At-risk boating law has teeth with fines, awaits Scott’s signature

March 11, 2016

Florida marine officers likely will soon have authority to fine boat owners who allow their vessels to become at risk of sinking.

State lawmakers on Thursday gave final approval to the At-Risk Vessels bill sponsored by state Reps. Holly Raschein (R-Key Largo) and Debbie Mayfield (R-Vero Beach). If signed by Gov. Rick Scott, HB 7025 will have the force of law on July 1.

The Florida Keys lead the state in abandoned derelict vessels, with an estimate of about 300 derelicts stranded on the Florida Bay or Atlantic sea floor at any given time.

A November report from Monroe County Marine Resources said the county spent nearly $200,000 in boating-improvement money to remove 49 boats from November 2014 to October 2015.

The existing at-risk vessel program established by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission allows enforcement officers to tag boats they consider to be in imminent danger of sinking, but the warnings to owners do not require the owner any action.

“A vessel owner has no duty to maintain their vessel and can allow a vessel occupying waters of the state to deteriorate until it reaches a derelict condition,” says a state legislative analysis.

That would change under the 2016 law.

Civil fines for not correcting a boat problem logged by an FWC or other authorized marine officer start at $50 for a first offense and can reach $250 for a third offense.

At-risk boats may be severely listing because of faulty bilge pumps, they’re in overall poor condition or have no means of navigating.

The law would not extend to boats at a marina or dock.

The 85-foot tug Tilly — still on the sea bottom off Key West two years after sinking — became a prime example of an aged and poorly maintained boat that would be hugely expensive to remove. The last registered owner apparently lacks the money to pay for the removal.

In other boating-law changes:

  • A bill that changes the definition of careless boat operation passed. The law was filed by its sponsor largely to allow bow-riding.

The language redefines language to make it a “careless operation” violation only if the actions threaten “another person outside the vessel.”

That same law also would require officers to issue stickers to boaters who pass a vessel safety-equipment inspection. Officers then could not stop a boat displaying the sticker solely for the purpose of checking equipment. Officers will be able to stop boats for other violations or to check fishing catches.

  • A bill banning overnight anchoring in some Miami-Dade and Broward waters passed. The Boat Owners Associated of the United States (BoatUS) opposed the bill as a precedent that could lead to other closures.
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