Florida Anchoring Angst

A new bill in Florida is threatening cruisers' rights to anchor in the waters at certain popular anchorages.

florida anchoring
The new bill would restrict cruisers from anchoring in three popular anchorages and impose fines for doing so.Robert Beringer

Do you hear that? That’s the sound of dominoes falling — and when they’re done, the boating life in Florida could be changed forever.

On January 26, House Bill 1051, which would ban anchoring in three popular anchorages, passed unanimously in a subcommittee hearing. The bill states in part that “a person may not anchor or moor a vessel at any time between the hours from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise” in three popular areas, including:

• In Fort Lauderdale, the section of the Middle River lying between Northeast 21st Court and the Intracoastal Waterway.
• Sunset Lake and sections of Biscayne Bay, Miami Beach.
• In Destin, Crab Island in Choctawhatchee Bay.

The ostensible motivation for the Middle River and Sunset Lake bans appears to be a desire to provide improved “recreational boating zones” for water-skiing. Yet these areas have traditionally been used by many boats as a staging area to cross the Gulf Stream and cruise the Bahamas, and often these boats must wait days before a weather window allows safe passage. What will these mariners do? And how many people do you know who water-ski at night?

A secondary rationale for the legislation is the recurring fight over the hundreds of derelict vessels around the state, which in many cases occupy prime anchorages. Everyone is in favor of their removal, and laws are already on the books to do that. Though the proposed legislation contains a “strike-through” amendment that allows exemptions for emergencies, fishing and government-­sanctioned events, it still ­eliminates a practice that resident and itinerant boaters have always held sacrosanct: the act of dropping an anchor, enjoying the sunset and spending a peaceful night on the water. It’s why many people buy a boat.

Proponents of the legislation argue that mariners are not being banned; they can use marinas in these locations. Opponents counter that­ anchoring makes boating more affordable and enjoyable, and they should not be compelled to go to marinas unless they choose.

If enacted, the bill will take effect July 1, 2016, and be enforced with penalties that range from $50 for first-time offenders to $250 for a third ­offense. Refusal to comply with requests by law enforcement to move from the anchorage ­within 12 hours will result in the vessel being impounded, with all removal and ­storage fees paid by the operator ­before the vessel is released.

A matching bill in the Senate has not yet been scheduled for a hearing, but it appears that the anti-anchoring movement is gaining traction and anchoring bans will become a reality in the Sunshine State. There is no doubt that waterfront states on both coasts are ­closely watching this battle.

To follow Florida House Bill 1051, go to www.flsenate.gov.