Baykeeper Update

Working to Rid the Bay of Polluting Abandoned Boats

Baykeeper is advocating for more action to rid San Francisco Bay of abandoned boats. Whether sunken or floating, abandoned boats can pollute the Bay with fuel, sewage, antifreeze, trash, and other toxic materials. They can also create navigation hazards for other boats and people who use the Bay for recreation.

In addition, sometimes deteriorating boats are illegally and unsafely taken over to serve as homeless housing or junk storage units without systems for containing trash or sewage. Sadly, this creates significant safety hazards to those on board and the pollution is often dumped directly and anonymously into the Bay.

Removing abandoned boats and disposing of them in a way that doesn’t harm the environment can cost millions of dollars. Funding for removal is often stretched too thin, and local governments are challenged by complex legal obstacles and inconsistent enforcement strategies.

Baykeeper is working alongside federal, state, and local government agencies in the US Coast Guard’s Abandoned Vessel Work Group to help create a regional approach to removing abandoned boats. We are identifying the areas of San Francisco Bay where these boats are most prevalent. We are also calling for authorities to determine which abandoned boats are at highest risk for creating pollution or navigation hazards in the Bay—and to remove those first.

Baykeeper in addition advocates for more consistent enforcement of existing laws against abandoning boats, and for policies that discourage the sale of vessels that are doomed to sink. And we are working with Abandoned Vessel Work Group agencies to create strategies to increase funding for abandoned boat removal. These could include state legislation to change fuel taxes, modify commercial boat registration fees, or increase funding in the state budget for boat removal.

And on patrol in our own Baykeeper boat, we document abandoned boats to assist government agencies in taking action.

Progress has been made since 2009, when Baykeeper advocacy helped win legislation that created a statewide turn-in program for unwanted boats. Penalties were also increased for those caught abandoning boats in California waterways. However, identifying the owner of an abandoned boat and holding them financially responsible for removal and disposal is challenging. Abandoned boats in the Bay often remain unclaimed and adrift with no one to pay the bill.

Removing abandoned boats and preventing boat abandonment in the Bay requires action on the federal, state, and local level. Baykeeper will continue to advocate for more efficient use of existing laws and resources, and for changes in laws and policies that lead to real progress in clearing the Bay of abandoned boats.

Photo by Robb Most