Jul 052015

If you drive down through the Florida Keys chances are anytime you pass water, which would be that long flat wet stuff on either side of the land part, you will see old or abandoned boats floating or half sunk.  They are everywhere down here and it is a problem.  These boats are all well past their economical usefulness, totally unseaworthy, and most likely are polluting the waters with old oils, fuel, and sewage.  The Keys have been doing what they can to get rid of them, but if you went to the link, you can see what they are up against.

The biggest issue seems to be finding the rightful owner, who is the one ultimately responsible for paying to get said vessels removed.  Easier said than done.  Many times, as the article noted, when a vessel changes hands, the title work never gets processed, which can be a nightmare for all concerned, particularly, whomever’s name is on the title.  It is that person who is liable for the vessel.  So legally, when a boat is needed to be moved, is deemed a danger to navigation, a hazard, or whatever, that is the person the state comes after.

To their credit, all the government entities involved understand the title issue.  And the article lists some possible solutions.  One in particular I am in favor of is making it mandatory both the buyer and seller go to the DMV to make sure the title is transferred properly.  I did so with my last boat.  I specifically made it clear when the buyer came with cash, they would not get the boat until we made a trip to the tag office.  No trip, no sale.  The couple who did buy the boat agreed and we did go to do the title work without a hitch.  In fact, when we were doing all this, after I signed my part of the title, the clerk did her thing and said in no uncertain terms, “You are now no longer listed as the owner of this boat and free of the liability of ownership.”  Which is exactly what you want to hear when you sell a vehicle or vessel.

I have learned this through trial and error in the past.  If you live in Florida you can go to GoRenew.com, fill in the requested information, and get a list of any and all vehicles, vessels, rv’s, trailers, and other conveyances listed in your name.  I did so and was very surprised to find out I still own a Harley, a Ford Ranger, and a Mustang.  All vehicles I sold years ago.  Seems the dealer, the junk yard, and the individual I made the transactions with never bothered to do the paperwork.  The truck and the car were both non running at the time I got rid of them.  Both most likely ended up in a junk yard.  The harley was a bit perplexing because I never sold any of my motorcycles to any one individual, they were all traded to dealerships who are fanatics about title work.  The only possible explanation I can think of is the motorcycle in question may have been exported overseas, stolen at the dealership, or parted out.  It could not have been resold unless the title was transferred.

I like to think that somewhere in a storage shed at one of those dealers I used to work for, is a dusty old harley still in my name, and one day somebody is going to track me down and tell me to come and get my motorcycle back.  But I doubt it.

Anyways, if you don’t live in Florida I am sure your state has a similar ability to find any titles listed in your name.  It would probably be a good idea to go and do a search just to make sure.  And never, ever buy or sell a vehicle/vessel without having the other party go with you to the DMV and making sure the title is transferred properly.

But, getting back to the boat issue, there are hundreds of old boats here in the Keys which are becoming a problem.  Many have people living on them and many of those have people living on them who have no idea how to take care of said boat.  They came down here, as many of us did, looking for a cheap way to live in the islands.  Rents are unaffordable and not coming down anytime soon.  Terms and leases are designed to prevent the average lower income person from ever establishing residence here, so people get creative.  Living on a boat is usually the first thing which comes to mind.  There are dozens of vessels for sale at any given time down here and at extremely cheap prices.  $1000 will get you something floating which has enough of the comforts of home to make it liveable.  All you need, supposedly, is a place to anchor and you are set.

What these people do not know, nor care about for the most part, is a vessel takes a lot of maintenance, upkeep, and equipment for it to remain on top of the water where it belongs.  There are a ton of legal requirements also involving equipment, registrations, and the like.  Few people who are just looking for a cheap or near free place to live don’t give a rodents posterior what said requirements are.  All they want is a cheap place to live.  As a result, old boats which may not be in too good of shape to begin with, deteriorate quickly, and become derelict.  The person who bought said vessel may never have bothered to re register the title because it costs money, so they can abandon it when it becomes too unsafe, walk away, and not be held liable.  What is left is a leaking, rotting corpse which was once a gleam in some sailor’s eye.  And if it isn’t removed from the water it will pollute and become a hazard.  A real good example of how bad things can get, along with expensive is the saga of the Tug Tilly.  Take some time and read the archives of this saga.  It’s a complete story of the problem of derelict live aboards in a nutshell.

The Keys, along with others does what it can to remove these wrecks from the waters, but it costs lots of money to do so.  Many of these vessels are unmoveable and may be stuck on the bottom.  Or too large to do anything about.  There is the claw, which is a barge with a large mechanical claw that comes around sometimes, pulls up beside a boat, and proceeds to pick it apart and throw the pieces into a another barge, to be carted off to the dump, but the claw cannot always be used.  And in some cases, the vessel may still have somebody living on it, meaning they will have to be convinced to leave their happy home.  So it’s not always a pleasant situation to dispose of said vessels.

