Florida Anchoring War Continues on Different Fronts

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The cruising wars continue in Florida with a lawsuit challenging the state’s anchoring policies and yet another uproar—this one at Boot Key Harbor—over police tactics.

In St. Augustine, a liveaboard sailor named Michael “Wolfy” MacDougall has sued the city and state in federal court, saying the state’s Anchoring and Mooring Pilot Program violates his federally protected rights of navigation.

ORIGINAL DOCUMENT: Click to read the transcript of Wolfy's lawsuit.

According to the St. Augustine Record, MacDougall had lived aboard his boat in the San Sebastian River more than 11 years, and was finally ticketed by St. Augustine city police in February 2012 for violating an ordinance that regulates where vessels can be anchored within city limits. He was cited for being anchored within 50 feet of the channel.

 Cruiser Michael MacDougall is representing himself in a lawsuit against the city of St. Augustine. (Douglas Jordan/St. Augustine Record)

Cruiser Michael MacDougall is representing himself in a lawsuit against the city of St. Augustine. (Douglas Jordan/St. Augustine Record)

MacDougall, an Army vet who has crossed the Atlantic on his Hunter 30, told the Record that this was no longer about the ticket.

“I complied with the injunction and moved my boat away from the channel,” he says. “But the reason I’m suing the city and the state over this is because I believe strongly that the rights of navigation and anchoring on the waterways are fundamental ones, protected by federal law, and neither the city nor the state can step on those rights.”

MacDougall’s lawsuit faces long odds. He is representing himself, for one thing. By the time this magazine goes to press, the suit may well have been dismissed.

The 50-foot rule is a component of the city’s Anchoring and Mooring Pilot Program, which was enacted in December 2011 and granted through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. Under a state law passed in 2009, no city or county can regulate anchoring within its borders unless it is part of the program. Five Florida cities, including St. Augustine, Stuart, St. Petersburg, Sarasota and Marathon are participating in the pilot program.

Speaking of Marathon, a kerfuffle engulfed Boot Key Harbor last fall when Fish and Wildlife officers, which one cruiser described as wearing “military-style uniforms” and using “occupation-style intimidation tactics,” embarked on some sort of crackdown.

This included after-dark patrols during which spotlights were repeatedly shined into the windows of occupied vessels and the issuance of a flurry of citations. One anchored boater was reportedly issued a warning for not having an anchor light on his dinghy tied astern (the boat itself was displaying a proper light, however).

After a flood of complaints and threats of a Marathon boycott, Fish and Wildlife supervisors agreed to meet with boaters in late December. The meeting went, as these meetings usually do, with the officers admitting no wrongdoing but promising to carry out their duties more thoughtfully in the future.

Meanwhile top Fish and Wildlife officials say they will ask the legislature to extend the state’s Anchoring and Mooring Pilot Program, which is scheduled to expire in July.

Read our September 2013 post Florida: The Most Cruiser Unfriendly State?