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Florida Legislature tries to solve the abandoned, derelict vessel issue

by BoatUS 25 Jan 12:53 PST
Overnight anchoring around seven Biscayne Bay islands could be a thing of the past, according to newly proposed legislation being debated in Tallahassee © NOAA

The state of Florida has long had a challenge in balancing the rights of responsible boat owners against the owners of poorly maintained, derelict vessels that are rarely make-way, often used as domiciles, and are hazards to navigation and the environment. These vessels, which have little to no value, wash up ashore and are frequently abandoned after storms leaving taxpayers to foot the bill for removal.

Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS) has applauded the state's efforts to not lump these two waterway users together, providing waterway management options that strike a balance that keep areas open for all boating activities. That will no longer be the case if the recently introduced SB192/HB437 bills are enacted, according to the nation's largest advocacy, services and safety group for boaters.

Senate Bill 192 and its companion House Bill 437 would go into effect July 1 and ban overnight anchoring for all vessels within 200 yards of seven islands in Biscayne Bay: Biscayne, De Lido, Hibiscus, Palm, Rivo Alto, San Marino and San Marco. These anchorage grounds are often used by responsible cruising boaters for reprovisioning and waiting for a safe weather window as a jumping-off point for the Bahamas and Caribbean.

"Using state law to prohibit anchoring in specific areas takes away public access to a shared resource for the benefit of only a few waterfront property owners," said David Kennedy, BoatUS manager of Government Affairs. "The reality is these bills will do nothing to decrease the number of derelict and at-risk vessels in Biscayne Bay - these boats will simply move to other areas. There are also federal and state laws that already address the challenge of derelict vessels and waterway discharges, but we don't see resources being put into enforcing these laws already on the books."

Kennedy notes that county governments currently have a way to manage vessel anchorages through enacting Anchorage Limitation Areas (ALA), which can limit anchoring to 45 days within a six-month period, but also critically provide short-term exemptions for poor weather, recognizing crew safety. Coincidentally, Dade County, which includes the seven islands, is in the process of implementing an ALA in the waters covered by the proposed SB192/HB437.

BoatUS urges Sunshine State boat owners to have their voice heard by sending a message to their Florida House and Senate legislators on this issue. Non-Florida residents may send a message by signing a petition here.

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