The County will, once again, be cracking down on live aboards, at least the troublesome kind who give us legitimate live aboards a bad rep. The one’s they are targeting are those who live on the hook, away from the marinas and mooring fields. These are the one’s who tend to not pay any attention to the minor details of boat living, like pump outs, proper lighting, anchoring in sensitive areas, or keeping one’s boat registered and compliant with safety regulations. They’re pretty easy to spot. Their boats are in actuality boats, or were at one time. They have hulls, and sometimes cabins, and other boaty stuff, but as for being any wheres near seaworthy, safe, or a threat to the environment, those days have long gone away.
The whole idea of boat living in the Keys is pretty simple. It’s one of the cheapest alternatives to living in one of the most expensive areas in the country. $1000 and up won’t get you much more than a hovel with a roof, (but rarely a toilet). For many, the answer is simple: buy a cheap boat, anchor off in a channel somewheres, and live for free. All you need is some way to get into shore, with a dinghy/kayak/or in some cases, swim. You could make do without things like electricity, running water, or sewers. As long as whatever you were living on was floating, it was all good. That was then. Now is more different.
Few probably remember the infamous Houseboat Row that used to sit along South Roosevelt. It was a line up of floating sheds, abandoned vessels, and rafts cobbled together with duct tape and twine. It had a rather eclectic group of residents who resided there and while it was a bit colorful and fit in with the character of the island, it was an environmental nightmare. The ocean was the sewer, none of the vessels had any kind of registration, let alone required safety equipment. And if a big storm happened to come through, or a little one for that matter, a lot of parts and pieces would wind up on the shallow bottom or float out to sea.
As environmental concerns grew, eventually the County/City/Water enforcement finally had enough and cleared everyone out. There was much gnashing of teeth, rending of clothing, and screams of one’s right to live wherever one wanted was being violated, but the area was a mess and it had to be cleaned up. Now, there is a managed anchorage in the lower part of Cow Key Channel where about a dozen or so vessels are moored. But even these are in bad shape. Probably two or three are actually sea worthy enough to be on the water. The rest are derelict and becoming hazards. Yet, people live on them and try to make do. Why? It’s still free. And free is a whole lot cheaper than rent/utilities/leases.
The crackdown, which is a semi annual occurrence is designed to target these vessels and give the owners a chance to get in line with the rest of us who live on the water. Get into the pumpout service, which is now free in the Keys. Register the boat, not a lot of money. Have the required safety gear, lighting, and ability to stay afloat in the event of bad weather. Sure it costs money, but it’s still cheaper than land rent. But. there are always those hard heads who won’t comply. They are out there on the hook and just want to be left alone. They are not true live aboards. They just happen to live on a boat, or reasonable facsimile, because it’s cheap. If they could live the same way on land, in an rv or whatever, they would do so. For the most part, living on a boat like these people do has nothing to do with the love of the sea nor boats. Sailing or moving from port to port is of no interest to these sorts. They put just enough into the vessels to keep them afloat and as comfortable as possible without spending any money on the required gear or other essentials.
The bad part of all this is however, that these people are lumped in with those of us who are true live aboards. The true live aboard lives on a boat by choice, not just because of economics, (although, from what I have been pricing out for the stuff I need for the Spirit, boat living ain’t exactly cheap). The true live aboard keeps their vessel up to speed in terms of safety gear, environmental concerns, and sea worthiness. You can spot them in any marina or mooring field. Their vessels are relatively clean. The bottoms are scraped and painted regularly. Rigging for sails is newer and ready to go. For most of them, it doesn’t take much to cast off the lines and head out to sea. They live on a boat because they love living on a boat. If they were not in the Keys, they would be someplace else along the water where one could live on a boat. Living on land is about as foreign to them as boat living would be to someone living in a suburban worker bee colony. For the true live aboards, to be clumped in with the sort that the crackdown is targeting is a nuisance unto itself. When the media talks about live aboards and then points out how all these derelict vessels are dirtying up the waters, those of us who follow the rules are considered to be one and the same as the derelicts. All of sudden we are all dirty live aboards with no respect for the water and before you know it, more rules and restrictions come in to prevent us from living the lifestyle that we have chosen. I saw the exact same thing happen in the motorcycle world. Most of the riders I knew where ordinary folks who loved to ride motorcycles. But because of a few, we were all considered dirty damn biker scum. Law makers saw lots of votes from uninformed people when they would crack down on the menace of motorcycles. And that is how things will go with live aboards. A few don’t follow the rules, but we who do will pay the penalties with fewer options to anchor or moor, and more restrictions.
I am favor of the the crackdowns. It needs to be done. These derelict vessels are a hazard, that is for sure. I would like to see more managed mooring fields in the Keys. It makes sense as more marinas are going against live aboards. I prefer to live in a marina, mostly out of the sheer conveniences and amenities, but a mooring field would not be out of the question down the road.
Right now the Spirit is in no condition to go out on the hook. The very reasons why they are cracking down on the derelict vessels are why I have to remain in the marina for now. There is much to do to get this boat seaworthy, safe, and compliant. And I have no problem with that. I know what the Spirit needs, I know about what it will all cost, all I am trying to do now is get the finances together to make it all happen. I do have another marina in mind as to where I want to live, but $300 a month for a mooring ball on the north side of the island has some appeal too. But none of that is going to happen until I get the boat in shape. Once that is done, I will look at all options: marina/mooring field/ or even just do some cruising up and down the islands. A few months here, a few in Marathon, a run up to Key Largo now and then. Who knows?
Or I may just say the hell with it and find an rv.