When Chris Edmonston, president of the BoatU.S. Foundation, heard last year that lawmakers in Georgia were debating legislation to restrict overnight anchoring in all kinds of places where boaters enjoy cruising, he was frustrated, but not surprised. “This isn’t just a Georgia thing,” Edmonston says. “We’re seeing proposed anchoring rules in other places too. In Florida, we see municipalities trying to make rules that only affect their municipalities. We’re seeing problems on the West Coast.”
Two issues are combining along both of America’s coastlines, he says, in a way that has lawmakers listening to requests for restricted anchorages. The first issue is abandoned and derelict boats, the result of people dropping the hook and walking away—creating an eyesore and a problem for government that nobody defends or condones. The challenge of abandoned and derelict boats has existed for some time, he adds, and there are ways to address it, but it’s becoming a more prevalent concern in places such as San Francisco, where homelessness is leading some people to live aboard nonfunctional boats that are eyesores and a public nuisance.
And on top of that issue, Edmonston says, is a problem that is even harder to address: “We’re also seeing a lot of people buying expensive waterfront land, and they don’t want their view ruined by somebody’s boat being on an anchor.”
The Associated Press reported in May 2019 that even despite coastal erosion, stronger storms and more regular flooding, real-estate agents were seeing zero drop in the demand for waterfront properties. Also as of 2019, waterfront homes remained more expensive than homes just one block inland, according to the National Association of Realtors.
People who buy the nicest waterfront properties, says Edmonston, tend to be multimillionaires, given the prices those properties can garner. And, Edmonston says, “If the multimillionaire knows the legislator or donates to the legislator, he’s going to get the legislator’s ear. But this impacts everybody. Fishermen, they like to fish around structures and docks, but some of these homeowners, they think, My property, my view.”
The problem of anchoring restrictions in Georgia came to a head last year with legislation that led the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to propose a rule restricting overnight anchoring within 1,000 feet of any structure, such as public and private docks, wharves, bridges, piers and pilings, except in areas near marinas. A “marina zones” exception was included for boaters to anchor as close as 300 feet to marinas or facilities that provie fuel, dinghy access, provisions, vessel maintenance or other services, regardless of whether other structures exist nearby.
“This can only lead to the conclusion that the reason for the greater offset from privately owned structures outside these zones was to provide waterfront landowners with near-exclusive use and enjoyment of our shared waterways,” Edmonston says.
He adds that he understands boaters needing to take responsibility for sharing the waterways and views, because he’s more than just a boater: “I’m a waterfront owner. I don’t want somebody plopping a boat in front my house and leaving it there. I also don’t like it when wakeboarders do circles in front of the house all day long with the music blaring. It’s an issue, and the boating community does need to make an effort to police our own.”
But at the same time, he says, the waterways are supposed to be for everyone to enjoy. In Georgia, for instance, it’s written right into state law that residents have the right to use and enjoy the waterways.
As of this writing, boaters and Georgia authorities were still trying to work things out. Josh Hildebrandt, director of public and governmental affairs for the Department of Natural Resources, told Soundings that new legislation was moving through the committee process for a different anchoring bill. The BoatU.S. Foundation is among the parties watching that legislation closely, hoping for solutions such as permits for several weeks of anchoring in one place, as well as a safe-harbor provision so boaters can’t be kicked out of an anchorage during a time of bad weather.
But until any new legislation becomes law, the problem remains—and it will affect not only Georgia-based boaters, but also any snowbirds who cruise through Georgia while heading back up to New England from Florida this spring.
“Unfortunately, the one-size-fits-all approach catches everybody,” Edmonston says. “The people that you want to come through your area—you want them to buy fuel and eat at your restaurants and spend money in your state—it’s going to be a big mess when they can’t do it. We don’t want to be in a situation where you have snowbirders coming down South, they don’t understand the laws have changed, they drop their hook, and they have a ticket.”
And beyond the inconvenience and expense of receiving a ticket, he says, laws with anchoring restrictions are a safety issue for boaters. “It’s going to put people in jeopardy because they’re not going to be able to anchor in a safe area,” he says. “That’s even aside from the economic impact on the marine industry.”
So far, he adds, the BoatU.S. Foundation hasn’t had to battle any similar legislation in the Northeast—yet.
This article originally appeared in the May 2020 issue.