The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is seeking common-ground solutions and is proposing legislation to modify and/or clean up statutes related to vessel management, anchoring, mooring and local government authority.
The FWC's Boating and Waterways Section will present its recommendations Dec. 3, at the Commission meeting in Key West.
Problems began to arise when public access sites for boaters diminished due to development of waterfront properties and privatization of boating facilities. As a result, boaters began to anchor or moor their vessels for long periods, or even permanently, on the water and often behind waterfront properties. At times, vessels became derelict, created navigational hazards, caused property damage, damaged sea grass and corals and caused pollution.
Under pressure from homeowners and others, local governments passed ordinances that pre-empted state laws.
"There are definitely two sides to this," Maj. Paul Ouellette, from FWC's Boating and Waterways Section said. "Boaters believe boating is the last bastion of freedom, but waterfront property owners do not want to deal with a boat's pollution, noise and other problems - especially when boats are practically anchored in their back yards."
The situation became especially confusing for boaters as they traveled from county to county and encountered local jurisdictions with inconsistent regulations. However, based on public input, the FWC is proposing slightly more authority to regulate anchoring and clarify local government authority.
"We've had 13 public meetings," Ouellette said. "Boaters generally felt laws should be overseen by the FWC to ensure uniformity and consistency. But local governments wanted more authority to address problems that were unique to their own communities and fell outside the scope of what the state can enforce."
In addition to giving local governments more authority, the recommendations also would delete obsolete and confusing language in current boating statutes.
"One of Florida's greatest outdoor activities is boating," Ouellette said. "As the population of Florida boaters increases, we will continue to have to revise our statutes and provide and improve boating access. Freedom to navigate must be weighed against growth management so boating isn't just for the elite."
To learn more about what the future of boating may be, visit MyFWC.com/Wildlife2060. To learn more about anchoring and mooring, and other boating issues, visit MyFWC.com/boating/.