Abandoned boats are not merely eyesores. They are potentially deadly hazards that have proliferated in our local waterways. This menace demands a strong response from the authorities.
And while a derelict sailboat that’s been lying on its side for years near the U.S. Highway 17 bridge over the Ashley was finally removed last week, more unsightly — and dangerous — vessels remain in that river and other area waterways.
The sailboat was the first abandoned watercraft pulled from the water by a private contractor hired with a $104,000 grant from the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control. Funding also was provided by the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the city of Charleston.
Abandoned boats are particularly prevalent in the mile of the Ashley between the West Ashley bridges and the Intracoastal Waterway.
Sgt. Chad Womack of the Charleston Police Department’s Harbor Patrol told our reporter that approximately 15 such boats, ranging from 23 to 40 feet long, have been lying neglected in that stretch of the river. And while the boats you can see are hazardous, the ones you can’t see — in some cases barely below the surface — are even more of a danger.
Boat owners who fail to get their derelict boats out of the water face legal risks, too. As Sgt. Womack said, “We pursue people criminally for abandoning boats.”
The city of Charleston’s penalty for abandoning a boat is a fine of not less than $1,000 and not more than $5,000 and up to 30 days in jail. The city ordinance also mandates that “an abandoned watercraft must be removed at the risk and the expense of the owner.”
Unfortunately, however, determining ownership, and thus responsibility, is often quite difficult. That’s especially true for boats that have long been abandoned.
And getting those boats out of the water becomes a much more costly chore when they are no longer seaworthy. Some of them break into pieces during the removal process.
Plus, just as the number of functioning boats here has soared in recent decades, so, predictably, has the number of abandoned boats.
Yes, it was good to see the boat-removal mission under way in the Ashley last week — just as it was encouraging to see 12 boats removed in 2011 thanks to a $60,000 dollar grant that the city of Charleston and DHEC received.
So it would be wishful thinking to assume that occasional grant money is a long-term solution for what is clearly a recurring challenge.
Ultimately, without a firmer commitment to solving this problem, it seems bound to intensify.
Ideally, the authorities will bolster their efforts not just to remove abandoned boats, but to trace their owners in a timely manner and hold them accountable.
Effective enforcement of the law requiring annual registration stickers also would help.
Meanwhile, watch out for abandoned boats if you’re on the water.
And keep in mind that if you abandon a boat, you aren’t just violating the law and marring the view.
You’re putting people on the water at reckless risk.