Tallahassee, Florida --
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) launched a program this week to help prevent vessels in state waterways from becoming derelict. Through the At-Risk Vessel Program, FWC officers will collaborate with local sheriffs’ offices and police departments to enter information about potential derelict vessels into a statewide database.
“The new At-Risk Vessel Program gives law enforcement an opportunity to establish communications with a vessel owner before the vessel becomes derelict,” said Capt. Richard Moore, of the FWC’s Boating and Waterways section.
When an officer encounters an at-risk vessel, he will post a notice on the vessel, listing the items of concern, then collect information about the vessel and enter it into a statewide database. Photographs and information about the vessel will be displayed on a map, available to the public to view beginning Dec. 1. A letter will also be mailed to the registered owner.
Officially defined in Florida Statute 823.11, derelict vessels essentially are ones that have been abandoned and allowed to deteriorate in public waters. Aside from being eyesores, derelict vessels can pose environmental, public safety and navigation hazards.
The FWC considers a vessel to be “at-risk” when it appears likely to reach a derelict condition and causes an officer to have just concern for its welfare.
Derelict vessels are subject to removal at the owner’s expense, which can exceed $100,000 for very large vessels. If the owner does not remove the vessel, he may be charged with a felony, lose vehicle and vessel registration privileges, incur other legal and court costs or be forced to reimburse the city, county or state for the cost of removal, depending on circumstances.
If the owner cannot be determined or located, the burden of removing the vessel falls on Florida taxpayers. The FWC, tasked with monitoring Florida’s derelict vessel problem, encourages the public to properly dispose of old or unwanted vessels, rather than abandon them in waterways.
“Both the seller and buyer of a vessel are required by law to report the sale to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles within 30 days after the transaction,” said Phil Horning, also of the FWC. “If you don’t transfer the title and re-register the vessel properly, the former owner could be responsible for the vessel if it becomes derelict.”
Nineteen sheriffs’ offices and 13 police departments around the state have already joined the At-Risk Vessel Program. The FWC is working to create more partnerships.
“Networking with other agencies about specific vessels is a great part of this program,” Moore said. “It should make the process more efficient and stop redundant investigations.”
The database allows law enforcement officials to consolidate evidence for future cases as well as establish proof of communication with vessel owners before going to court. Local governments and state officials can also benefit by quickly determining the status of derelict vessels in specific areas of concern.
“We hope this program will reduce and minimize the derelict vessel problem in our state, making our waterways safer and cleaner for the future,” said Lt. Darrin Riley, statewide derelict vessel coordinator.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration assisted in funding this project.
The new Statewide At-Risk and Derelict Vessel Map will become active on Dec. 1. To view it at that time and thereafter, or for more information about the At-Risk Vessel Program, visit MyFWC.com/Boating.