The tough economy has shown that abandoned boats are becoming more of a problem from California to Maine.
States across the USA are taking steps to deal with an armada of derelict boats abandoned by their owners in a tough economy:
•In Massachusetts,Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick signed a bill this month that gave local governments the power to seize abandoned vessels. The problem was growing faster than the state’s ability to deal with it, says Michael Nichols, legal counsel to Democratic state Rep. Antonio Cabral, who introduced the bill.
“The recession was affecting people’s ability to keep and maintain a boat,” Nichols says. “To have abandoned vessels taking up valuable space in the marinas and harbors was a problem.”
Fines for abandoning boats in state waters vary. In Massachusetts, it’s $10,000. In South Carolina: $475.
•In Washington state, one of seven states where lawmakers set aside money to collect and dispose of abandoned boats, the number of vessels collected rose from 16 in all of 2009 to 17 in the first half of this year, says Melissa Ferris, manager of derelict vessel removal at the Department of Natural Resources. In 2007, the state increased the portion of each boat license fee used for that purpose from $2 to $3, providing $1,745,800 for vessel removal for 2009 and 2010.
Like other states, Washington tries to charge owners for removal costs, but one in five have all the identifying marks removed, Ferris says.
•In Florida, which has a million registered boats, marinas have had to close or raise prices, pushing boat owners out, says Richard Moore, chief of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission’s boating division.
“We’re seeing a large number of impromptu anchorages popping up in areas around the state … where people are just parking a bunch of boats,” he says.
That’s legal in Florida as long as the boats are secured and display the proper registration and lighting. The commission will launch an At Risk Vessel Program in the fall to contact owners before boats become derelict and sink.
“Used to be boats were in a slip. Now that it’s somewhere in a cove, it’s much easier for that boat to be ignored and go into disrepair,” Moore says. “We’re anticipating the problem could grow even more.”
•In California, where regulators say thousands of boats litter state waters, a program in the pending state budget would allow owners to turn in boats without penalty. Denise Peterson, the state’s boating law enforcement manager, hopes the $150,000-a-year program will reduce the number of newly abandoned vessels so $500,000 allotted for removal can go to vessels that have already been abandoned. Removal costs up to $300 per foot of hull length, says Gloria Sandoval, spokeswoman for the state Department of Boating and Waterways.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, as many boats were reported abandoned by the Coast Guard in the first quarter of 2009 as in all of 2008, says Deb Self, executive director of San Francisco Baykeeper, an environmental group. The number of eyesores, many of them leaking fuel and chemicals, continued to grow this year, from 64 in February to 76 this month, even after 12 boats were hauled away, Self says.
Twelve states, including Kansas, Missouri and Tennessee, have passed laws on abandoned boats in the past five years, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Most streamline the process of taking title and disposing of boats when owners cannot be found.
“There’s a bit of a delay between an economic slump and when a boat gets evicted out of a marina for lack of payment,” Ferris says.
Moore of Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Commission says, “Until the economy turns around, I suspect we haven’t seen the worst of it yet.”
Via USA Today