Florida Anchoring Survey: Here Today, Gone—

Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 12:32PM - Comments: (17)

I don’t want to come down too hard on the good people at Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission; many of the underpaid, overworked officers seem genuinely interested in doing the right thing. But the most recent survey, and the accompanying “informational” video (above) preceding it, lead me to believe that the FWC has been puffing swamp gas again.

Where to begin?

I suppose a bit of background is in order. Anchored boats are an egregious nuisance to some Floridians, many of whom apparently don’t realize that Florida is surrounded on three sides by water, that the sea might be a source of income or means of transportation for some people, and that some boats actually stay on the water after the sun goes down. Most complaints are linked to so-called “derelict” boats. The definition of “derelict” seems to vary according to which side of the shoreline you are on; but the term increasingly is being used to apply to any boat that does not conform to the yachting ideal—a pristine hull that reflects and briefly satisfies an insatiable desire for new and shiny things. More dangerously, the term also is being applied to the non-comformist who owns the boat in question, rather than the vessel itself.

By the 1980s, this “anchoring situation” became so intolerable to some local communities that instead of enforcing existing anchoring rules, they enacted new laws designed to scrub their waterfronts to a fairy-tale gleam. These local anchoring restrictions ranged from draconian to incomprehensible, and all were impossible to enforce. By about 2005, several Florida communities had their own set of rules, creating a biblioteca de Babel of legislation that a made as much sense as a Yonomami shaman running Thursday night bingo.

In 2009, responding to lawsuits and pressure from boating groups, the state reluctantly stepped in  to quash the local restrictions, bringing back a semblance of uniformity (or anarchy, depending, again, on which side of the shoreline you stood). Boaters once more were permitted to pillage and burn the length of the peninsula and (dear heavens) anchor pretty much wherever the heck they pleased. Meanwhile, landlubber ire again bubbled to a boiling point.

This brings us to today, with the waterfront whiners in full-squawk mode and six municipalities testing six different approaches to putting boaters back in marinas and mooring fields where they can be fleeced of their last dime. These “pilot programs” are having varying degrees of success, depending upon which side of the cash register you are on. One of these programs is in our own backyard, and its implementation has had a discouraging impact on local sailors, virtually assuring that sailing remains an activity out of reach of people of modest means.

The temporary pilot programs will expire in 2017, but Fish and Wildlife, catching a whiff of more conflict and legislative insanity on the horizon, is trying to prevent another nosedive down the rulemaking rabbit hole by “partnering” with the public with some “public hearings” and a “survey.” The presumed aim of these efforts is to develop some more permanent, sensible rules, that will placate the landlubbers without infrurating boaters, particularly cruisers who regard the whole inane charade as—well, a charade.

I wrote about the so-called “hearings” hosted by FWC back in September. So let’s see about the survey, which will only available online during the days bracketing Thanksgiving (Nov. 21 – Dec. 7), and was so poorly publicized that Fish and Wildlife Commission did not even issue an announcement on its own news page until three days after the clock started ticking. I imagine very few media outlets will cover the survey until the comment period expires. Getting anything in print before Dec. 7 is virtually impossible for any boating magazine. 

For those still unclear on the anchoring controversy, the survey is preceded by an informational video that is supposed to clarify things. Instead of enlightening the public to both sides of the issue, however, the informational video is blatantly one-sided, portraying anchored boats as an  alien race infringing on the rights and joys of the greater, peace-loving public. The aggrieved parties alluded to in the video include a proverbial dad who wants to teach his kid to water-ski but can’t because those blamed anchored boats are in the way (since this is a Fish and Wildlife video, he can’t gripe about manatee zones), a homeowner who feels his privacy is invaded because boats are anchoring in the well-protected anchorage near his waterfront estate, and unnamed marina operators who fear the next rain squall will bring a fleet of anchored boats upon them and cause inestimable harm.

At no time during the video do we hear about the FWC officers harassing law-abiding boaters in Boot Key Harbor, the importance of having accessible safe anchorages, nor does it explain that existing laws already deal with the most common complaints. And of course, there is no discussion of the historical and necessary legal protections afforded to boats engaged in navigation—which, in theory, are exempt from the proposed rules, but in practice are often swept up in the net. Instead, participants in the survey are served up a series of questions and suggestive photographs that do nothing but paint anchored boats in an abhorant light—as if we’re all a bunch of freeloaders intent on littering the seascape.

I suppose by sneaking the survey into Thanksgiving week, Fish and Wildlife was hoping to minimize the number of responses its staff would have to tally. I’m hoping you help me out by proving that assumption wrong. Share a link to this blog or the survey itself with anyone vaguely interested in anchoring rights, then take a couple aspirin and dive into the survey yourself. It takes about 15 minutes to complete—after you suffer through the video. In my opinion, uniform statewide rules are the best solution, but I'm not convinced there's need for any more than those that are already on the books. Answer as you please, but don't be dismayed if the FWC ignores the whole shebang.

