Pilot mooring fields in Florida will help develop policies

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Florida has chosen four locales for pilot mooring fields, expecting that they will make cruising more enjoyable while spurring more communities to install moorings for cruisers.

Mooring and anchoring regulations have been topics of much debate in Florida.

Mooring and anchoring have been controversial in Florida. Counties and municipalities often discourage both because they fear that visiting boats will damage seagrass, pollute the water and contribute to the number of derelict vessels. The state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says managed moorings actually could relieve those problems. The commission has chosen Sarasota, St. Petersburg, St. Augustine and the Florida Keys (Marathon and Key West) for a three-year pilot project authorizing localities to set up mooring fields and write rules for managing both the moorings and the non-liveaboard vessels anchored outside them, says commission boating and waterways Capt. Thomas Shipp.

“We want to develop and test policies and regulatory options that come out of it and see what works and what doesn’t work,” Shipp says.
In 2014, the legislature and the commission will evaluate the pilot programs. The mooring and anchoring ordinances enacted under them will expire unless the legislature decides they are working satisfactorily and re-enacts them.
Two years ago, the legislature amended Florida’s anchoring law, changing the definition of liveaboard to “any vessel used solely as a residence and not for navigation,” which means cruisers can’t be lumped in the same category with liveaboards. Florida law permits local governments to enact and enforce regulations that prohibit or restrict the mooring or anchoring of liveaboard vessels and floating structures, such as houseboats, but prohibits them from regulating the anchoring of cruising boats, except in permitted mooring fields.
Under the pilot program, localities with managed mooring fields also can regulate non-liveaboard vessels outside those fields, but the rules they adopt, including anchoring restrictions, are subject to public hearings and commission approval.
The moorings can be a real benefit to cruisers, says Claiborne Young, publisher of Salty Southeast Cruisers’ Net (www.cruisersnet.net), but he worries that the pilot program could become a Trojan horse. “The concern is that cities and counties — the less ethical ones — might try to use [the program] to prevent anyone from anchoring anywhere near a city’s waters,” he says. He says cruisers must be vigilant and attend the public hearings on the mooring-field rules.
Sarasota is installing 130 moorings with a dinghy dock, pumpout and showers next to city-owned Marina Jack on Sarasota Bay. St. Augustine has installed 163 moorings in three fields — two off its seawall on the Intracoastal Waterway and a third across the ICW on Salt Run. St. Petersburg is installing 26 moorings in the Vinoy Yacht Basin that are scheduled to open in October. The Keys already has 226 moorings at Boot Key in Marathon and another 126 at Garrison Bight in Key West.
On April 7, the commission approved Stuart and Martin counties’ joint mooring proposal — 51 moorings slated for the Indian River Lagoon south of Jensen Beach Causeway and 69 moorings already in place at Stuart’s Southpoint Anchorage — but the approval was withdrawn because the Indian River project lacked a permit. With permitting, it could be approved again.
Derelict vessels — more than 1,800 of them in Florida in a 2010 commission study — are a blight on many waterways and a serious concern to waterfront communities. It’s such a problem, Young says, that many try to ban anchoring in their waters to keep the number of derelict boats in check, even though localities have no authority to regulate the anchoring of non-liveaboard boats. That is a state responsibility.
“Derelicts are a problem, and anyone who doesn’t see this has his head in the sand,” Young says.
Seconding that is David Morehead, guest services director at the St. Augustine Municipal Marina. “I think what we’re really looking for is a way to take care of the derelict vessels,” Morehead says of his city’s involvement in the mooring program.
How might it do that? “That’s what we hope to find out with this,” he says.

'This article originally appeared in the July 2011 issue.