October 16, 2011

Florida Set to Restrict Anchoring

Once again the anchoring war is heating up in Florida. Under the guise of the Anchoring and Mooring Pilot Program, called just the "Pilot Program" by most, five areas in Florida were given permission to come up with regulations on anchoring in conjunction with permitted mooring fields. Sounds harmless enough, right? Wrong!

The first problem came when the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) allowed the borders of the five pilot areas to expand vastly. Here's a link to the FWC site. With permitted mooring fields in Key West and Marathon in the Keys, the entire area of Monroe County became a pilot area. This covers most of the Florida Keys! In conjunction with a mooring field in Stuart the FWC allowed Martin County to be included. The cities of St. Augustine, Sarasota, and St. Petersburg round out the five trial areas.

Despite the wording in the statute, which says in part that the program will allow for regulations governing anchoring of non-liveaboard vessels "outside the marked boundaries of public mooring fields," the law is being interpreted to mean almost anywhere within the entire jurisdiction of the permitted cities and counties. In other words, St. Augustine is now pushing for laws to limit anchoring within the entire city limits, and Monroe County is considering anchoring limits in Key Largo, some 40-50 miles from the nearest mooring field. Sarasota, like St. Augustine, is also considering anchoring restrictions everywhere within city limits. Same in St. Pete. Martin County wants to limit anchoring at Jensen Beach, many miles from the moorings at Stuart. Talk about taking a mile when you're given an inch!

Already St. Augustine has drafted ordinances including a 10-day anchoring limit, requirements for boat inspections, and other ordinances that not only infringe on boaters' traditional rights of navigation, but are actually in direct contradiction to the goals stated in the ordinance itself! One of the stated goals of the Pilot Program is to "Promote public access to the waters of this state." It is impossible to see how anchoring restrictions accomplish this goal. 

How will boaters in the future know that anchoring regulations vary from municipality to municipality and from county to county? It will be impossible to put signs all over the waterways indicating the hodge-podge of anchoring zones, time-limit zones, etc. Boaters will inadvertantly break these laws. It will be an enforcement nightmare for authorities and boaters alike.

These new laws are not needed to take care of the derelict, improperly stored, and abandoned vessels cited in the law. Florida's listings of these vessels indicate that the vast majority are not even at anchor. Plus, there are existing laws on the books that if properly enforced can take care of these problem boats. Already jurisdictions around Florida are removing derelict vessels and disposing of them using existing programs. There are existing laws requiring boats to be registered, properly equipped, and using pollution prevention devices. It is already illegal to dump sewage into the waters of Florida.

The Pilot Program has allowed five counties and cities in Florida to create restrictions on anchoring that are not needed due to existing ordinances, will not accomplish the goals of the program, and are going to limit how and where responsible boaters can anchor.

I recommend if you are a member of BoatUS you should write a letter or send an email to their Government Affairs office (govtaffairs@boatus.com) and to their magazine (LettersToEditor@boatus.com), and maybe we can utilize the clout of 650,000 boaters to stop these laws in their tracks.

And here's a link to another great site discussing this issue.