Warning: The survey may ruin your appetite, so leave an adequate buffer before serving up the bird.

Comments (17)

Michael S, sorry to hear you had to deal with such inconsiderate boaters. Have you reported the name (and registration number if you can see it) of the boat or boats to your local marine patrol? As others have pointed out, existing should cover these infractions and these people should be taken to task.

*sigh*, it's always the rotten apple that spoils the barrel.

Posted by: Henry L | December 1, 2014 2:06 PM    Report this comment

Thanks for your coverage to this. Extending adjacent private property owners' control (ownership) over public waterways would be a dangerous abridgment of long-established legal precedents. They own only...what they own. The public owns the waterways. Safe anchoring is the boat owner's concern covered by existing safety law. Forcing boats to hopscotch around on a timetable would be undue harassment. These issues are covered by existing responsibility rules. I made my statement in the survey. The waterways are not private streets or city streets, they are public domain.

Posted by: dall w | November 28, 2014 11:58 AM    Report this comment

And another thing about this survey--notice that every check box has a number. If you check any one of them, whether it's their default number or a different one, your response can be interpreted to support local regulation of anchoring.
Like I said, garbage science.
Take the survey. Check 'other' and write in a zero.

Posted by: John v | November 27, 2014 8:16 PM    Report this comment

The survey is garbage science.
Motor boats outnumber cruising sailboats in Florida about a zillion to one. Waterfront property owners have the resources, and the tax burden, to make their voices a lot louder than sailboat owners'. So the state government, with it's aggregate IQ of about 89, designs a grossly unscientific survey to elicit the numbers they obviously want.
Comments may or may not be read (guess which), but they aren't objectively quantifiable. So they'll have zero statistical meaning in the survey results.
Take the survey. Zip code maps are available online in case you don't remember yours.

Posted by: JOHN P V | November 27, 2014 8:07 PM    Report this comment

The Marine Plastics Pollution Research & Control Act (MARPOL) places limitations
on the discharge of garbage from vessels. It is illegal to dump plastic trash anywhere
in the ocean or navigable waters of the United States, including the Great Lakes. The
discharge of other types of garbage is permitted outside of specific distances offshore as
determined by the nature of that garbage.
Michael S, Seems these regs cover your problem:

- INSIDE 3 MILES (and in U.S. Lakes, Rivers, Bays and Sounds): plastic; dunnage; lining, and packing materials
that float, and any garbage except dishwater, gray water and fish parts.
- 3 TO 12 MILES: plastic, dunnage, lining, and packing materials that float, any garbage not ground to less than one
square inch.
- 12 TO 25 MILES: Plastic, dunnage, lining, and packing materials that float.
- OUTSIDE 25 MILES: Plastic

Posted by: G G | November 26, 2014 10:31 PM    Report this comment

michael s Yhe Marpol treaty with amendments covers your problem: Pollution Regulations
The Refuse Act of 1899 prohibits throwing, discharging or depositing any refuse matter
of any kind (including trash, garbage, oil and other liquid pollutants) into the water of the United States.
The Federal Water Pollution Control Act prohibits the discharge of
oil or hazardous substances that may be harmful into U.S. navigable waters. Vessels 26
feet in length and over must display a placard at least 5 by 8 inches, made of durable
material, fixed in a conspicuous place in the machinery spaces, or at the bilge pump
control station that states the following:
The Marine Plastics Pollution Research & Control Act (MARPOL) places limitations
on the discharge of garbage from vessels. It is illegal to dump plastic trash anywhere
in the ocean or navigable waters of the United States, including the Great Lakes. The
discharge of other types of garbage is permitted outside of specific distances offshore as
determined by the nature of that garbage.
- INSIDE 3 MILES (and in U.S. Lakes, Rivers, Bays and Sounds): plastic; dunnage; lining, and packing materials
that float, and any garbage except dishwater, gray water and fish parts.
- 3 TO 12 MILES: plastic, dunnage, lining, and packing materials that float, any garbage not ground to less than one
square inch.
- 12 TO 25 MILES: Plastic, dunnage, lining, and packing materials that float.
- OUTSIDE 25 MILES: Plastic

Posted by: G G | November 26, 2014 10:28 PM    Report this comment

I just took the survey, and it appears to me that they have a plan and are moving forward to make it happen. Thanks for the heads-up. I will make sure that all the members of my local boating group in the Stuart, FL area hear about this and take the survey.

I think that we should hammer on the issue that restrictions on anchoring and storage of boats should be based solely on whether those boats are interfering with navigation, or are actively, or in imminent danger of polluting the waterways. Home owners should have no say-so, whatsoever, about who parks in front of their houses, or for how long. There is an infamous anchorage in Miami where a homeowner has taken extraordinary actions, including populating the anchorage with his own flotilla of small boats, to keep out others. If they allow homeowners to stop anchoring, what is to prevent homeowners from complaining about boaters from being allowed to navigate by the home, and "pollute" the homeowners view-shed?

