April 9, 2018
Hyde County Adopts Derelict Vessel Rule
By CATHERINE KOZAK
COASTAL REVEIW ONLINE
tide crashing on to your waterfront yard is bad enough, but Hyde County
Manager Bill Rich saw visions of doom when a 45-foot boat in Silver
Lake headed straight toward his house.
“It looked like the Titanic was coming through my bedroom,” Rich recounted in an interview last week.
As fortune had it, Rich’s home was spared impact from one of numerous
close encounters with unmoored orphaned vessels in the harbor, an
increasing problem in the small resort community on the southern tip of
the Outer Banks.
On Monday evening, the Hyde County Board of Commissioners unanimously
passed an ordinance that prohibits abandonment of vessels in Silver
Lake, in what Rich characterized as an important first step in
addressing what has become a dangerous and ugly blight in the otherwise
“Every time there’s a wind of 30 mph or higher, something breaks loose,
“ he said. “Usually it’s a derelict boat that no one’s been on for
Under a 2015 state law, the county was given the authority to pass an
ordinance that would consider a vessel to be abandoned if it was
anchored for more than 30 days without permission within a six-month
period. The definition also includes sunken vessels or those in danger
of sinking, as well as boats that create a hazard to navigation or an
immediate danger to other vessels.
Three other coastal counties – Dare, New Hanover and Brunswick – have
also adopted similar ordinances. But abandoned vessels have become a
costly and complex issue that nearly every waterfront community in
North Carolina – and nationwide – is grappling to address.
In a report published in March 2017 by the U.S. Government
Accountability Office, a survey of 28 coastal states found that 18 of
those states reported more than 5,600 abandoned or derelict vessels
between 2013 and 2016. Of those, only 3,000 had been removed.
North Carolina does not monitor the number of abandoned vessels in its waterways.
For Hyde County, Silver Lake Harbor is a popular destination for
recreational sailors and boaters, especially in the summer. But in the
last 15 years or so, Rich said, more people have been using their
vessels – usually sailboats – to live on. At the end of the
season, or when the weather is dangerous, some people have moved away,
leaving behind their empty boat anchored in the harbor.
The ordinance is not meant to keep people from living on their vessels,
the county manager said. It is meant to discourage irresponsible
“What we’re not going to have is people using their boats as a motel and leaving them all winter long,” he said.
In just the last two months, six abandoned vessels broke free of their
moorings, he said. One unfettered sailboat ended its journey at the
pier in front of Ride the Wind Surf Shop, another landed by the
Berkeley dock. Both of those vessels sunk. Another boat broke loose at
the National Park Service docks. After ensuring that they were
unclaimed, the county retrieved each vessel, crushed them and hauled
them away, at a cost to the county of $1,500 to $2,000 each.
In addition, Rich said, a fourth vessel was towed away from its resting
spot at a private dock it damaged. Two derelict vessels remain –
one aground on private property, the other snagged on a mooring ball.
Eventually, Hyde plans to draft another ordinance more tailored to its
needs and circumstances, and ask the legislature to approve it, Rich
Steve Wilson, chairman of the Ocracoke Planning Advisory Board and an
island native, said that part of the problem with abandoned vessels is
that their registrations are often outdated, making it difficult to
track down the responsible party. Under the ordinance, the county
follows state law that requires the abandoned vessel’s owner to be
notified, when possible. Typically, an owner is determined through
documentation and the identification number on the vessel’s hull. Under
state law, the last registered owner is considered the owner, although
it is rebuttable. Regardless of who removes and disposes of the
abandoned vessel, or contracts for it, the person who removes the boat
is responsible for collecting the associated fees.
The owner is responsible for all costs of removal, towing, storage,
disposal and/or site restoration. And if the owner can’t be determined,
the taxpayer ultimately foots the bill.
Some people who live on their boats don’t leave the harbor, Wilson
said, so they don’t bother to renew their registrations. It’s also not
uncommon for boats to be informally sold and resold without
“So you end up with a boat that has a confused ownership,” Wilson said.
“It has no bill of sale, no current title, no current registration.”
Over the years, he said, there have been increasing numbers of
“boats that come here and never leave.” The result, he added, is the
harbor at times has been cluttered with vagrant vessels without anchor
lights, hindering the access for and safety of transient vessels that
want to tie up for the night.
If a boat is docked or anchored and had not been underway, it is
unlikely to be checked by law officers with the Coast Guard or the
North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, which both have certain
enforcement power over vessels, he said. And since no insurance is
required for boats, documentation is easier to ignore.
Law enforcement personnel with the Wildlife Resources Commission did
not respond to several requests seeking further information.
With the new ordinance, any county law enforcement officer or
representative of any government agency with jurisdiction has
enforcement power, including authorization to board a vessel.
“The bottom line is a lack of responsibility has created a problem for
the village, for the transient boaters, for the property owners around
the harbor,” Wilson said.
Silver Lake, the more evocative name for the Ocracoke harbor, is considered one of Ocracoke’s most vital resources, he added.
“These abandoned boats have become a detriment to our tourism economy
as well as becoming a safety hazard,” Wilson said. “Ocracoke is lenient
and tolerant, and we’re not looking to hurt people. We’re just looking
for people to take their stuff when they leave.”