- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Boats left derelict at piers or dry-docked are not just eyesores, but can cause environmental problems if fuel or other chemicals leach into public waterways.
Lt. Beth Mauk with the Maryland Natural Resources Police said the agency does get calls from St. Mary’s about derelict boats. The agency has removed everything from small, sunken sailboats to large, broken-down houseboats from the region’s waters.
Usually, the agency contacts a boat owner who remedies the situation, she said. However, Mauk said, the state does prosecute a couple dozen cases every year when a boat owner will not comply with the law.
Abandoned vessels are defined as boats that have been left for more than a certain number of days 30 days at a private dock or public property, 90 days at a private marina without the property owner’s permission.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources can take steps if a boat is considered abandoned, including notification of the process to the boat’s owner and placing a notice in a local newspaper.
Eventually the boat can be removed. The owner, if found guilty of the misdemeanor charge, could face up to a $1,000 fine and six-month imprisonment.
Mauk said that generally the rules do not apply to private piers, if the boat is docked with permission of the landowner. The exception to that can be if the derelict boat causes a safety or environmental hazard, she said.
“We really do go after the people where we are able,” Mauk said. The process to have the boats removed is arduous and can involve court appearances.
While the maritime officers will investigate seemingly derelict boats they see on patrol, they also rely on citizens calling in potential violators to the Natural Resources Police hotline.
DNR offers reimbursable grants to local governments to have a derelict or abandoned boat removed.
The county’s parks and recreation division has for years worked with the DNR grant program to have derelict boats removed.
“Some years we might have three, maybe four boats and other years we might not have any,” David Guyther, parks manager, said. He said the cost to remove a boat has ranged from about $13,000 to $30,000.
That cost, while initially paid for by the state, will be charged to a boat owner if the owner is located, he said.
Brian Taylor, code coordinator with St. Mary’s County government, said the county government, through established ordinance, can force owners to remove unregistered boats left on land. This enforcement is similar to an unregistered car or truck.
“We give them 30 days to remove it or tag it,” Taylor said. After that, the vehicle owner can start accruing a $200-per-day fine. Normally, that $200 a day gets people’s attention.”
He said that the county will encounter between 50 and 75 abandoned vehicles each year, among them a dozen or more boats. “A lot of those [vehicles] are abandoned on the street,” he said, adding that owners have just three days to move abandoned vehicles off a public roadway before the sheriff’s office will have it towed.
The county does use some discretion with abandoned vehicles, Taylor said. For instance, if the owner is deployed with the military overseas, the county will likely let the offense slide, he said, recommending only that the vehicle be covered.
For junked vehicles, including boats, Taylor said he will recommend cutting up the vehicle and taking it to the county landfill, where it can usually be disposed of for $20 or $30, or to a salvage yard.