Update on the Proposed Georgia Anchoring Rules

Cruisers, industry representatives and marine business owners voiced their recommendations and concerns about new regulations for anchoring in Georgia’s estuarine and tidal waters at a public hearing on Monday, June 17, 2019.

Cumberland Island
Sailboats at anchor near Cumberland Island, Georgia.Jennifer Brett

Ed Tillett, editor-in-chief of Waterway Guide attended this week’s public hearing that addressed new anchoring restrictions in Georgia’s estuarine and tidal waters and offers this report.

Boaters, industry representatives and marine business owners all voiced their recommendations and concerns about House Bill 201, which was recently signed into law and contains several provisions that could prove to be the strictest and most far-reaching impediments in any U.S. state for those planning to anchor their vessels overnight in coastal waters.

As proposed, the new regulations would require a paid permit for anchoring in Georgia’s tidal waters whether one night or longer, and that vessel owners maintain records of where and when they conduct pump outs of their waste holding tanks. The measure also directs the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to establish anchorage areas.

Of those who registered to speak, the predominant opinions were that new regulations and laws are not needed because most boat owners are responsible and conscientious, and additional oversight and fees are unwarranted and difficult to observe while traveling. There was almost unanimous concern that DNR is now authorized to delineate specific anchorage areas rather than adhere to existing policy that allows vessels to anchor anywhere provided they are outside navigable channels.

Doug Haymans, Director of the Coastal Resources Division of DNR, opened the meeting with an overview of the legislation and intent of the proposed regulations. Protecting existing sensitive shellfish areas and future aquaculture areas, alleviating derelict and abandoned vessels, and curbing nuisance vessels from operating outside of current law were given as the primary reasons for the new regulations. He also explained that the new laws will carry criminal penalties with their enforcement falling under Title 52, Chapter 7 of Georgia Code.

Active boaters, including Georgia residents and extended cruisers passing through the state, representatives from BoatUS, the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association (AGLCA), Seven Seas Cruising Association (SSCA), Marine Trawler Owners’ Association (MTOA), Georgia Marine Business Association (GAMBA), Waterway Guide Media and DeFever Cruisers Group presented recommendations and remarks questioning the reasons for the new regulations and how they will be enforced. There were approximately 70 attendees at the meeting.

A theme throughout the hearing was that Georgia has presented no evidence that boats, whether in marinas or at anchor, are polluting the state’s waterways. Additional questions to DNR representatives regarding the number of derelict and abandoned boats were met with estimates of “135 to 145” problem-vessels statewide. There also appears to be no record of the number of nuisance calls or complaints about live-aboard persons violating laws or regulations. Many in the public hearing asked why solutions are being offered for problems that don’t appear to exist?

NMMA’s Lee Gatts, manager of southeast policy and engagement, presented detailed comments to the proposed regulations and said that NMMA “strongly opposes” many of the provisions. These excerpts are from a prepared statement:

  • The draft regulations and HB 201 require the state to prohibit anchorage everywhere except in designated anchorages. We believe the proposed regulations should be amended to require just the opposite. Anchorage should be allowed in estuarine waters by default, with restrictions put in place only to prevent hazards to navigation, and near boat ramps, in-water structures and areas deemed to have a specific need for protection, including shellfish beds.
  • We strongly object to even the concept of treating anchorage in Georgia's public waters like a hotel. We know of no state that charges boaters by the day to anchor in its waters. We do not believe this permit scheme will be enforceable given the severe shortage of on-water patrols and other resources. We expect it will be extremely costly and difficult for the state to provide sufficient education to transient boaters to create even minimal compliance with these fees.
  • HB 201 goes to great length to create criminal penalties for a boater to not purchase and properly display an anchorage permit and/or to fail to retain records proving the use of a pumpout facility. Therefore, a person who anchors for a week in a lesser-used portion of a Georgia estuary faces a criminal penalty for failure to purchase a $20 sticker.
  • Georgia's marinas should not be required to maintain a record of pump outs, for what appears to be a way to cross-check the validity of a boater's records. This excessive mandate places an unfair and costly burden on the businesses, and provides no benefit to the State, the environment or boaters.

Waterway Guide Media’s publisher, Jeff Jones, says, “We believe in safe boating, travel and adventure on America’s waterways. We stand with AGLCA, SSCA, MTOA and GAMBA in their position that if Georgia must enact laws that it believes will reduce derelict and nuisance vessels, and that charging boat owners to anchor is a solution, we support no fees for anchoring in Georgia for a 60-day period for vessels that are attended. If setbacks are needed, we support 150 feet from marine infrastructure. Extended cruising and long-range boating activities should not be overly impacted by this approach.”

Representative Don Hogan (R), District 179 of St. Simon’s Island was the sponsor and author of House Bill 201. Rep. Hogan spoke at the end of the hearing and thanked attendees for their comments and insight. He suggested that with the information presented during the public hearing, further consideration of the new regulations may be warranted. When questioned by some attendees whether he would consider repealing or revising the legislation, he said that he will evaluate the ongoing comments but could not commit to such an effort at this time.

DNR representatives and others on hand from Georgia’s legislature appeared to have been influenced by the keen insight and distinctive requirements of transient boaters and their lifestyles. There was strong sentiment expressed for another round of hearings to assist legislators in fully understanding the issues associated with the provisions of HB 201. Although no confirmation date was given, another hearing may be scheduled for October 2019.

Written comments are important to the official record and will be accepted through July 15, 2019. You are not required to be a Georgia resident. Send comments to: Kelly Hill, Coastal Resources Division, One Conservation Way, Brunswick, GA 31520. Kelly.Hill@dnr.ga.gov