"Homeless on the Bay," Feature, 3/14
It's Bigger Than Just the Bay
Overall a good article on a troubling problem that has increased in the last few years. I would point out that there are a couple of items in the article that are incorrect.
Living on an anchored-out boat in the bay is not illegal in and of itself. There are places in the bay where it is illegal to anchor and of the places where it is legal, there is almost always a time limit — usually 72 hours. Someone who is not dumping overboard, who moved his boat within the anchoring time limit, and who kept their registration updated could legally live on a boat in the bay outside of a marina. There is no requirement for live-aboards to register with the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC). Marinas receive a permit from the BCDC, and in that permit there is usually a limit on the number of live-aboards the marina can legally have. The BCDC has a great deal of power over what happens in the bay, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. It did not always have control over boating activities in the bay, but redefined boats as "bay fill" a number of years ago so it could exercise control over them. It's a stretch of the definition if you ask me, but well played to get what it wanted.
I don't know of anyone who refers to these people as "off-anchor" — it's "anchor out," "on the hook," or just "anchored." If you are off-anchor your boat is loose and drifting somewhere.
Getting rid of boats is a costly process for many reasons, but in the end a fiberglass or wood hull has no value and must be cut up and shipped to a landfill — sometimes to a special landfill for toxic waste if the hull is soaked in oil or fuel. This and the storage cost are the driving factors. I would be highly skeptical of anyone who says they can do it cheaply. There have been a number of entrepreneurs over the decades offering their services to harbor masters to dispose of boats cheaply. What usually happens is the person either sells the boat for little money and thus sends it into the same cycle of abandonment, or they strip it of all identifying numbers and leave it tied to something for someone else to dispose of, much like the guy in the pickup truck who offers to get rid of that old couch for you and it ends up on the side of the road somewhere for someone else to pay to take it to the landfill.
The article doesn't mention it, but Richardson Bay off Sausalito has had a long-term anchor-out problem for decades now. I think the townspeople and the boat owners have reached a sort of detente over the issue. I believe this is mostly driven by the cost of removing the boats, and little has changed there in a long time. Once an anchor-out community forms, it can be difficult to break up.
In the end, it all comes down to money. It takes thousands of dollars to dispose of a boat, and the governmental units that might have jurisdiction over the waterway in question do not have the money to spare. So no one wants to take responsibility and everyone keeps saying it is someone else's problem.
The answer, I think, is a state fund to dispose of abandoned boats. Then, just like having a car towed, someone just has to call a company and have them send over a tow boat. That company goes through all the legal processes of making sure the boat is abandoned and then disposes of it in a landfill. The boats should not be resold only to enter the revolving door of cheap boats until abandoned again. Take them out of the picture completely.
Marvin Hamon, Alameda
Time for a Bigger Boat Tax?
As a once-avid bay sailor and religious reader of Latitude 38, I've been well aware of the derelict boat problem in the bay for years. Clipper Cove on the east side of Treasure Island used to have a really bad problem with these boats, but a new harbor-master a few years ago took the initiative and got rid of them. Not only do derelict boats cause pollution from oil and leaking diesel fuel, they are also a hazard to navigation. And, of course, dumping urine or excrement into the bay is illegal because of the pollution it causes.
Your article on the problem missed an important point: A boat sitting in the water must be maintained or it will eventually sink. The bilge must be pumped, the bottom must be cleaned, and the boat must be hauled out of the water and the bottom painted occasionally. Derelict boats receive none of this maintenance, whether totally abandoned or with a homeless person living aboard.
Bud Brown had the right idea: Get rid of derelict boats and charge the owners whatever it costs to do so. Sailboats are toys unless one lives aboard, and those who buy them need to take responsibility. This stuff needs to be cleaned up, but the public should not pay for it.
Perhaps we need a tax on sailboats to create a fund to pay for this cleanup, or a deposit paid by boat owners to ensure that the rest of us are not stuck with the cleanup if they abandon their boats.