Sunday, December 7, 2014

Anchoring? No aweigh

Truth be told most Floridians don't like boats. They are viewed at the very minimum as an inconvenience and at the worst boaters are a menace to society. Bridges go up and delay the critical trip to Walmart. Home owners associations don't want them in yards whether visible or not. Waterfront property owners cry about their multi-million dollar views being despoiled. 

Municipalities chaff at the bit because they are powerless to regulate something that floats in plain sight just mocking them. Imagine that if you can.

Environmentalists accuse boaters of slaying manatees and turtles, mowing down sea grass and coral, and polluting the waterways. Oh yeah, they also drink excessively, have noisy exhaust systems, even louder stereos, make big wakes, scare fish, go too fast. Have I missed anything?

They're boating witches, burn them at the mast. Whose got the charcoal lighter? Alright, there are some varying degrees of truth to all of this so let's look at the participants and their hopes and dreams about controlling anchoring in Florida.

I'll start with the State of Florida. Basically they own the all navigable waterways. What's the definition of a navigable waterway? That's a very fuzzy concept, but in general it's most water you could float a small boat on. The law says....

"The title to lands under navigable waters, within the boundaries of the state, which have not been alienated, including beaches below mean high water lines, is held by the state, by virtue of its sovereignty, in trust for all the people. Sale of such lands may be authorized by law, but only when in the public interest. Private use of portions of such lands may be authorized by law, but only when not contrary to the public interest."

Not much happens to waterways unless the State has its fingers in the pie. You want a permit to build a dock, do dredging, or construct a seawall? The State will be involved in the process. However here is the catch. The legislators can pass laws regarding use of the waterways as long as it's considered in the public interest to do so. Now who would want to do that?.....

Municipalities of all sorts want more control, a lot more control. Counties and cities, have been battling with the State over use of their local waters for decades, and are now gaining some ground.

They can tell a homeowner he needs to mow his yard, whether you can ride a bicycle on the sidewalk, when and where you can put up a sign, but they can't say much at all to a boater.

Not that they haven't tried through the years. The local Town of Longboat Key and many others have tried and the end results of these efforts is the State has said, "Hey guys, we own the waterways, you can't tell people they can't anchor in them, so buzz off." This has in the long run been good for boaters, but it aggrieves local governments because they have to listen to the gripes of......

Waterfront property owners generically have several things in common. There are a lot of them, they're wealthy and vote with their wallets. These homeowners want the quality of life they feel they deserve and can afford. The last thing they want to see is a dilapidated scow at anchor in their back yard.

I don't really blame them for this, but would hasten to point out that one man's scow, is another man's yacht and the quality of your waterfront view is subjective. That being said it's like buying a house next to the airport and then complaining about the noise. The waterways are owned by the public afterall.  And then there are the boaters......

And what a disparate group they are. Sailors, fisherman, cruisers, rental boat users, go fast boaters, kayakers, live aboards, skiers, and so on. Like all large communities most boaters are considerate, and environmentally conscious. But have no doubts a small portion of them can be real jerks. We have all encountered them from time to time.

Despite its size the diversity of the boating community hasn't lead to any real cohesiveness about this issue. The fisherman doesn't typically anchor, for very long at any rate in someone's back yard. Kayaks are quiet, and organic by nature, and rental boats are all rounded up by night fall. Although go fast boats are invariably equipped with purple or white pleather stabbin cabins, most are poorly equipped to drop an anchor at all. Permanent live aboard's are already regulated. So really what's left are the cruisers both sail and power, and what many view as derelict boats. Derelicts are in the eye of the beholder category, or I know it when I see it.

Like all legislation, money and lobbyists are hard at work. We have black hats, and white hats. There aren't a lot of pro boater white hats. NMMA, Boat US and similar organizations are helping to the degree they can, and a responsive grass roots community is blowing the trumps.

The black hats are the various Municipalities and they have far more lobbying fiscal ammunition and legislative access, all under the guise of being in the public's interest of course.

If you didn't know already, it's now too late but a FWC commissioned survey was recently produced and presented online to take the pulse of boaters and anyone else who has an ax to grind about anchoring.

Unfortunately it smells like a fait accompli and appeared  to have substantial bias. This portion of the survey deals with having boats parked at anchor. Now look at this representation of the typical anchored boat. It's a beater to say the least.

Now change that picture to a beautiful and new sailboat. Would it create a different response? I think so. Here is the verbatim text reformatted to fit. It's packaged a bit like the question "Have you stopped beating your wife?"

The owner, operator or person in charge of a vessel may not store the vessel at anchor in one location on the public waters of the state in excess of 60 consecutive days.

Any vessel stored beyond the 60 day limitation must be relocated a minimum of 5 miles from the current location, moved to a permitted mooring, marina slip, private dock, or be removed from the water.

“Stored” means not under the supervision and control of a person capable of operating and maintaining the vessel and promptly moving it from a location.

Concept 4 Feedback

16. Please identify your level of agreement with the concept above.
Strongly disagree -Somewhat disagree-Neutral-Somewhat agree-Strongly agree

17. A limitation of storing a boat at anchor for more than 60 consecutive days is proposed in this concept. What is the maximum time frame you feel would be most appropriate for storing a boat in one location on Florida waters?
15 days-30 days-45 days-60 days-90 days-120 days-Other (specify time frame)

18. This concept proposes that every 60 days a stored boat would have to be moved to a mooring, a marina, a private dock, be removed from the water or relocated at least 5 miles. What is the relocation distance you feel would be most appropriate?
½ mile-1 mile=3 miles-5 miles=10 miles-Other (specify distance)

19. Please provide any additional comments you have related to this concept: (limit 250 characters)

So what does the future hold for anchoring your boat in Florida? It's going to be more of the tug of war we've seen in the past, but the boaters are going to lose. The real question is how much are they going to lose? 

My sense is that Florida's boaters are going to be in legislative retreat and will need to draw some compromising lines in the sand. There are really only two possible scenarios.

The first is the State keeps primary control over anchoring in public waters, and Municipalities have to petition the State with hopefully compelling reasons why selective and very limited control over anchoring needs to occur. This will likely be accompanied with some general conditions like you can't anchor within a certain distance of homes and the ilk. It's implied there may be some time limits on anchoring in a specific location. Hopefully this is a reasonable and long period of time.

What really needs to happen is that if there are new anchoring regulations they need to be clear and consistent statewide with very few special exceptions, and there should still be considerable and geographically attractive free anchorage available. Remember, it is the public's waterway and this shouldn't be forgotten in the scuffle.   

The second scenario is where Municipalities actually get real control over publicly owned navigable  waters. This would be like setting the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse loose on boaters. The result would be a bewildering nightmare of regulation and restrictions. Let's hope this doesn't come to pass, although this is what most communities really want, badly.

For example this is the Town of Longboat Key's stand on anchoring for the upcoming 2015 State of Florida legislative agenda.... OPPOSE any legislation that would limit the County’s ability to regulate the following environmental issues including: Anchoring and Mooring – and other waterways management issues. They are not alone by any means!

Here is earlier piece I wrote about the Mooring pilot program.

1 comment:

  1. I am not the only foreign boater who has long since decided that if Florida doesn't want sea-borne visitors, I'll take my disposable income and potential need for marine services elsewhere. Sorry, Bill, but a lot of us are voting with our rudders on this one. Between the hatred for anchorage off some soon-to-be underwater archeological site and the strictures of your insecurity forces, I have no need or desire to visit Florida or, increasingly, any part of the U.S. You'd think a nominally capitalistic society would "get" what cruisers bring, but if not, so be it.


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