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Miami Awash in Abandoned and Derelict Boats

As I have seen for myself when I navigate the Miami River and as reported in more detail in the Miami Today, publication date January 24, 2013, forty-two abandoned boats lie within the City of Miami's jurisdiction. The City Commission appears finally set to do something about this problem. City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff has asked the City Manager and the administration to find a strategy for removing the vessels.

Boats that are abandoned in the waterways can pose a hazard to navigation and to the environment. The State of Florida needs to have a stronger commitment to provide clean, safe and enjoyable recreational boating on its waterways. The State of California administers a grant program to assist local agencies in removing abandoned vessels from the waterways. California also recently released a report on recommendations for reducing the number of boats abandoned in California. In addition, there are federal agencies that educate the various states and local municipalities on handling abandoned and derelict vessels; more on their program can be found here =>

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission may remove vessels that are considered derelict under state regulations. The vessel owner is contacted and a notice is posted on the vessel identifying it as a derelict vessel. The owner has five days to remove the vessel. If the owner does not take any action, he or she can be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor and may also be charged for the cost of removing the vessel. However, this law does not appear to have much "teeth", as is attested by the number of abandoned vessels in the City of Miami's jurisdiction alone (this does not include the other cities adjacent to the water in South Florida). Also, if these vessels are within the City's jurisdiction, the state authorities may be presuming that the City is "taking care" of its jurisdiction. Obviously, this is not happening and annual grants that are provided from the state are simply insufficient to tackle the problem.

Because the State of Florida has no salvage laws giving the finder of an abandoned vessel rights of ownership, there appears to be little incentive for private individuals to help. Florida is a title state, thereby requiring a transfer of vessel title from owner to purchaser in order to obtain legal ownership.  A person who finds an abandoned vessel and who wants to make claim to it must comply with Section 705.103, Florida Statutes. This will allow for a person to make claim to the property and make application for title transfer into his name.

The problem is that it would be considered a crime (theft) in the State of Florida to take an abandoned vessel without first getting title to it. Failure to comply with Section 705.103, Florida Statutes could result in fines or even jail time. The first step for a private citizen to help is the requirement to report the vessel to a law enforcement agency. The law enforcement agency will collect a fee (from the private citizen that is trying to help) for beginning an investigation, conduct an investigation under Section 705.103, Florida Statutes, and determine the owner of the vessel. If the vessel is not claimed in the process of the investigation, the law enforcement agency may transfer it to the finder with a bill of sale and evidence of the investigation. The finder would then make application to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to have the title put into the finder's name.

The investigation process reportedly takes between 45 days to 120 days, however experience shows that the process takes much longer than what is reported. The cost associated with an investigation is usually between $300.00 and $600.00. The costs may be more or less than this depending on the individual investigation requirements. Of course, if the vessel is a piece of junk (as opposed to a junk), no one would even attempt to notify the authorities (and pay up) to begin the investigation process.

Leadership in this situation is what is required in the City of Miami. Removing these abandoned and derelict vessels has NEVER been made a priority in the City and the call to create a committee to deal with this issue is certainly in order--presuming that the people in the committee have experience with this issue. However, while the City and other politicians constantly cite the lack of money as the reason why they have been unable to take care of these eyesores, political will is required from the State of Florida to help the local authorities financially and the cities to be that "squeaky wheel that gets the oil." Continuing to lament a lack of funding without action is not action.

If you are interested in receiving a scanned copy of the Miami Today article or wish to reach me, you may do so by writing to me at



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