Jul 15, 2022 - News

Florida tackles derelict boat problem with new turn-in program

A derelict boat washed up on shore in Miami.
Florida gets littered with about 600 derelict boats each year. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Owners of junky boats will soon be able to turn them in to be destroyed for free and without penalty.

Driving the news: The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) approved a new rule establishing a vessel turn-in program at its meeting this week.

Why it matters: The new program will remove broken boats from state waters before they become hazards and could help save taxpayers millions of dollars.

  • Derelict boats — those that are sinking or have sunk, been dismantled or beached — destroy seagrass resources and endanger marine life. Boaters can crash into derelict vessels that drift on or beneath the water.

State of play: Florida allocated $8.2 million from the state budget toward derelict vessel removal this fiscal year, and another $11.7 million has been allocated from federal COVID-19 relief dollars.

  • That's a serious bump in funding from the $3.5 million appropriated in the 2021-2022 fiscal year.
  • In 2020-2021, less than $2 million was appropriated for derelict vessel removal.

By the numbers: About 580 vessels are listed as derelict in the FWC database. With the new funding, FWC anticipates being able to remove about 600 derelict vessels.

  • It's a cat-and-mouse game, though. On average, 600 new derelict vessels are added to the FWC's database each year.
  • One hurricane can have a huge impact. After Hurricane Irma in 2017, 954 vessels were rendered derelict and removed.

How it works: People cited for having boats at risk of becoming derelict — when they're floating but have taken on water, broken loose from anchor or lost propulsion — are eligible to turn in vessels under the new program.

  • Since July 1, 2021, the FWC has issued 548 citations and 319 warnings for at-risk vessels.
  • Removing boats at the "at-risk" stage is much cheaper than when they're derelict. FWC must hire contractors to do removals.

Beware: Anyone found guilty of intentionally dumping a vessel can face up to five years in prison and/or a $5,000 fine.

What they're saying: FWC spokesperson Rob Klepper told Axios that "a derelict vessel typically costs between $400-$800 per foot to remove."

  • Klepper estimates that removing a 30-foot yacht would cost between $12,000 and $24,000, "barring any extraordinary circumstances."

Between the lines: It's not very expensive to dispose of an old or broken boat properly oneself.

  • In Monroe County, small boats can be dropped off and destroyed for $300, for example — but owners often abandon them on the water.

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