Sarasota’s years-long desire to create a managed mooring field downtown is now part of a state-wide pilot project to manage anchoring rights for all boaters in local waters. During a “listening session” Thursday night, city staffers were told to forget anchoring restrictions.
“What is the purpose of these anchorage regulations? Because we’ve been ordered by the state?” asked Scott Keddy. “Sarasota’s in good shape.”
Florida cities and counties used to be able to regulate where boaters could anchor, and for how long. The wildly different rules caused one law professor in Gainesville to say, “There’s only three things a boater needs in Florida. A chart, a fire extinguisher and a lawyer.”
When the Florida Supreme Court in 2009 ruled cities and counties did not have the right to regulate anchoring, the legislature created a pilot program under the auspices of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (or FWC, for short). Five locations were picked to create new rules. Stuart, St. Augustine, St. Petersburg, Sarasota and Monroe County in the Keys would be the guinea pigs. All have sanctioned mooring fields, and all are destinations for visiting boaters.
Bill Allbright has been boating in Florida waters for 60 years, and is a 43-year-veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. “The FWC says we get upwards of one million boaters during the season. And there are 900,000 boats registered in Florida. And some people just have to leave their boats for a while, go back to work for a month or whatever.”
FWC Capt. Tom Shipp came to Sarasota City Hall Thursday to explain the program mechanics and then turned over the meeting to City Engineer Alex Davis-Shaw. She said the pilot program was for the regulation of anchored vessels outside of public mooring fields, and not about the virtues of the sometimes-controversial downtown mooring field.
Anchoring is simple. A sailor releases a device to hold their vessel temporarily in one place. When it’s time to move, the anchor is retrieved on board.
A mooring is a permanent anchor, usually attached to a float. A sailor picks up the float, and attaches a line to hold the boat in place. When it’s time to go, the line is released but the mooring remains in place for the next vessel. Moorings are permanent fixtures.
David Kennedy flew in from Washington, D.C. to speak. He’s with Boats/US, a national organization. “Boaters want a range of options, and that has to be crafted into your ordinance,” he said. “As I flew in, I read my USAir Magazine, and in the middle was a ‘Welcome to Sarasota’ spread. I hope that is true for boaters too.”
The five governments in the pilot program are tasked with regulating vessels outside established mooring fields. Sarasota for many years has a 72-hour rule, but it was never enforced because lawyers feared a legal challenge would knock it down.
The boaters who spoke were unanimous in support of elimination of derelict vessels. Harmon Heed said, “There are sufficient laws on the books to control this problem. All we have to do is enforce them.” He commended the Sarasota Police Department. “Between 2004 and 2007, the police dragged away 160 boats. It cost $150,000 but the money came from the [West Coast Inland Navigation District]. More regulations cost more money from taxpayers,” Heed said.
A number of experienced cruisers opposed the idea of time limits on anchoring. “I cruised the Caribbean for years, and came back home seven years ago,” Ken Boehme said. “The Sarasota Police have done an outstanding job cleaing up the [downtown] anchorage and enforcing existing laws. That is all that’s necessary. As a Floridian I should have the right to anchor where I will. Any time limit would infringe on my rights.”
The pilot program allows the four cities and one county to come up with any regulation they want. Once in place, the state agency will monitor their success or failings. The FWC is required to report the results of the program to the governor, cabinet and legislature by January 1, 2014.
City staffers will take Thursday's testimony and develop a proposed ordinance they expect to take to the city commission in December for feedback. The finished ordinance – if any – will come back for a public hearing on January 12.
After the “listening session,” Capt. Shipp said the FWC has several options, including a recommendation for legislation. Asked if the intent was to establish state-wide and uniform regulation on anchoring, he said that was just one of several possibilites.