What makes things even more difficult is those who buy and live on these junk boats, get lumped in with those who are true live aboards and sailors.  People, as I have done myself, who live on a boat because they chose to live on a boat.  While the true live aboard may not have the money to keep their boat in pristine condition, it will pass muster in terms of safety equipment, proper disposal of waste, and legal registration.  But when the rich and wealthy, who hate live aboards, go bitch, moan, whine, and snivel at the powers that be, options for living on a boat become more restrictive for anyone wanting to live on the water.  Basically you are guilty by association.  All live aboards are bad, so get rid of them all.

The Keys, FWC, and others are all doing what they can to address the problem of derelict boats.  There are many obstacles in the way with money being a major issue.  As it happens, there could be a partial solution to the money issue if anyone is paying attention.  On the same day the story broke in the papers about the meetings to discuss the boat issues, it was announced that BP, those lovable fun folks who tried to destroy the Gulf of Mexico with their oil, were ordered to pay out large sums of money to all states and areas affected by said spill.  Of those billions, $6 million is to be paid out to the Florida Keys over the next 15 years.  That’s $400,000 a year of free money dropped into the Keys lap.

Keys officials are already salivating over what to do with the money.  Suggestions include things like coral restoration which is a fine endeavor to be sure.  But here is a suggestion from Capt. Obvious, why not use said funds to clean up what derelict boats you can get?  I’m sure $400,000 will get quite a few vessels off the water and given a 15 year time frame, I suspect one could clean up quite a bit.  Get the boats off the water, and do what one can to find the owners and make them reimburse the costs.  Reinvest any of those proceeds back into getting rid of more derelicts, and before you know it, the waters may be a whole lot less congested with these old wrecks.  But what do I know?  I don’t even live on a boat anymore.  Just my thoughts on the matter.  Seems to me the timing of the meetings coinciding with the announcement of free money, makes this a no brainer.  Maybe someone will figger it out.

In the meantime, folks, if any of you do decide to come down here and want to live on a boat, do us all a couple of favors.  Don’t buy a boat and then let it go to rot.  Make sure you know what is involved in living on a boat and what it takes to maintain one.  And make sure when you do buy said boat, and later sell it, the title and registration are properly transferred.  If you don’t you could well find yourself liable someday down the road for something you thought you didn’t own anymore.  Take the time to do it right, and it will make it easier on all live aboards.

Capt. Fritter

  3 Responses to “The Florida Keys: Where Old Boats Go To Die…”

  1. interesting.
    i followed the link about the tugboat and captain tilly. and then i became interested in an article about vanishing housing for service workers on the island. you know… those who keep those cold drinks coming and fresh beds made for the rich people vacationing. OR… those who simply want to live a beautiful frugal life there.

    it even had a video by naja girard. you and she should get together maybe. she has some of the same concerns and is as equally eloquent. the lady commission in the little vimeo was nice and TOTALLY ineffective. totally. then another commission was interviewed and he seemed barely literate. when she pressed him he smiled lazily and said
    “they dont’ listen to me sweetheart.” ???? THEY? you’re one of them? how did you get there?

    then i read another article about commissioner bethel who’s wanting to get rid of fantasy fest if it can’t be ratified to his way of thinking.
    ah well.
    nothing lasts forever. you just discovered your beloved keys too late. change is in the wind captain.
    speaking of the derelict houseboats … those still remotely livable… one can’t help but believe they are throwing their potty contents overboard for the most part. i would bet money on that. and THAT is not a good thing. ever.
    this was another thought provoking post about the keys.
    thanks capt!

    • The city commissioners simply do the bidding of the those with the money. They have no real say in matters. Like other levels of government. If the rich and powerful want the live aboards out, they will be gone.
      As for the service workers, they are a necessary evil for now. There are people who commute from as far away as Miami to work here, sometimes trading out pay for temp housing. A lot of service personnel are from other islands like Haiti or Central and South America. They come here and are held hostage. Employers hold their passports, let them work for shit wages, house them in slums, and keep most of the pay. It’s legalized slavery.
      As for the other services like guides, captains, crews, bar and restaurant staff, all the employers know it’s temporary. Most staff can do a year, maybe two, but only by sharing homes, living on a boat, or remaining homeless and staying at the shelter. They take the low paying jobs because they are still young and have come here for the party. They have no intention of staying forever. Eventually, the money runs out, they give up and go back up north but that’s ok. For everyone who leaves, 10 more are waiting to take their place. People like myself who have managed to stay here for several years or more are a rarity. We came here because we wanted to live here, not just to party, but to have a life here. We are able to stay only because we have been able to get by very frugally. Someone who wants to live a middle class lifestyle here has no chance at all. It’s like this in any resort town or popular vacation area. And it will never change.
      C. F.

  2. The closest I can come to your story is selling a tent camper. I insisted the buyer and I go to city hall and do the title transfer. He tried to get me to say he paid less than he did so he wouldn’t owe as much sales tax. Nope. I doubt he would have transferred title at all if I hadn’t insisted. Be careful out there folks.