Sunday, September 7, 2014

Becoming Less Invisible

Anchored boats near Miami

Lots of chatter recently about Florida anchoring restrictions.  (A great summary of the first round of meetings was provided by SSCA, and Waterway Guide describes coordinated next steps)  There's a claim that the restrictions are about derelict vessels and local control, but it's pretty blatant pandering to a few wealthy waterfront property owners who just don't want boats to block their view.  (Scuttlebutt has it that one of the waterfront homeowners behind the pressure to ban anchoring told his congressperson that he was worried that the boats anchored behind his house were peering in his bedroom windows with their binoculars.  That's the kind of ridiculous defamation I want to educate people about.  Cruisers and liveaboards aren't all dropouts and losers and sketchy characters; in fact educating people about liveaboards was the original focus when I first started writing this blog for the Annapolis newspaper.  Most cruisers are no more likely to peer in your bedroom window than anyone else.  Less, really, because we have so many more interesting things to look at, like birds and fish and sunsets.)

Abandoned boats are a legitimate issue, and not just in Florida, although it does seem that Florida has some of the worst of it. The further north you go, the more the weather weeds out at least some of the marginal folks.  Sometimes well-intentioned boaters simply have a run of bad luck, but "Oops, my boat sank and I don't have the money to deal with it, so I'll walk away and let the taxpayers handle it" just doesn't cut it.  I've grumbled and blogged about anchoring rights before.  I've tried to explain that people who choose to live on boats often are ordinary people who do so because they want to live an unconventional life in touch with nature and the sea, with a series of profiles of liveaboards in Washington DC and Annapolis.  I've also wrestled with the fact that in trying to find a balance to address the anchored boats issue, there can be no perfect law that fits all cases.

A community that says, an anchored boat might become abandoned, and cleanup would be at public expense, therefore let's ban all anchoring, is anything but balanced.  There are better ways to protect waterways while encouraging maritime commerce. There are laws already on the books, and at least some cities are taking a tough stance, as recently happened to a boat owner in Annapolis who now is appealing a sentence of jail time if he doesn't address his sunken boat. In the Florida case, similarly, laws already exist that could be used; not to mention the dubious legality of claiming control over public waterways for the benefit of (who or what, exactly?) as is articulated in this* great letter to the Florida FWC from a lawyer who also happens to be a liveaboard boater.  Further, an analysis of available data on derelict boats in Florida suggests that most of them are unlikely to be cruising boats, and in fact a good percentage of them are abandoned in marina slips and not at anchor at all.

With all this contentious background, I had a fascinating e-chat with a cruising friend last month.  She told the story of someone she knew who was just starting out cruising, who wondered whether to skip Florida altogether, due to all the hassle of anchoring regulations.  The new cruiser's idea of skipping the state sparked an idea. "What about a total boycott?" my friend wondered.  What if it was organized by a big boating group, and had lots of media attention and a letter of intent that says none of us are going to spend money in Florida with our boats until you get some balance on this anchoring issue?  How would the retailers react if they didn't have the winter money coming in?

"My fear about a boycott is that even if it was conducted perfectly, it still wouldn't have much impact," I responded, and she sadly agreed.  The cruising community is really tiny compared with the total tourist economy.  And we're a bit of a captive audience, there aren't a lot of warm sunny options on the East Coast without passing through Florida.  But here's where her conversation led me full circle, right back to why I started this blog.  Boycotts are about customers you have taken for granted suddenly deliberately becoming invisible. "Maybe the opposite of a boycott,"  I wondered.  "What if we were all very visible?  Merchants, other than boatyards and marinas, don't realize that some of their customers are cruisers, because we just look (and are) like everybody else.  What if we tried a little harder to let the people we encounter while we are spending money (restaurants, bookstores, wherever we go) know that we are visiting by boat?  This serves two purposes: it helps them realize that most of us are just ordinary, polite customers, not rebels and dropouts and vagrants as portrayed by the homeowner with the dubious "Peeping Tom" fears, and it helps them realize that they are getting more money from us than they think?"

So that's what I'm going to do.  Make sure that, in the course of spending money in town, I chat with merchants, and waiters and service people, and if I can work it naturally into the conversation, I'll let them know that we're visiting by boat.  Be more visible, not invisible.  Side benefit, if I have incentive to chat with more strangers, who knows what other interesting people I'll meet?

PS: Of course, the other thing I'm going to do is comment to FWC and my legislator.  You can submit comments to FWC here.

