Aug 27 2017

Sunken Boats Present Hazard to Other Boaters, Environment

Just as there are few things better than boating in the lowcountry, there are few things worse than being the owner of a sunken vessel.

Boats sink – it happens. It’s awful, but it happens. What’s really unfortunate about a sunken boat is that is can be costly to have the vessel removed. Plus, the cost of removal falls onto the owner.

While there are millions of sunken items on the ocean floor (shout out to the Titanic), it’s problematic when these sunken items present a problem. Those problems include everything from pollution to the dangers of damaging other vessels when masts or other parts of the vessel protrude from the water.

The waterways around Charleston are full of sunken boats. Anyone who has taken a boat up the North Edisto River or Folly River has certainly seen these vessels. During the high season, navigating around these abandoned boats can be tricky.

The Department of Natural Resources marks some protrusions with buoys to help protect other boaters, but they can’t get to everything.

Various grants provided to government entities do help to remove the sunken vessels from the waterways, but the problem is bigger than anything a grant can cover. Plus, it’s the responsibility of boat owners to remove their own vessels when they sink.

Removing a boat from the water is expensive and can costs anywhere from $3,000 to more than $10,000. This, of course, falls under the responsibility of the boat owner. However, many owners decide to just walk (or swim) away from the problem.

That’s where the problem comes in. When the owner of a sunken boat is known, it’s possible for officials from the Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Ocean and Coastal Resource Management to require the removal of the boat. But finding the owner of a vessel that’s been sunken for years is difficult.

To combat this problem, identifying who the owners are of sunken boats and reporting these individuals to the proper authorities would help clear the waterways and reduce the eyesores.

First, make sure the boat is truly abandoned. According to the South Carolina Boating and Safety Act of 1991, any watercraft that has been moored, stranded, wrecked, sinking, or sunk, or unattended for more than 45 days is abandoned. If the vessel is legally moored or on private property, it is not abandoned.

The owner of an abandoned vessel is also responsible for any damage or injury the abandoned vessel may cause.

The best way to combat the problem of the abandoned boats in the South Carolina waterways is to hold owners of vessels accountable. Contact the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources with the hull numbers of abandoned boats to identify the owner.

If an owner can’t be located, it’s also possible to take ownership of the abandoned boat by contacting the Marine Title Authority, although that means you will have to pay the cost of removing the boat from the water.

Many of the boats in the Charleston area’s waterways have been abandoned for so long that it is likely impossible to find the original owners, which means ridding these boats from the water is unlikely.

However, to prevent this problem from getting worse, it’s important to keep up with regular maintenance of boats and make sure the proper precautions are taken in the event of inclement weather.

Should your boat sink in the future for whatever reason, do the responsible thing and have it removed from the water.

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Bob Hart Author

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