmental damage over tens of thousands of square miles cannot. I also have never heard of any reasoning to convince me why it would be necessary to use firearms on those who report a spill, which would likely ignite the fuel spill as well. This sounds similar to a cop holding me at gunpoint when I am the survivor of a building collapse. Finally, anyone stupid enough to fire a flare or any other explosive device in those conditions should be thrown in anyway.

    Underfunding is no myth. I saw it in the Coast Guard in the 80's and 90's and I see it now here in Cleveland Ohio with the under funding of fire and police. 2 years ago they let 250 fire and police go because of no funds, but they are spending 50 million on a street car line to link up a suburb and downtown. In the Coast Guard, the tender I was on was built in 1942 with an original self life of 6 years. It performed its job, but was vastly out of date. Most of those have been replaced. The 41 foot rescue boats, that are still in use, were originally built in 1972. There has been a slow rebuilding of the fleet over the past 15 years, but it is slow because they have no budget wiggle room. The airforce can order 20 new stealth bombers at 150 million a piece, but the Coast Guard has to wait for a single new state of the art 47' rescue boat at 15 million a piece. Now for some hole punching. 1) Saving property is all about the environment. When a boat sinks oil and fuel leak out into the environment. Yeah, one small boat may not seem like much, but when you look at the 20,000+ per year of vessels assisted, that is way more of a environmental disaster averted per year than one major spill every 10 years. 2) A bullet will not ignite bunker fuel or diesel fuel. A more intense flame is required, like that of a flare. 3) If they are stupid enough to fire a flare or detonate a bomb, I'm gonna drop em like a rag doll with my M1911! I read your post again and I see what you are saying. Yes there is bureaucracy insanity worldwide, and the face of it that is pointed at and ridiculed are those tasked to do the dirty work, The Coast Guard, the National Guard, the clean up crews from the oil companies (which own and operate those skimmers) the police, fire and hazmat crews. The Hero's are those same bureaucrats who run their mouths on TV making their professionals look like bumbling idiots, which spurs inexperienced volunteers to come down and pitch in who end up sick from improper safety measures so that same bureaucrat can use that in their next campaign speech to get re-elected. We are all a bunch of lemmings....natures retards! So to jump back on topic for a second, wear proper safety gear. Chemical resistant gloves, boots, disposable rain suit, particle mask and goggles or face shield. Lex

    i think you pretty much nailed it. here's Coast Guard Cutter "Tern" escorting us away from the bridge, as seen over our aft rail.

    aft rail.jpg

    [quote]why the coastguard wasted time escorting us away from the W-4 at gunpoint[/quote] I don't know man... in this day and age of homeland security and terrorism you never know what Al Qaeda is planning on doing with a sack tied to the end of a rope... Do you have pictures of that? I know it has nothing to do with the I-ble, but weaponized boats have always been of special interest to me...

    1 reply

    You never know who is going to take their sack and teabag someone with it. *snicker*

    It is a shame that Instructables like these have to be made. Oil spills should not happen in the first place. But, sadly, my wish is not true, so awesome Instructables like this have to be made. Nice job, and thanks!