_______ St. Petersburg Considers Limiting Free Anchoring By Steve Morrell
The dinghy dock at Boot Key Harbor. A $22 fee to park your dinghy at these docks?
As a result of our travels, we’ve experienced many other harbors in the United States, Europe, Mexico, the Bahamas, and Bermuda. Since the subject is dinghy dock rates, harbor economics must be considered. Admittedly, the population of Boot Key Harbor changes from day-today, but at last count—the middle of March 2012—there were approximately 300 boats in the mooring field and the anchorages. The total value of the boats is about $30-million, and they house approximately 450 sailors. Our best estimate is that each boat contributes approximately $1,600 monthly to the economy of Marathon—food, fuel, repairs, dinners out, etc., etc., including the monthly $300 mooring fee. $1,600 X 300 = $480,000/month contributed by boats in the harbor to the Marathon economy. The mooring fees alone are approximately $300 x 226 boats = $67,800/month. Of course, there are exceptions. For example, last year we had to make major engine repairs and spent well over $2,000 in three days. The $1,300 per vessel monthly contribution to the local economy is well-known to Marathon merchants and other harborside cities in this part of the world; they know sailors spend money when they come ashore. Therefore, most harborside cities have built and offer free dinghy dockage, showers and other facilities to attract sailors: Fort Myers Beach, FL, and Georgetown, Exuma (Bahamas), are just two examples. The $22/day and $225/month dinghy dock fee discourages sailors from anchoring and from coming ashore. Sailors planning on anchoring in Boot Key harbor will make their stop brief; they will take on fuel, water, provision, then move on to a friendlier harbor. Fewer trips ashore results in a financial loss to Marathon. Also, harborside, Sisters Creek residents who wish to visit the Marathon Community Park by boat rather than by car have to pay $22 to park their dinghies. The city of Marathon should not make the anchorages and the dinghy dock a “profit center.” Publix or West Marine don’t charge people for parking in their lot to recover the cost of the lot; this would devastate their business. The City Marina dinghy dock is the Marathon “parking lot” for the cruising, boating world as well as harborside residents. The city of Marathon has a public responsibility to both the cruising world and the local economy, particularly since Boot Key Harbor is one of the best and safest in Florida. The city must eliminate the dinghy dock fees or continue to see dinghy dock trips and the number of anchored boats decline. The mooring field population will eventually be affected since many anchored cruisers waiting for a mooring will, on principle, be reluctant to pay the high dinghy dock fee when they know they are unwelcome and most other harbors’ dinghy docks are free. 30
This year, the city of St. Petersburg opened its mooring field in the Vinoy basin with charges of $13 to $17 a night, depending on boat size. There are currently 13 moorings and the city is planning to eventually expand that to 26. Since the city allows free anchoring in other areas, many visiting boaters are avoiding the fees and anchoring in the other city basins, which lie near the municipal marina and the St. Petersburg Sailing Center. Anchoring in the sailing center basin is often in an area that is used for sail training, and students have had trouble sailing around the anchored boats and anchor lines. Some of the problems that exist are with boaters using the free anchorage areas to store their boats, some of which become derelicts. Derelict boats were a major concern the city had in the Vinoy Basin before the mooring field. The anchorage in the Vinoy Visiting cruisers have peri- Basin (taken before the opening of the mooring field) in odically anchored in these St. Petersburg. other basins, but not to the extent that now exists since anchoring in the Vinoy is no longer free. These basins are now more crowded with the additional stored boats, along with cruisers who don’t want to pay the mooring field fees. These issues have prompted the city to consider limiting free anchoring outside the mooring field. The city is part of the FWC’s pilot program on establishing anchoring rules outside of mooring fields—a test program to help the state establish uniform rules in the state’s waters so boaters can anchor without knowing dozens of different rules that different cities might establish, while at the same time protecting the city’s mooring fields, controlling potential waste dumping from boats and controlling derelict boats. The St. Petersburg proposal would limit anchoring within 200 feet of a marina or boat ramp, ban anchoring in the port and the central and southern basins. Anchoring in Bayboro Harbor would be limited to 72 hours. The city submitted the proposed anchoring rules to the FWC in March, and the FWC is currently considering whether or not to allow them, or only allow them with some changes. The FWC’s ruling is expected in the coming months. Many boaters—and others who want to keep the city more open to visiting cruisers—have complained that such a limitation will make St. Petersburg boater-unfriendly and deter cruisers from visiting the city—which has long been a cruising destination. If the derelict problem could be solved, the free anchoring in these other basins might not be nearly as big of a problem as it is now—because only visiting cruisers would be in these areas. www.southwindsmagazine.com