New at-risk vessel law helps FWC, officials manage Florida waterways

A new Florida law, approved by the Legislature and Governor during the 2016 Session, will enable county and local authorities along with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to more effectively manage the state’s waterways. The new law (F.S. 327.4107) allows law enforcement officers to issue non-criminal citations to owners who allow their boats to become “at risk” of becoming derelict.

“This law allows officers to take action before a vessel crosses that line between at-risk and derelict, and hopefully prompts the owner to rectify any issues with the vessel before it reaches a state of disrepair,” said Phil Horning, FWC’s derelict vessel program administrator. “Prior to this law being enacted, officers had to wait until a vessel met the legal criteria for a derelict vessel before beginning any sort of official interaction with the owner.”

Under the new law, a vessel is deemed to be “at-risk” if any of the following conditions is observed:

  • The vessel is taking on or has taken on water without an effective means to dewater.
  • Spaces on the vessel that are designed to be enclosed are incapable of being sealed off or remain open to the elements for extended periods of time.
  • The vessel has broken loose or is in danger of breaking loose from its anchor.
  • The vessel is left or stored aground unattended in such a state that would prevent the vessel from getting underway, is listing due to water intrusion, or is sunk or partially sunk.

If an officer observes a vessel with one or more of these criteria, a non-criminal citation may be issued that requires the owner to correct the problem or face stronger penalties after 30 days have passed. If problems are not fixed, non-compliant vessel owners can face additional fines issued every 30 days until they are.

Officials expect that this new law will decrease the number of vessels becoming derelict, a problem which continues to burden the state’s public waterways.

“Our goal is to keep Florida’s waterways safe and protect their environmental stability,” said Horning. “We are committed to protecting this valuable resource for the people of Florida and its visitors.”

Vessel owners are also reminded to sell their vessels properly.

“Many owners don’t realize that not only is the buyer required to get the vessel retitled in their name, but the seller is also required to notify the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles within 30 days that they have sold their vessel,” said Horning.

Failure to do so is a violation and may cause the prior owner of record legal troubles should the vessel become derelict at a later date. The FWC will be assisting state and local governments with derelict vessel removal grants that will be available soon. The grant funding was also approved by the Legislature and Governor during the 2016 Session. Interested applicants may contact the FWC Derelict Vessel Program office at 850-617-9540 or email DVGrant@MyFWC.com for more information.