PPS: The very articulate letter I mentioned above isn't (yet) available anywhere I can link to, it's only on SSCA's Facebook page, so here it is in its entirety (reprinted with permission):

To: Captain Gary Klein, FWC

From: John R. (Jay) Campbell, JD, 

Dear Captain Klein:

I am a Florida Licensed Attorney, with over 25 years of practice in the State. I have owned many residential properties, including waterfront property in Tampa, as recently as 2013 when my wife and I moved full time on to our boat in Palmetto. We reside at a Marina, but often cruise Southwest Florida and Southeast Florida, anchoring as is prudent, dictated by weather, tide, travel schedules and the need to rest.

I have read and completely oppose the proposed FWC restrictions on anchoring in "concept 2" related to establishing setbacks from residential property. These proposals seem designed to benefit only a few wealthy landowners at the expense of the public's right to use and enjoy these waters, as established by the federal public trust. The proposals do NOT set forth any concerns or problems the proposals are designed to address, nor do they note any review done by the FWC to ensure the setbacks are a reasonable response to any such problems. Therefore, the proposed setbacks are not reasonable encroachment of the public rights, and are illegal. 

Regarding the set back proposals, I note the following in support of all boaters, and voters, who also oppose these proposed restrictions:
1. Where are the studies FWC has done or reviewed to support the proposed 150' or 300' anchoring set backs?
2. Where are the concerns, set out in writing, that FWC is attempting to address with these setbacks?
3. Where are the legal opinions that these proposed setbacks are lawful, and not an illegal encroachment on the federal regulation of waterways as a public trust?
4. If the concern is derelict boats, or stored boats, why doesn't the proposal state so, and tailor a proposal to this more narrow concern, rather than prohibit EVERY boat from anchoring?
5. If the concern is the potential discharge of sewage, why doesn't the proposal state so, and tailor a proposal to this more narrow concern, rather than prohibit EVERY boat from anchoring?
6. If the concern is a reasonable amount of unencumbered room for landowners to use near their docks and access channels, why doesn't the proposal state so, and tailor a proposal to this more narrow concern (for example, using a common standard of 1 1/2 times boat length from the protected structure) rather than prohibit EVERY boat from anchoring?
7. Regarding the proposal to return regulation, in part, back to small local governments, why does this proposal suggest that FWC should administer a program which will allow every municipality to apply for and create it's own anchoring rules, thereby turning Florida into a patchwork quilt of regulations without a sound basis, or statewide enforcement?

The proposals seem to be unlawful, poorly thought out, against the interest of Florida citizens who are boaters, against the interests of Florida businesses which cater to boaters, and in support of ONLY a few wealthy landowners, represented by legislators who control the FWC funding. This is not how laws and regulations should be developed and implemented to support the public interest. - Jay Campbell, JD


  1. Well written. Maybe you need a t-shirt that says "I am a liveaboard cruiser. I spend money and I vote." Just be sure it's part of your 33 pieces of clothing. hee hee

  2. I wouldn't put "liveaboard" on that shirt. It's a pejorative here in Florida. PC-Speak is "full-time cruiser in navigation," don't ya know. Also keep in mind marinas and mooring field operators speak with forked tongue. They stand to benefit from every boat that has to tie up because it can't legally anchor anywhere safe. So be skeptical when industry reps say this would be bad for the boating industry. Ultimately, this is going to have to challenged in Federal court.

  3. Sabrina -- Thanx for the chuckle. I'll count the t-shirt against my 33 as long as you don't make it PINK!

    Brilliant Star -- Sadly true; when we're in Florida we tell people that we're taking an extended cruise to celebrate our retirement, carefully not mentioning that we retired in 2009. That was a nice insightful analysis you did of the derelict boat data -- I enjoyed it.

  4. This is very informative and well-written! Love the suggestion of a t-shirt for your 33-piece wardrobe! ;)

    And I love your idea of being *visible* instead of invisible by boycotting. Reminds me of the timber industry growing up. When faced with tightening environmental restrictions, we started putting yellow dots on all of our money so that the community could clearly see how those dollars were being spent. (Of course, I went on to be seen as a "traitor" for getting a degree in environmental science but that's a whole 'nother story)

  5. Interesting approach. Education is always a good contribution to a problem, RoseAnn. Do you think the marking of money had an impact? I ask because one of the people in a cruising/liveaboard Facebook group I'm in suggested we try a similar approach, stamping "This money came from a boater" on the bills we spend in town. It would be interesting to know how it played out in the Pacific Northwest. And what of those of us who pay with credit cards?