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With passage of Florida Anchoring Bill, BoatUS seeks solution for the long haul

by Scott Croft 2 Jul 2021 16:14 UTC
With one derelict vessel already sunk, local law enforcement responds to an at-risk vessel situation on North Lake in Hollywood, Florida © Scott Croft

A bill that aims to both address the continuing vessel anchoring challenges facing some Florida counties while balancing the needs of responsible vessel operators became law yesterday with the signing of FL S.B. 1946 by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS) supports the legislation that protects active cruisers in the Sunshine State, giving them critical access to important shoreside services and amenities while also addressing continued challenges with at-risk vessels that anchor on a long-term basis.

The national recreational boating advocacy, services and safety group applauds Rep. Wyman Duggan, R-Jacksonville, and Sen. Tina Polski, D-Palm Beach, for their leadership in sponsoring and gaining passage of the bill. "Representative Duggan and Senator Polsky worked diligently with us to ensure that the needs of active, responsible cruisers and vessel operators were included," said BoatUS Manager of Government Affairs David Kennedy. "We were pleased they listened to BoatUS's solutions for this long-standing challenge and included them in the final bill. Representative Duggan took the lead in the House while Senator Polsky took the lead in the Senate, shepherding the bill through all of its committee hearings. This bi-partisan team gave responsible cruising boaters and local governments the tools they will need to address anchoring," Kennedy added.

Florida S.B. 1946 allows counties to establish anchorage limitation areas adjacent to urban areas that have a combination of significant boat traffic, narrow waterways and residential docking facilities. Counties are permitted to set up anchorages that give active cruisers or any vessel operator access to high-demand harborage for reasonable amount of time - up to 45 consecutive days in any 6-month period. The state has long had challenges with derelict, abandoned and "at risk" vessels, and the legislation hopes to reduce those numbers. Penalities for violating the new law start at $50 for the first offense, and repeat offenders could be declared public nuisances and subject to removal from the waters of the state.

"This law gives responsible active cruisers traveling Florida's waters the ability to stay in an anchorage limitation area for 45 days, which we believe meets the needs of most cruisers," said Kennedy. "By limiting a stay to a little more than six weeks, it also opens up more access to fellow cruisers while balancing the needs of municipalities struggling with at-risk vessels, which can be poorly maintained, may not follow sanitation requirements, or are left unattended and often end up as liabilities to counties when they are abandoned or wash ashore in storm events."

There are some limits on what counties may do, however. Florida S.B. 1946/H.B.1515 restricts the size of anchorage limitation areas to less than 100 acres, and the aggregate total of the anchorage limitation areas in a county my not exceed 10% of the county's delineated "navigable-in-fact waterways."

The bill also adds transparency by requiring counties to notify the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and publish (via website and email) a notice at least 30 days before introducing an anchoring ordinance.

The new law additionally designates Monroe County as an anchoring limitation area but prohibits the municipality from establishing one until certain requirements are met, including adding at least 250 new moorings within 1 mile of the Key West Bight City Dock and an additional 50 moorings installed within the Key West Garrison Bight Mooring Field.

The law also grandfathers current anchoring prohibitions on six congested waterways in Broward and Miami-Dade counties and provides accommodations for vessels experiencing mechanical failure or imminent or existing weather conditions.

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