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Liveaboard boaters in Key West say they want help with safety, not moving orders

Liveaboard boaters gathered at Mallory Square to protest new state rules and ask for more safety measures.
Nancy Klingener
Liveaboard boaters gathered at Mallory Square to protest new state rules and ask for more safety measures.

A new state law aimed at preventing derelict vessels will require boats anchored offshore in the Keys to move at least every 90 days. Boaters say that will make them less safe. They also want more training and sheltering options during rough weather.

A group of liveaboard boaters gathered on the Key West waterfront Tuesday wearing T-shirts that said "I AM NOT A DERELICT" and calling for more help for those who live on the water.

A state law passed last year requires boats anchored offshore in the Keys to move at least every three months. The state and Monroe County say it will help prevent derelict, or abandoned vessels, that damage the environment and are expensive to remove.

The law passed in 20 21 won't take effect until 250 new moorings are added within a mile of the Key West seaport. The Legislature amended the law this year to reduce the number of new moorings to 100 before it takes effect. Gov. Ron DeSantis has yet to act on the amendment.

Amy Glasspool lives on a boat on a permanent mooring — but like many other boaters, she's upset about the new law . She organized Tuesday's protest at Mallory Square .

"It puts everybody at risk ," she said. " You know where you're at right now, that your ground tackle is safe and secure for the most part.

" Moving every 45 to 90 days, you're going to tear up the seafloor."

Monroe County Commissioner Craig Cates is the commission's point person on the new law. Cates, who represents Key West, is also a boater.

"There's derelict vessels that people can't get rid of and they just go out there and they anchor them," he said. "They sink and the taxpayer has to pay to clean it up."

In 2021, the county and state spent almost $500,000 removing 80 derelict vessels. Cates said there are another 60 in the Keys now.

The anchoring rule means "we can get them while they're still floating and not once they're sunk," he said. A boat that hasn't moved in 90 days can be towed to shore.

"They're much, much cheaper to get rid of, floating. And they don't do damage to the bottom," he said, noting "there's a lot of good people out there" living aboard and it's the boats, not the people, that are derelict.

Glasspool, the manager of a restaurant in Key West, is also calling for new boaters to get help learning safety on the water, and for shelters on shore when the weather is dangerous for traveling in a small dinghy. Last month, a Key West man died after his dinghy overturned in rough weather on his way back to his boat.

"We're servers. We're bartenders. We are teachers. We're dockmasters. We do it all," she said. "I run a restaurant. I work my 60 hours a week. I'm there every day. I come in in bad weather, I go out in bad weather because I have a job to do."

Key West City Commissioner Sam Kaufman said boats are an essential source of affordable housing on the island where the private housing market is out of reach for most local workers.

"We're spending $25 to $30 million to build 100 housing units in Truman Waterfront. We just spent $25 million to build 100 units on College Road," Kaufman said at the protest. "These folks are providing their own housing and they're not relying on the government and they're self-sufficient. And we should be doing everything we can in the government to support them."

Kaufman said helping boaters is especially important since the city is limited in the number of new units it can build on land.

Monroe County Commissioner Cates said the county and state are trying to help boaters with new mooring field sadding 100 spots near Wisteria Island, in Key West Harbor, and 40 moorings in Boca Chica Bay in the Lower Keys.

But he's dubious that boats should be considered affordable housing.

"If you don't have any money, you should not own a boat," he said. "The two don't go together."

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Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.