Stop dragging anchor

Published 4:25 pm Wednesday, December 17, 2008

By Staff
A new law that makes it illegal to abandon watercraft or outboard motors on public land or in public waters in South Carolina took effect Tuesday.
Anyone who does so could face fines from $1,000 to $5,000 and up to 30 days in jail. The law defines an abandoned watercraft as one that has been left unattended or wrecked for more than 45 days.
If that law or one similar to it had in effect in Washington’s harbor, the area between the U.S. Highway 17 bridge and the railroad trestle just east of Castle Island, during the past several years, at least two incidents of abandoned boats breaking loose from their moorings and damaging other boats probably could have been avoided.
Washington is addressing the problem as a group of people continue to work on a harbor-management plan that would address the problems posed by abandoned watercraft. And if Washington wants to attract more boaters to its harbor and docks, it will have to put regulations in place that protect responsible boaters’ vessels from abandoned watercraft.
The idea of a harbor-management plan developed from a desire by some boaters to establish a mooring field in the Pamlico River somewhere between the U.S. 17 bridge and railroad trestle, probably toward the south side of the river. The idea has been bouncing around for more than two years. It is time for that idea to stop bouncing around and become securely moored.
Bill Sykes is among the members of the group working on the harbor-management plan. Sykes, who owns property downtown and keeps a sailboat anchored in the river, is on record as saying a mooring field would give the city more control over boats moored in the river than boats riding at anchor. Federal law allows boats to anchor anywhere in water except in navigational channels.
A mooring field in Washington’s harbor, which requires a permit from the state, is being pursued by private interests.
Sykes is right. Controlling the quality of the river means preventing abandoned watercraft from becoming a problem. An abandoned boat that breaks loose from its mooring during a storm can cause major damage to other boats and docking facilities.
In June 2007, a derelict sailboat somehow made its way up the river, making itself a hazard to boating traffic on the river and posing a danger to the U.S. 17 bridge.
Washington cannot afford to have a reputation as a harbor where derelict boats are permitted to remain at anchor, until they break loose and cause damage. How many boat owners would be willing to visit Washington knowing there is a chance that a derelict boat could break loose and ram their vessels?
Abandoned watercraft also pose a threat to water quality. An abandoned vessel may leak fuel or wastewater from an on-board toilet into a river, lake, sound, bay or other body of water.
It is time to stop talking about the problem. It is time to solve it. The faster the city implements a harbor-management plan in place, the better for boaters who visit Washington’s harbor. And if it takes help from the N.C. General Assembly to enable the city to protect its harbor and the vessels in that harbor, then the city should demand that help as soon as possible.
When it comes to putting a harbor-management plan in place, a plan that includes a provision regarding abandoned watercraft, it is time for the city to stop dragging anchor.
Full speed ahead with protecting the harbor.