Legislature Funds Increased Derelict Boat Removal on Puget Sound

Whether buying, selling, giving or receiving, fixer-upper boats may come with unanticipated and costly consequences.


Removing derelict or abandoned boats from the waters of Puget Sound is a high priority for the Department of Natural Resources. The department’s underfunded Derelict Vessel Removal Program got a big boost from legislators with the passage of HB 1700 in March. Twenty-five percent of the money generated from watercraft excise taxes, roughly $7.5 million, will go toward funding the program each biennium.

Troy Woods, manager of the program, said the final invoices aren’t in for the two boats removed from Lakebay Marina in January, but estimates the cost, along with removing the boathouse that collapsed on one of them, will be about $30,000.

The marina was sold Dec. 28 by owner Mark Scott, who struggled with upkeep, for $1.6 million to the Recreational Boating Association of Washington and DNR. (See “Lakebay Marina Sold; New Owners to Restore and Partner with State,” KP News, January 2022.)

The custody process is underway for the 12 remaining vessels at Lakebay Marina. Woods expects DNR will have custody April 8. The owners will have another 30 days to appeal through the Pollution Control Hearing Board. Woods anticipates removal will begin around May 9. He said it will be a lot more expensive to remove those remaining 12 boats — probably between $90,000 to $100,000.

“We are required by statute to try and do cost recovery from the owners of the vessels whenever we remove them,” Woods said. “But it’s not always easy because a lot of the owners are indigent. They don’t have the funds and we’re left holding the bag.”

Part of the problem is trying to find owners for these vessels because many are sold informally. Ownership history is not preserved when sellers don’t register vessels or file a report of sale.

“Usually when we find the owners of these abandoned or derelict vessels a lot of them are people down on their luck, people trying to do the best they can with what they have,” Woods said. “Unfortunately, their great big dreams and aspirations don’t come with instructions on how to do that with these vessels.”

There is a secondary liability law when a boat is over 40 years old and more than 35 feet long requiring an inspection be done and sent to Wood’s office before a sale.

“It has to be seaworthy,” Woods said. “If it’s not seaworthy, then the seller retains secondary liability, meaning that if the boat becomes abandoned or derelict in the future and the owner can’t pay for recovery, we will come after you for it.”

Currently that secondary liability law applies only to larger vessels because there are simply too many smaller vessels out there.

Since the Derelict Vessel Removal Program began in 2002, it has removed nearly 1,000 vessels littering Puget Sound waterways.

Boat owners may apply to the Vessel Turn-In Program for potentially free disposal. Prior to last year, the turn-in program was capped at $200,000 per biennium, but that cap was removed in 2021. Before HB 1700, there was still not enough money budgeted to get ahead of the abandoned boat problem.

“It’s part of our prevention program. It costs us a lot less to take a vessel off an owner’s hands and destroy it than for us to go out with a big barge and crane to lift it out of the water and take it for destruction,” Wood said. “There is really no reason for people to dump these vessels in the water anywhere.”

Commissioner of Public Lands Hillary Franz commented on the passage of HB 1700 in a statement that read, “Both the declining kelp forests and eelgrass meadows, as well as the steady stream of derelict and abandoned vessels, are increasingly putting aquatic habitats at risk, and the Legislature is providing the critical support we need to keep up with the pace of these fast-moving threats to our waters.”