Full-Time Cruisers or Liveaboards?

A friend of mine said that maybe it’s not such a good idea for real “cruisers” to be seen as part of the same group that includes the “liveaboards” who just live aboard and never cruise, and those who store their boats on the water. I don’t think cruisers are doing that, although these three entities do share many common interests. In fact, I think it’s the opposite. It appears to me, that is exactly what many landowners, and state and local officials are doing—grouping these three together as though they are all the cause of their problems—and one anti-anchoring law will solve everything.

Florida communities already have control over liveaboards in their waters, and they also have some control over boat storage on the water, although the latter is truly a complex problem, and something not discussed here.

But the distinction must be drawn between what the term “liveaboards” means and what the term “cruisers” means. BoatUS suggested several years back that cruisers quit calling themselves liveaboards and call themselves “full-time cruisers.” After all, all cruisers are liveaboards—whether living aboard for a month or for years—but not all liveaboards are cruisers. Cruisers getting their anchoring rights taken away from them is what’s at issue here and what I am talking about. For the sake of discussion “liveaboards”—a term that has been abused and distorted in recent years—are those who just live aboard and don’t cruise at all.

In 2009 Florida passed an anchoring law making the words more significant for cruisers. “Liveaboards” are more narrowly defined in the law and “cruisers” who “reside on and move their boats are not considered liveaboards.” This means that local communities can easily determine the difference between cruisers and live-aboards—and another major change in the law says that “municipalities may not enforce any ordinance regulating anchoring—other than liveaboards—outside of marked mooring fields.” With this new narrowing of the definition of “liveaboards,” cruisers no longer have to worry about being included in a category where they can be restricted from anchoring in certain areas. These two items together are a major step in more rights for cruisers.

Of course, none of this makes any difference if local governments and the police are not aware of the new law—or choose to ignore it. Boaters should therefore carry a copy of the law with them. Read the article for links to this law.

One of the major problems with cruisers anchoring, liveaboards and boat storage on their waters is what “their waters” means. If a community, especially a city, wants to control waters off their city shores, they have to apply to the state to have that jurisdiction, although in the past it was often given out freely. Now, it takes a few years to get that jurisdiction—if they get it.

The decision is based on a mix of county, state and federal laws and concerns. When Bradenton Beach in Manatee County (south side of Tampa Bay) wanted jurisdiction over an anchorage and applied to the state, the state asked the county for its opinion. The county, which represented all the people in the county, wanted to make sure that the city would not negatively impact the right of other residents to use those waters—and the state wanted to make sure the county’s concerns were heard. The city, after about five years, got the jurisdiction, but with limitations.

What this means is that local communities don’t always have carte blanche jurisdiction over waters along their city boundaries. The state, hopefully, looks after the rights of all the citizens of the state, and again hopefully—all the citizens of the country. The federal courts also look after the rights of all the citizens of the country. And that includes the rights of cruising, which by definition, includes anchoring. Those cruising rights are some of the oldest in the country and border on being sacrosanct.

It is illegal for those running a city or county to knowingly pass laws that they know are illegal—and they can be prosecuted for doing so. But the devil is in the details and “knowingly” becomes a very broad term. Many, both at a local and state level, will “knowingly” try to pass laws (proving it is the real problem), just to see what they can get away with. After all, they are in the majority, and let’s face it. Cruisers are in the minority. But political conflicts are about the rights of the majority versus the rights of the minority, and if all goes as it should, the courts will protect the minority rights from being trampled on by the majority—especially if they reach the federal level.

Those rights are what concern us.

It’s already agreed upon by both sides that “liveaboards” (as defined above) and, more so, boat storage, need to be controlled better. But cruisers are concerned that the FWC, which is the police (after all, they wear uniforms and carry guns to these public meetings), and local and state officials, are lumping them—the cruisers—in with the same group as those storing their boats and the “liveaboards.” And it’s true—many of the landowners, police officers and officials are looking at these problems as being caused by the same group and there is only one solution—limit anchoring. Cruisers are concerned that in these officials’ zeal to control these other problems of liveaboards and boat storage, their anchoring rights will be taken away in the process. And that seems to be exactly where this is all headed.

I am certain that most FWC officers know there is a distinction between cruisers anchoring and these other two problems, because they are the ones out there on the front lines dealing with these boaters, and I believe they understand this distinction more than most landowners and most politicians—both local and state.

Over the years, I’ve seen the FWC go from night boardings with spotlights and improper boardings on innocent boaters to holding local meetings and getting to know cruisers. Next they should be defending age-old anchoring rights and telling the local and state officials that it’s a mistake to blame cruisers for the sins of others. In many ways, they are already doing that. We just need more of it.

Sweeping anti-anchoring laws that might solve liveaboard and boat storage problems, while at the same time taking away the anchoring rights of responsible cruisers, is a poor solution, one that can readily be described as the “tyranny of the majority.” Cruisers should not have to bring forth evidence to protect their rights, but it looks like they have to, since many landowners and state and local officials want to take them away.