For more than a decade now, the issue of legal restrictions on anchoring in Florida has been simmering away, fueled by the number of derelict boats littering some parts of the state’s waterways, and by property owners who don’t want to see boats anchored behind their homes. These two principal factors have been intertwined for years.
On one hand, derelict boats are an aesthetic, health, environmental and sometimes safety issue for local and state jurisdictions and their constituents. Leaking fuel tanks, the discharge of untreated sewage and potential sinking are all valid concerns. Some long-term liveaboard boats can also be hard to distinguish from derelict boats without intrusive inspections.
On the other hand, daysailors, weekenders and long-term cruisers have historically been able to anchor in Florida for a night, the weekend, a week or even months at a time. Most, although certainly not all, are pristine boats with owners whose behavior is exemplary.
As for the homeowners, many sailors believe residents who oppose anchoring merely want to “own the view.”
In 2009, new legislation moved control of anchoring regulation from localities to the State of Florida and deployed an Anchoring Ordinance Pilot Program. The Pilot Program helped move the State of Florida from what has been described as “the wild west of anchoring,” in which every local jurisdiction had different and often contradictory regulations, to a consistent statewide approach.
Now, if they are passed, two bills being debated in Florida as we were going to press—HB 1051 and S 1260—could in practice hand some power back to localities. The legislation would restrict anchoring in five specific places in Florida: the section of Middle River lying between Northeast 21st Court and the Intracoastal Waterway in Broward County; Sunset Lake in Miami-Dade County; the sections of Biscayne Bay in Miami-Dade County lying between Rivo Alto Island and Di Lido Island; San Marino Island and San Marco Island and San Marco Island and Biscayne Island; and Crab Island in Choctawhatchee Bay at the East Pass in Okaloosa County. Some of these restrictions pit boater (those anchoring) against boater (those water skiing).
Some organizations opposing the legislation are concerned that in addition to establishing an unfortunate precedent, it will be amended to expand anchoring restrictions to other areas.
Frederic Karlton of Miami Beach has been at the forefront of the effort to impose restrictions on anchoring. When I spoke with Karlton, who identifies himself as a boater, he returned again and again to two concerns—his right to privacy and the discharge of untreated sewage in the waters behind his home.
He maintained that, ultimately, the issue was about human beings respecting other human beings, and that regulation and expectations should adapt as times change. He pointed out that many of the standing laws, rules and standards for freedom of navigation, including anchoring, have foundations dating back to the 1870s and that the world is now a different place.
However, Capt. Phil Johnson, USN (Ret), chairman of the volunteer Concerned Cruiser’s Committee (CCC) of the Seven Seas Cruising Association (SSCA), sees things differently. Historically, he says, those who traverse our nation’s waterways have been able to anchor as and where they will, subject only to navigational limits such as not anchoring in channels. As a representative of the cruising community, there is therefore no justification for abandoning long-held rights.
Capt. Johnson points out that there are both transient and destination locations in Florida that could be affected by changes in legislation.
Transient locations attract boaters who anchor for short periods, including locals out for a weekend or cruisers on their way north or south on the Atlantic or Gulf ICW. They are also used by cruisers as staging areas while awaiting a favorable weather window for the hop to the Bahamas.
Destination locations attract longer-term cruisers who—much like other snowbirds who travel by air and road from points north—spend weeks or months in Florida. Popular destinations include St. Augustine, Punta Gorda, and a number of historic anchorages between Ft. Lauderdale and Key West.
Kim Russo, Director of the America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association (AGLCA), gives credit to Capt. Johnson’s leadership in the effective coordination of SSCA, AGLCA, BoatUS, MTOA, and the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) in successfully holding off 2015 legislative efforts to limit anchoring in Florida. The same group of organizations is working together this year to protect boaters’ rights in Florida. The state is a bellwether for boating issues, and problems arising there will likely affect other anchoring issues in other states.
Dave Skolnick currently operates AuspiciousWorks in Annapolis, Maryland providing communications services and yacht management
Photo by Alanbrito/Dreamstime.com; map by Skvoor/Dreamstime.com