Letter from the Editor: On Anchoring Laws in Florida

One of the many things I love about sailing is that it is one of the last great freedoms left to us. Raise your anchor and head out to sea and once the coast is a line on the horizon, you’ve left in your wake the world of restrictive regulations and petty laws.
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One of the many things I love about sailing is that it is one of the last great freedoms left to us. Raise your anchor and head out to sea and once the coast is a line on the horizon, you’ve left in your wake the world of restrictive regulations and petty laws. The maritime rules of the road are the only ones you need obey; no speed limits, no seatbelt laws, none of the scores of ordinances that govern our landlocked lives. Such freedom from regulation is a rare and wonderful thing, to be cherished and never taken for granted.

The closer you are to land, the tighter the cold embrace of bureaucracy becomes and the more compromised that freedom is. Even so, the life of a coastal cruising sailor is not a bad one at all. You’re still pretty much free to sail where you will without interference. I don’t know for how much longer we’ll be able to say the same thing about anchoring.

By now the meetings in Florida to discuss a raft of proposed anchoring restrictions—including one that would have banned anchoring within 300 feet of a waterfront home—will be over and perhaps there will even have been some kind of resolution (see story on page 22). Perhaps. Now I don’t see how owning a waterfront home should give you any special rights over the water in front of that home, but that seems to be the issue of the moment.

It seems to me that buying a waterfront property and then taking objection to the people and boats using that water is no different than buying a house on an airport flight path and then complaining about aircraft noise, or purchasing a property on a flood plain and then being surprised when the water pours over your threshold; the act of a halfwit. An arrogant halfwit at that, if you think buying a house gives you the right to control what you see from it.

The problem for sailors wishing to exercise their rights to anchor in navigable waterways in Florida is that wealthy homeowners have plenty of political clout whereas itinerant cruisers have virtually none. Let’s hope the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission has done the right thing. If not, it’s not hard to foresee a domino effect up the East Coast as entitled NIMBYs pressure their own authorities to follow suit.

Now, there are other reasons to enact anchoring restrictions other than that you object to the mere presence of people who are not like you; for safety reasons near swimming beaches, for instance. I know of several ports and harbors that impose limits on the length of time you can anchor, sometimes to ensure other cruisers get their turn, sometimes to drive them to city-owned mooring fields, sometimes to discourage liveaboards from settling there. I don’t like time limits either, but at least the reasoning behind them has a bit more substance than a few rich folks taking umbrage at the sight of cruising sailors rinsing out their smalls.

The setback idea, though, that’s a new one on me. For a state that depends so much on water-based tourism, it seems to be more than slightly counter-productive. But that’s never stopped the march of ill-conceived legislation. Similar things couldn’t happen in your city—could they?

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