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Florida anchoring restrictions

Mar 4, 2015
The laws have changed and Florida is no longer as welcoming to voyagers wishing to anchor.

The laws have changed and Florida is no longer as welcoming to voyagers wishing to anchor.

Robert Beringer

To the editor: Imagine for a moment that you’ve just sailed from Savannah down the coast into Mayport, Fla., and the ICW. It was a rough passage, about 126 miles, and you’re pretty tired.

You approach a familiar anchorage near Jacksonville Beach and down goes your sail and anchor. After a quick dinner and preview of tomorrow’s weather, you head for the bunk in the v-berth for some well-deserved shut-eye. But a knock on your hull brings you quickly out to the cockpit.

A pair of armed Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation officers is just outside your lifelines and one of them shines a light in your face. They are polite but firm.

 “Sorry captain, you can’t anchor here.”

Flummoxed, you reply — being careful to keep your hands in plain sight.

 “I don’t understand, officer. I’ve been anchoring here for a decade and was never asked to move — and this is the only anchorage for miles!”

“Perhaps,” he says, a little irritated. “But a recent local ordinance has designated this site a no-anchor zone.” You’re tired, and it’s hard to hide your frustration.

“I’m headed down to Miami, and then the Bahamas,” you say. “Will there be other surprise no-anchor zones along the way?” The officer smiles as he hands you a brochure with the locations of expensive marinas and mooring fields. “I don’t know,” he remarks as they push off, “it depends on each municipality.”

Before you know it, you’ve weighed anchor and carried on into the gloaming, pining for the good old days when sailing was simple.

Welcome to the future of boating in the Sunshine State.

As you read this, the Florida FWC is preparing to release the 2nd stakeholder survey on potential legislation to authorize local governments’ authority to regulate anchorage of vessels on state waters within their jurisdictions. The subject is sensitive and politically charged, and pits homeowners against the boating community.

After Florida passed legislation in 2009 forbidding local governments from restricting anchoring rights of all boaters, it also created the Anchoring & Mooring Pilot Program, which directed the FWC to select five local governments to test a variety of boat anchoring ordinances. The goals were to:

1) Promote the establishment and use of public mooring fields. 

2) Promote public access to the waters of the state.

3) Enhance navigational safety.

4) Protect maritime infrastructure.

5) Protect the marine environment.

6) Deter improperly stored, abandoned, or derelict vessels.

The intent was to test the waters before moving on to statewide restrictions to see if locally directed restrictions would work in the best interests of the public. The program ended this year, but was extended until 2017.

Like any significant, game-changing legislation, there are some positive aspects here: Hundreds of derelict, neglected and “stored” boats litter Florida waters, some are anchored near channels and pose a navigational hazard. Local governments need the authority and funding to remove them. No one is arguing about that. And there are live-aboards who haven’t moved their boats since the Bush administration. But this legislation could also prohibit owners from anchoring more than 60 consecutive days in one place, or within 150 feet of a boat ramp, or within 300 feet of residential property (the boat, not the anchor). That would make dozens of choice anchorages off-limits as their natural design makes it impossible to be 300 feet off from anything.

Steve Morrell, editor of Southwinds has been a strident agitator on this matter for years. “Many of the landowners, police officers and officials are looking at these problems as being caused by the same group and there is only one solution — limit anchoring.” Wally Moran, who is currently leading a flotilla of boats south to Miami for the winter, was more blunt on his blog: “If you don’t like looking at boats at anchor, buy a house in Arizona and move there. Boats have been anchoring in your backyard for a lot longer than your home has been there. We have rights too.”

But probably the most disturbing possibility under the proposed anchoring regulations would be that if local governments can show a “compelling need” to regulate anchoring, they could apply to the state for approval to create special no-anchor zones. This “compelling need” could be little more than the desire to placate the waterfront homeowners of their town who don’t like boats blocking their view of the sunset. Imagine yourself as mayor of a small coastal town deciding between hundreds of voting homeowners and the rights of a few non-voting boaters. What would you do?

And apparently there are communities other than the five Pilot Program participants who want to enact anchor restrictions now. In April, Sen. Christopher Smith (D-Fla.) introduced an amendment to a bill that said in part, “A local government that is not participating in a pilot program pursuant to statute 327.4105 may regulate the distance from a private residence that a vessel may anchor overnight.” During the debate he articulated what may be the attitude of many non-boaters in the state: “There are boats sitting outside of people’s houses … boats within 100 yards, looking into people’s houses, discharging waste, doing all kinds of things in that city’s water.”

Florida has always been a special place for boaters, many of whom come thousands of miles to enjoy its beautiful waterways and beaches, or use as a way station in their travels to the Bahamas and Caribbean. I have met many of them — they are resourceful, intelligent, friendly people, but they want to be treated fairly. I came to this state a decade ago on a sailboat from Maryland. Along the way I spent money on fuel, food, repairs, pump-outs and parts, supporting the local businesses, but I spent every night at anchor — that was my choice. And in 25,000 miles of sailing I have never been refused a place to anchor for the night. The idea that local communities could create no-anchor zones is anathema to recreational and professional mariners alike, and could convince some of the thousands who travel through here to take a left at the St. Mary’s River and bypass the state altogether.

