Florida Works to Remove Abandoned Boats

Two crushing storms have left countless boats stranded and abandoned throughout much of the saltwaters and freshwaters of Florida.

Abandoned boats
Derelict boats have become a serious issue in Florida waters. Courtesy FWC

Hurricanes Ian and Nicole devastated much of Florida. Property damage was catastrophic in the Ft. Myers-Charlotte Harbor region from Category 4 Ian, that had sustained winds of 150 mph when it hit on Sept. 28.

Nicole was a Category 1, which slammed into the east and northeast coasts Nov. 11 with winds gusting over 70 mph.

Cleanup following the crushing hurricanes will take years, and the human toll to lives, livelihoods and property may never be known.

One significant part of hurricane recovery that often is overlooked is the removal of damaged boats that are stranded and abandoned following massive flooding, tidal surges and wind.

In Florida, it’s an especially grave problem, as the state is surrounded by water and boats of all sizes and shapes are an integral part of the Florida lifestyle.

Many boats following the 2022 hurricane season are strewn all over Florida, creating environmental problems from leaking fuels, and also navigational hazards as boats break up and debris scatters that can be deadly to future boating and fishing.

In an unprecedented effort to safely remove abandoned boats, Florida has begun a “Vessel Turn-In Program” (VTIP) that is a godsend to aid owners in boat removal to thwart legal issues and salvage costs.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) now is accepting applications for VTIP.

The program helps boat owners dispose of their unwanted at-risk craft before they become derelict. Upon approval of an application, VTIP will take a surrendered boat and dispose of it at no cost to the owner. Removing a boat before it deteriorates prevents legal ramifications for the owner. It also protects Florida’s valuable water resources, marine life, and human life – safely and properly, says the FWC.

A derelict vessel on Florida waters is a criminal offense and carries serious penalties, fines, and even possible jail time for an owner.

“Acting now is the best way to prevent legal action from occurring if the vessel becomes derelict,” said Phil Horning, VTIP Administrator.

To qualify for VTIP, a boat must be floating on Florida waters and cannot be determined derelict by law enforcement. The owner must have at least one written at-risk warning or citation and possess a clear title to the boat.

To apply for or view program guidelines, visit MyFWC.com/VTIP or call the FWC Boating and Waterways Division at 850-488-5600.

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