Saturday, March 21, 2015

Anti-anchoring bill is anti-safety

Once again Florida boaters and cruisers from all over are fighting an ill-conceived anti-anchoring bill (SB 1548) that purports to be about “safety,” but in reality would limit the number of safe harbors to a handful in much of the state. The main thrust of the bill prohibits overnight anchoring within 200 feet of most developed parts of Florida. As has been discussed here and in many places online (see the Salty Southeast Cruisers' Net), this measure would essentially outlaw all overnight anchoring in many popular places such as Manatee Pocket, anywhere in Ft. Lauderdale, most of Miami, Marathon, and most of North Lake Worth.

All of these locations, and many more, are where cruisers routinely anchor safely while waiting for a weather window to cross to the Bahamas, or just to ride out a stretch of bad weather. I have done so in all of these places. During the peak winter season it is highly likely that there would be no marina berths available in these same locations, mooring fields would be full, and there would be no alternative but to keep moving night and day despite the weather. Even with the current availability of anchorages it is very difficult to find a marina berth or a mooring in high season.

Sure, there are safety exceptions in the proposed law, for “mechanical breakdown or when imminent or existing extreme weather conditions impose an unreasonable risk of harm.” Who is to judge whether or not the weather is “extreme,” and whether or not it poses an “unreasonable risk of harm?” Am I supposed to move on in a gale because it isn’t “extreme?”

Even in good weather what would an ordinary cruiser do? It is impractical and dangerous to run the ICW 24/7, and sometimes even if the weather isn’t “extreme” it is very difficult and uncomfortable to proceed outside down the coast while fighting the Gulf Stream. In short, this bill makes safe and comfortable cruising all but impossible in south Florida, and makes it very difficult in the entire state.

Cruising boaters are above all else safety conscious. We spend thousands of dollars on safety equipment far in excess of any Coast Guard or other regulations. We do so to protect our lives and property, often valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

At the same time, we enjoy visiting new places where we can anchor safely, go ashore, enjoy restaurants and shopping, re-provision our vessels, and purchase marine equipment. On various trips to Florida I have spent many thousands of dollars specifically on safety equipment: liferafts, epirbs, radios, safety harnesses, anchoring gear, satellite phones, etc. etc. Most cruisers will not go where they would be forced to operate their boats in an unsafe manner, which is what this law would do.

To anyone who has cruised Florida it is obvious that this bill would “impose an unreasonable risk of harm” to boaters on a regular basis. This is more than an anti-anchoring bill–it is anti-safety and anti-boating.

This guest editorial was first published on the Salty Southeast Cruisers' Net.

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