Homeowners do not own the public waterways, and they should not be allowed to extend their NIMBYism into public waterways.

Posted by: RALPH C | November 26, 2014 4:10 PM    Report this comment

How do these proposed restrictions square with Federal navigation and anchoring rights and where is the USCG on these issues?

Posted by: Unknown | November 26, 2014 3:47 PM    Report this comment

The home/property owners paid for their home/property, and have certain right they purchased that allow construction of a dock.

They did NOT purchase the right to exclude long established use of the water/sea bed. These restrictions are uncompensated seizure of public property rights. Safe public anchorages would be converted to private lakes.

We all encounter with rude, thoughtless behavior at times. There are plenty of laws for dealing with abandoned cars on a street and derelict boats.

Posted by: Charles J | November 26, 2014 3:32 PM    Report this comment

I'm sorry that irresponsible boaters are causing problems in your anchorage, and it appears that ordinary education and enforcement is not helping, since the problems you describe are already covered by existing legislation. (The proposed rules are not designed to directly address noise or pollution.) Individuals like you describe do not help the cause of respectful sailors. The question then becomes do these problems -- all covered by existing rules -- justify blanket restrictions against overnight anchoring? Are their responsible boaters who use the anchorage that homeowners in the neighborhood tolerate? For how long? In the past, other anchorages have successfully addressed the problems you describe through community actions, communication, education, and enforcement. Yes, balance is required. Legitimate concerns like yours are unfortunately being distorted by others who have no tolerance for any anchoring in "their" anchorage, whatsoever, and then being used to enact sweeping restrictions. This pattern, coupled with what can only be interpreted as feigned attempt by FWC to "begin a partnership" through poorly publicized hearings and surveys, is more than just disturbing.

Posted by: Darrell | November 26, 2014 1:36 PM    Report this comment

Anchoring should remain a freedom that all boaters can enjoy responsibly. If a boater is being a nuisance to a waterfront homeowner by being noisy or littering the homeowner can and should notify authorities just as you would a troublesome land neighbor. There are already too many rules on the water and anchoring should remain unrestricted.

Posted by: Kevin M | November 26, 2014 12:32 PM    Report this comment

As a waterfront owner and sailor, I feel I have lived both sides of this issue. After being kept awake by all night parties at anchor in front of my house, I've had to police the beach for empty bottles, garbage, and even soiled diapers, furthermore, I had to snorkel the shore line to remove broken glass bottles to protect kids from cut feet.

As a sailor, I understand the need for appropriate access to safe anchorages, but I don't expect to be able to anchor anywhere I please. This article is big on sarcasm and lacking in balance. Property owners and boaters have rights. It's unfortunate that government is so inept (as is so often the case) at balancing the needs of both. Does common sense get applied to legislation anymore?

Posted by: michael s | November 26, 2014 10:45 AM    Report this comment

Car - boat analogy fails on several fronts. Not a logical argument in the least. Anchorages being regulated are safe havens that existed long before the homes were even built. "Excuse me while I plop my digs on a hurricane hole . . . now please sweep away those ugly boats." Provisions for dealing with "derelict" boats like those depicted are already in place. FWC and others are seeking easy way out, using extreme examples (already covered by existing laws) to achieve complete prohibition, funnel boaters into commercial enterprises so they don't have to regulate aesthetics. The gripers want NO boats, no free anchoring, nothing . . . and they way to achieve this is through the rhetorical distortions projected in the survey.

Posted by: Darrell | November 26, 2014 10:06 AM    Report this comment

Consider your home for a minute and tell me if you would mind a car being stored indefinitely on the street in front. Or, even worse, a car up on blocks or otherwise permanently inoperable sitting out front. I think this is what the FWC is attempting to address for the people who live on the water and consider the side facing the water to be the front. Look at any of the pictures in the videos and tell me if you would want those things sitting "in front" of your house. What I hope they do is come up with clear definitions of derelict boats and boats being stored vs. those in use.

Posted by: Chuck M | November 26, 2014 9:46 AM    Report this comment

I just did the FWC survey. It is definitely biased towards the waterfront homeowner's interests. But, in its defense, it does provide space for making suggestions and for pointing out those biases. Whether those suggestions will be considered is another matter. I got the feeling from the video and subsequent "explanations of concepts," that the FWC's position is very clear and not boater friendly -- which is ironic. Who has more negatively impacted Florida's natural environment, the boaters or the out-of-control development the FWC seems to be protecting?

Posted by: oscark | November 26, 2014 8:39 AM    Report this comment

thank you for the "enlightenment, we a LI Sound/Chesapeake Bay coastal cruisers planning our first passage through the ICW to the Keys next fall. This is an "eye opening" issue not discussed in our circles, but important to us! Thanks again.

Posted by: Electric Yachts of Annapolis | November 26, 2014 8:30 AM    Report this comment

Very well written article. Thanks for making a lousy topic fun to read. I hope someone has forwarded this to the FWC.

Posted by: Leap of Faith | November 25, 2014 5:17 PM    Report this comment

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