VERO BEACH, Fla. — Uniformity. That’s what many of the 60-odd cruisers who attended a workshop Wednesday night on possible changes to Florida’s anchorage law wanted.
And relief — from derelict boats and cruisers that anchor right off their seawall all winter long. That’s what several waterfront homeowners who attended a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission meeting asked for.
“If the state of Florida has authority to regulate anchoring, it should be uniform,” said Howard Sutter, a Jacksonville maritime lawyer. ”The biggest problem that a lot of people have [with the proposed changes] is lack of uniformity.”
Responding to a 2014 Florida bill — which did not pass — that would have authorized 64 municipalities in Broward and Miami-Dade counties to regulate overnight anchoring, the FWC has set out to survey boaters, homeowners and marine businesses to find common ground on anchoring.
“Local governments have needs and desires, and boaters have needs and desires,” said FWC Maj. Richard Moore, Florida’s waterways manager. “Where is the right place to draw the line? That’s the big challenge.”
“During the winter — December to March — boats drop anchor for three and four months at a time [behind my house],” Miami Beach waterfront homeowner Mark Gold said. “They’re using their boat as a residence.”
Gold said he and his family put up with dogs barking, loud music, sewerage discharge into the water and loss of privacy.
“I’m a boater,” Gold said. “I believe in boaters’ rights to travel the world, but they don’t need to be coming within 15 feet of my backyard for months at a time.”
The FWC has proposed granting local governments the authority to regulate anchoring “in limited, prescribed situations.” As a starting point for discussion the FWC asked attendees what they thought about giving local government the authority to prohibit anchoring within 150 feet of mooring fields, boat ramps, marinas and other public launching or landing facilities and overnighting within 300 feet of waterfront residential property or in a location that restricts the use of attached docks or boat lifts.
The FWC also proposed local authority to prohibit storing a vessel on Florida waters if it can’t navigate under its own power; takes on water without the ability to dewater; has interior spaces open to the elements; is leaking contaminants; has broken loose or is in danger of doing so; violates sanitation laws; or is listing or aground.
If a local government needs to regulate anchoring in any way other than those specified, it would have to apply for FWC approval.
Acknowledging that there are problems with derelict boats, West Palm Beach marina consultant John Sprague said there needs to be better enforcement of derelict boat laws — although there’s little money to do that — and he warned boaters to be vigilant. “[The legislature] will give carte blanche to local government to do what they want,” he said.
Cruisers said they don’t want a return to the period before 2009, when there was a welter of local anchoring ordinances — all of them different. In 2009 the legislature clarified the state anchoring law, changing the definition of liveaboard vessel to “any vessel used solely as a residence and not for navigation,” excluding cruising boats from the definition. Counties and municipalities could no longer prevent cruising boats from anchoring in their waters under the state law governing liveaboard boats.
Moore said the legislature almost certainly will consider another bill extending authority to regulate anchoring to local government. “We know that by 2017 the issue will be back up in front of the legislature again,” he said. “We’re starting the dialogue early.”