“It’s been going on for years and has gotten quite a bit worse — and more expensive,” said Ed Harris, a San Diego lifeguard and Teamsters Local 911 Union member.
Unlike car owners, when boat owners abandon their vehicles nobody chases them down, said Harris. “What happens is people buy a boat and don’t put maintenance into it,” he said. “It sits, and then they decide to walk away from it.”
Oftentimes, added Harris, those abandoned boats end up left in privately owned marinas in San Diego Bay or Mission Bay.
“The city has set aside $200,000 for boats abandoned at Zuniga Jetty,” said Harris. “We have a state grant for $100,000, which we will use for Mission Bay. We allocated another $70,000 recently.”
Zuniga Jetty off Zuniga Point is where boat owners can anchor for free. In April, the City Council enacted an ordinance amending San Diego’s Municipal Code to tighten open-water boat anchoring near Zuniga Jetty Shoal, restricting it to two hours.
In the past, Harris noted marina owners have sometimes gotten stuck with abandoned boats that he said, “Can be very expensive to get rid of and pay landfill fees, and has led them to cast them off. We’ve seen that. We’ve also seen some people just set their boats adrift.”
Other times, pointed out Harris, boats can come loose from their moorings and drift before getting picked up.
“Impound fees are high if [owners] don’t come and get their boat,” Harris said. He added, because boats carry gas and oil, which are hazardous materials, that the City can’t haul them away itself, but must contract out for that service.
“Lifeguards have been in partnership for years with Parks and Rec, which provides the heavy equipment,” noted Harris. “Every six months or so [Parks and Rec] take [boats] to the dump. Rarely do we have boats that are still seaworthy, that are worth keeping and not going to the trash.
“We’re seeing more derelict boats out on the moorings,” said Harris. “Those 17 that were recently in our custody we had for more than 90 days. We provided the property notification, and nobody came to pick them up. So at that point, the burden falls on the City. We take them to the dump. By the end of summer, we may have to impound another 10 to 20 boats. It’s a never-ending process of impounding and disposals.”