State prepares to step in to take possession of boats that might otherwise be dumped by their owners

Boaters in California struggling with the costs of keeping a boat are to be effectively bailed out by the state government under a new bill expected to become law this summer.

California, with the second largest boating population in the US with approximately 1m registered vessels, faces a plague of abandoned boats as owners facing financial hardship find there are no buyers for their craft.

The new bill, which recently passed the state legislature’s transportation committee, will make it possible for struggling boatowners to call upon the state government to dispose of the vessel free of charge at the expense of the taxpayer.

To encourage boaters to take this path, the bill also doubles the minimum penalty for boat dumping to $1000.

The logic runs that by taking on the responsibility for disposing of the vessel when it is still relatively seaworthy, the government saves the expense of dealing with it later when it is abandoned or sunk by its owner.

“We have watched vessels sink while awaiting permission to demolish them. The bill is a win-win on every level – for the environment, the vessel owner and the agency left with the job of cleaning up after abandoned vessels,” Linda McIntyre, president of the California Association of Harbor Masters and Port Captains, said.

The problem of abandoned vessels is a growing one across the US.

“Our waters have become dumping grounds,” Major Paul R. Ouellette of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission told The New York Times. “It’s got to the point where something has to be done.”

Some of the vessels are being dumped because there is finance outstanding on them, but most of the craft being run onto beaches and left or sunk deliberately are fully paid for, marine officials believe.

Their owners can’t sell them, cannot afford to keep them, and similarly don’t have deep enough pockets to dispose of them properly.

Florida recently approved plans to remove 118 derelict boats this summer, up from a handful last year and investigators in South Carolina recently identified 150 boats that were likely derelicts.

“There are a lot more than we thought there would be,” a local South Carolina official told The New York Times. “There were a few boats that have always been there, and now all of a sudden they’ve added up and added up.”

Photo: A Californian policeman looks over an abandoned boat. Credit: Eric Risberg/AP/PA Photos