Florida may well be the most cruiser unfriendly state on the East Coast, if not the entire United States—boater friendly maybe, cruiser friendly not. The cruising environment dramatically improved in 2009, however, when state lawmakers made it illegal for local cities and towns to ban or otherwise limit anchoring. Four years later, 2013, may well mark the last time we will ever enjoy the freedom to the extent granted by that legislation. Next year may well begin a new phase of re-regulation.
The Great 2009 Anchoring Emancipation was accompanied by a pilot program that encouraged cities to establish mooring fields, which if approved by Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Commission, also allowed local governments to further restrict anchoring outside of their mooring fields as well. Fish and Wildlife has approved all five proposed ordinances—that of St. Augustine, Stuart (Martin County), St. Petersburg, Sarasota, and Monroe County including Marathon and Key West. All are a bit different, purposely so. Outside the select five jurisdictions, anchoring is still permitted without local interference—for now.
“The goal of the anchoring and mooring pilot program is to explore potential options for regulating the anchoring or mooring of non-liveaboard vessels outside the boundaries of public mooring fields,” says Maj. Jack Daugherty, leader of the Boating and Waterways Section of Fish and Wildlife. (It’s complicated but “liveaboard” in Florida law does not include cruisers, not even full-time cruisers.)
Although many of the displaced boaters disagree, the fees to rent moorings in these formerly open anchorages are reasonable by East Coast standards. For example, liveaboards may rent a mooring in front of downtown St. Augustine for $360 a month, $216 if they reside in St. Johns County. The daily rates for a transient boat is $14.
Obviously anchoring within a mooring field is prohibited. And within these mooring field communities, ordinances generally impose time limits on anchoring anywhere, coupled by a requirement for boaters to prove (and reprove) they can get under way and prove they have been availing themselves of local sewage pump-out services.
Daugherty says the ordinances are intended to provide the basis for possible statewide re-regulation of anchoring, beginning on July 1, 2014. That’s the date the mooring pilot program will become “inoperable and unenforceable” unless reenacted by the legislature. Lawmakers have three choices: Do nothing and let the local anchoring regs expire, re-enact the program, and let the five ordinances stand, or expand the program either piecemeal or on a statewide basis.
Prior to 2009, many jurisdictions enacted individual time limits or outright bans on anchoring, and set their local marine police to confront cruisers who violated this hodgepodge of arbitrary regulations. Nearly always, these bans and limits had been established at the urging of waterfront property owners. Once the 2009 legislation struck down these laws, many of the landowners continued to seethe, but none rose to the level of Miami Beach mogul Fredric Karlton.
Karlton, with a mansion on Sunset Lake, has repeatedly shone spotlights on anchored cruising boats and bombarded them with loud music. Last year, Karlton purchased 20 new Laser sailboat hulls, which he attached to 20 moorings spread out in front of his home, thus denying the anchorage to visitors. Karlton may be a most extreme example, but he is far from alone.
Landowners cite Florida’s very real problem with derelict watercraft as the source of opposition toward anchoring. But free-anchoring advocates such as Canadian Wally Moran have long noted that the root cause of derelict boats is that the people living aboard them are poor or suffer drug and alcohol problems or a combination thereof. In public hearings, Fish and Wildlife officials have agreed that the problem with derelict boats has little to do with the kinds of cruisers reading this article.
Despite the temporary and partial thaw in the anchoring war between governments and cruisers, another unpleasant aspect of Florida waterways has continued unabated. As anyone who follows cruisers forums or reads the Florida sailing magazine Southwinds, will testify, there has been a steady drumbeat of police boarding controversies, all in the name of holding tank enforcement. These include boardings of boats while under way with guns drawn (Volusia County) and even at night while their owners were asleep down below (Florida Keys).
Violations—failure to lock the overboard discharge valve to holding—cost boaters a $250 fine. Without debating the merits of no-discharge zones and treatment systems, the SWAT team response to minor civil infractions would appear to an outsider as disproportionate. This given that Florida municipalities have been in chronic violation of the Federal Clean Water Act with millions of gallons of untreated and undertreated sewerage dumped into the same waterways every year.
Now as the countdown begins to July 2014—with a very real likelihood of expanded anchoring restrictions—it may behoove cruisers to make hay while the sun of freedom still shines over the Sunshine State’s anchorages.
(Executive Editor Peter Swanson, formerly of Massachusetts, has lived in Florida since 2002.)
A night on Sunset Lake
By WES DEMOTT
After a pleasant cruise from Fort Myers to Miami via the Keys, my wife, Sabine, and I legally and respectfully anchored our 38-foot trawler, Wasafiri, in Sunset Lake at Miami Beach. That evening, as we enjoyed a quiet dinner on the bridge, a deranged-sounding individual started heathen-screaming as he focused his searchlight at us.
The next day we took off on our tender, and returned to find the guy's unoccupied powerboat anchored dangerously close to Wasafiri with the stereo turned up so loud it blew his speakers.
But karma has a sense of humor, because his anchor dragged until his boat was close to smashing against the seawall. He didn't seem to care so we called the marine patrol, but near the last minute he raced past my wife and me, and the policeman rafted to our vessel as we struggled to keep from laughing. He idled home without a glance in our direction.
Sabine and I owned a great waterfront home off Charlotte Harbor at a designated anchorage for transients. Some boats overstayed and some weren't all that attractive, but we bought a waterfront home because we enjoy seeing boats and boaters.
I guess everyone doesn't think that way.
(Wes Demott is a novelist and former FBI agent. He is the author of Tortuga Gold and numerous other titles)
What’s your story? Do you have a Florida horror story to tell? Or has your experience in the Sunshine State been positive? How about the other states you cruise? We want to hear about the kind of welcome you’re getting as cruisers wherever you go. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.