—Robert Beringer holds a USCG 50-ton license and works as a college administrator. Beringer is based on the St. Johns River in northeast Florida with his two little coxswains Chessie and Rona. He recently sailed his Catalina 34 Ukiyo to the Bahamas and the Caribbean.

Edit Module

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Aug 17, 2018 05:56 pm
 Posted by  Will L.

Can anyone tell me what areas we can and cant anchor our boats. I live in Placida Florida, Charlotte harbor and wan t to anchor my 50 foot boat near where I live on Little Gasperilla island so I can keep a eye on it and work on it on my days off. Any info would be great , k
Thanks Captain W.

Oct 29, 2018 09:16 pm
 Posted by  Capt AL

This is still an issue in the Tampa Bay area. Do not not come here if you are planning for safe harbor-age around the Bay Pines (VA Memorial Park) or within Tampa Bay. Law enforcement has pushed all boaters outside of an imaginary underwater land boundary. Many live-aboards are now within the surrounding channels to avoid daily fines and harassment by marine patrol.

There are no houses within these safe harbor zones. There is not even an order from the county parks to prevent legal anchoring within the guidelines of the state law.

However, there is a open hostility to boaters especially those who are resident boat owners. When talking to a deputy who told me to move my vessel or face daily fines he referred to "live aboards" as homeless drug addicts that harass weekend boaters and endanger the public. This level of ignorance is profoundly dangerous and harmful to the long term development of this region. I personally miss all the Canadian boaters who use to travel here for a few months to spend their time and money.

Dec 13, 2018 04:38 am
 Posted by  aurora sv

We need to initiate a class action. I have been gathering video, images, testimony and records for 8+ years as a cruiser and a liveaboard. The outright abuse and criminal victimization I have suffered along with my sailing friends is way over the top. I have images of a large well-known vessel towing and salvage company stripping a boat that was seized, under the current derelict law apparently. When I questioned the employee about what he was doing removing the personal items and gear from the vessel, he became instantly irate saying that the vessel was full of feces, cigarette butts and trash. I asked him if that was the legal reason he was taking possession of the items at which point he stopped talking. His superior showed up moments later and just scowled at me when I asked him the same question. That night I was boarded by representatives of the Sarasota County SD, the City of Venice PD and the USCG. I did not consent to any boarding for the record, mostly because I was already sleeping when they shined a 10,000 lumen spotlight into my companionway. Of course, I was indeed boarded and a safety inspection was conducted. The CG officers were astounded to learn that I actually had every bit of the required equipment for a 28' SV (less the MARPOL trash placard) and I demanded my vessel safety inspection sticker for my troubles. Throughout the encounter, I constantly pressed for the actual reason for the boarding at nearly 12am and the deputy finally submitted that they received a report that someone on a brown jon boat with a white Johnson OB had been seen stripping the same seized Trawler that was on the Venice docks. Wow, I thought, isn't that funny, since I own a brown jon boat with a white Johnson OB. (for the record I have never been aboard the vessel in question or even had any physical contact with it) I informed the law enforcement officers that whoever had dispatched them were invariably the very same element of organized crime operating in Higel park.

Mar 14, 2019 03:43 pm
 Posted by  Tron

Don't property lines end at the line? Where I'm going is that a neighbor can build in front of your window and obscure your view because it is not your property where the view is being obscured. So, should not waterfront owners only expect the view up to their property line? Why does an anchored boat offend and not a traveling boat? The view is still obscured during travel. If a moving vessel is allowed, could one not argue that the anchored vessel also moves?

If one did not drop an anchor buy used a GPS and various thrust controls, would one be allowed to stay?

May 18, 2019 06:37 pm
 Posted by  IRUUR1

Is this a class struggle or is this a boating hazard, crime, and/or health issue? Seems like they have a right to live the way they want as long as they are not a crime, health or boating safety nuisance. Many of these people I understand have been living this way since before Clinton. The area has developed up around them. If there is real estate or rent it should be valued taxed and rented commensurate with the increased value around them.
But as a constitutional, self determination matter it raises the following questions in my mind.
Should the value of getting by as cheaply as you can without harming others in order to be happy, be outlawed in California? Outlawed by those who find their happiness in excelling financially.
Should the professional political class continue to squeeze the small boater, by outlawing and licensing anchoring in certain areas thus putting less expensive boating excursions out of budget? Good boating should fee like backpacking on water. It's better on water because you can carry more.

May 18, 2019 06:40 pm
 Posted by  IRUUR1

Should a cheap harmless lifestyle on boats be outlawed in Florida, Cal other coastal US areas?

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