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The photo above was taken to illustrate a story in the Tampa Bay Times directed at a general audience and therefore not likely to have been chosen to make an argument one way or the other. It is significant because nothing in this photo suggests that the vessels are not capable of getting underway, and the legality of the Madeira Beach anti-anchoring initiative may well turn on this fact. (Tampa Bay Times photo by Marcia Asencio-Rhine)

Prompted by complaints from waterfront homeowners, the City of Madeira Beach in Florida is attempting to restrict anchoring through what appears to be a flawed interpretation of state law. Maderia Beach has a substantial anchorage near St. Petersburg on the West Coast of Florida.

(READ THE FOLLOW-UP "Madeira Beach Okays Anchoring Regs But Spares Bonafide Cruisers.")

Both BoatUS and the American Great Loop Cruisers Association are opposed to the new regulations, which are up for a vote tomorrow,. That is, Tuesday, Oct. 8.

According to news reports, boats would be banned from anchoring in Madeira unless owners pay a $5 permit fee, which is good for 72 hours on the hook and stipulates that the boat must stay at least 200 feet from residential docks and pump out holding tanks at the city marina. Boats must move after the three-day period is up for face fines. They would also be prevented from getting a new permit for 30 days. more thing: You can't be off your boat for more than eight hours at a time.

"People are not pumping out properly and human waste is being dumped into the waters, which, of course, has an adverse impact on the environment," Curt Preisser with the city of Madeira Beach was quoted as saying.

The Tampa Bay Times quoted the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, which said 40 boats are anchored in Madeira Beach waterways and at least 15 have people living on them.

The problem with the proposed Riviera Beach Ordinance is that since 2009 Florida law has forbidden municipalities from restricting anchoring with some very specific exceptions. Before then municipalities had created a hodge-podge of restrictive and punitive anchoring regulations. 

When I pointed the 2009 law to Madeira Beach officials, I received a prompt response, with key phrases highlighted. 


The problem with the city's logic is that is relying on state statutes to restrict anchoring, but it is using an entirely different definition of "liveaboard." Madeira Beach in it's Aug. 12, 2019 City Commission agenda uses a plain English definition: "Liveaboard vessel means a vessel which is occupied or used by one or more persons as a place of habitation or residence, or as living quarters or for dwelling purposes."

For better or worse, the definition of "liveaboard" in the Florida  statute that forms the basis for the Maderia Beach ordinance, is very different and very specific:

327.02 (22) “Live-aboard vessel” means:

(a) A vessel used solely as a residence and not for navigation;

(b) A vessel for which a declaration of domicile has been filed pursuant to s. 222.17; or

(c) A vessel used as a residence that does not have an effective means of propulsion for safe navigation.

Which brings us to the image at the top of this page. There doesn't appear to be anything suggesting that any of these boats do not have an "effective means of propulsion." There may indeed be vessels that's can't get underway, but most of the news photos of the Maderia Beach seem to show vessels that outwardly appear mobile.

So the question is: How can Maderia Beach legally restrict liveaboard using state law, when it refuses to recognize the definition of "liveaboard" in the very same law? BoatUS and the AGLCA say it can't.

This is a very concise and easy-to-understand explanation of Florida Anchoring Laws published in the Tula's Endless Summer blog, based on an exchange with Florida Fish and Wildlife officials.