By Peter Vankevich
On the stormy Saturday night of Nov. 1, Byron Miller and his dad Norman braved high winds to secure an unattended boat in Silver Lake that had unmoored and was banging against their dock.
“When the winds are coming from the northwest to northeast, I know it’s going to be bad for us,” Byron said.
There’s always the possibility of an anchored boat breaking loose, especially in a northeaster, he said. So, he went to the dock his father and mother Sharon Sjoblom own at Ocracoke Harbor Inn, found the errant boat, and he and Norman tied it off.
A second boat that had gotten loose and blew into the Pirate’s Quay and McWilliams Landing area was secured early the next morning by Charlie Mason, Nelson Adams, John Ivey and Van O’Neal. Both boat owners were eventually contacted and the boats are now secured at a private dock.
Norman Miller reported this event at the Nov. 3 Hyde County commissioners meeting and asked the county to look into it.
“When they break lose, they’re missiles of destruction,” Norman observed.
While boats that rent dockage around the harbor are better secured in storms, there have been at least six boats anchored for some time in the middle of the harbor. Some are without their masts.
In most harbors around the country boats are able to anchor freely, Byron said. Along with registration, they are supposed to have anchor lights.
Unattended/derelict boats have been an ongoing problem in Silver Lake and in other boating communities in eastern North Carolina.
Marci Mason, who has a dock at the Pirate’s Quay, noted that over the years, sailboats have anchored with many of the owners not living on them. She has seen many boats drag anchor during thunderstorms, not just during hurricanes.
“There are several issues with these boats–lack of insurance, no lights and sewage in the harbor,” she said.
Some boaters say the lack of enforcement is frustrating because loose boats can damage other boats and docks.
Byron Miller said that none of the enforcement agencies seemed to see these violations as a problem or think they should intervene. He said the Coast Guard has jurisdiction over anchor lights and sewage disposal. Like cars, boats should have registration, insurance and responsible owners, he noted.
“A boat that loses its anchor can cause significant damage not only to docks they may crash into but other boats as well,” he said. “If word gets out that Ocracoke has a problem with derelict boats that can damage other boats, legitimate boat owners may avoid docking, which could harm to the island’s economy.”
One agency that does have enforcement authority is the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NC Wildlife). Its enforcement officer for Hyde County, Robert Wayne, said that he has been involved with violations of moving boats rather than stationary one.
Lt. Lane Munroe, North Carolina’s Command Center Chief for the Coast Guard, said the Coast Guard will work cooperatively with the National Park Service and NC Wildlife and other agencies, but unless a boat is blocking a channel or is a pollution hazard, he sees this more as a state issue.
Hyde county officials are unsure how to deal with unattended boats, some of which may be abandoned and some with absent owners.
“They could be treated as abandoned property,” noted Ocracoke commissioner John Fletcher at the Nov. 3 Commissioners’ meeting. “The deputies could take some steps to deal with them.”
County Manager Bill Rich said that he and Hyde County attorney Fred Holscher would research this problem more.
While Hyde County puzzles over enforcement, other municipalities have taken action.
The coastal town of Beaufort, Carteret County, has a regulation for handling unregistered and/or boats left unattended for over 30 days. Michele Davis, the town clerk/executive assistant of Beaufort, cautioned that it continues to be an ongoing problem since it is very difficult to track down an owner of an unregistered boat.
Oriental in Pamlico County does not have a regulation, but in August formed a Harbor Waterfront Advisory Committee that could deal with this issue. Committee chair, Gerry Crowley, said in an email that Oriental does not have any unattended boats at this time.
Last year, Dare and Brunswick counties managed to get the State Assembly to pass legislation for them only called “An Act To Allow Certain Counties To Remove Abandoned Vessels From Navigable Waters” (session laws 2013-182).
This law permits these counties to take action against hazardous vessels and vessels in danger of sinking or that have sunk.
Ocracoke might be able to set up some form of enforcement regulation under the Ocracoke Development Ordinance (ODO), which is being reviewed and updated by the Ocracoke Planning Advisory Board.
This ordinance (Sec. 36-149. – Area) covers that part of Ocracoke Island outside the boundaries of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, including streams, creeks, ponds, harbors and the Pamlico Sound within one-half mile of shore.
Corky Pentz who chairs this board, said it would be added it to the agenda for their Thursday, Dec. 4 meeting, 5:30 p.m. in the Community Center.